Me: "Are black people the only ones who talk about love in terms of race and color? Like is there 'brown love, yellow love, red love?"
My Husband: "I don't know."Me: "Do white people talk about 'white love'?"
Me: "Hm. I wonder why?"
Hubs: "Because anytime you put 'white' in front of a noun, like White Love, White History Month, White Pride, White Law Students Association, or the Massachusetts Association of White Attorneys, people assume it's a white supremacist organization."
I must admit, when the topic of conversation is "black love" I feel a little left out. In its most basic form, black love is the emotional connection shared by two black people. Period. It doesn't matter if one of you is black. It doesn't matter if you are a white African. It doesn't even matter if you think your dog is black. Black love = two black people. Usually black love refers to the romantic relationships between black men and black women, but the concept embraces a "wide" range of relationships like black parents and their black children, members of an extended black family, black neighbors, black church members, and a type of mystical ethos shared among the entire Black Diaspora.
Valentine's Day fuels many conversations about black love and last year this backfired on Essence Magazine when it featured professional football player Reggie Bush on its February 2010 cover. At the time Bush was dating Kim Kardashian, a non-black woman. A number of Essence readers found Bush's selection for the cover of "the black love issue" as an affront to black women everywhere. I didn't (and still don't) understand the reaction for a number of reasons (besides the obvious). The cover said nothing about an article on black love and I wonder why reader outcry was louder about the race of his girlfriend than his Heisman Trophy fiasco. But in case you are wondering, the February 2011 cover of Essence features actress Regina Hall and she is indeed dating a black man named Theo (otherwise known by his government name, Malcom-Jamal Warner). As a woman who self-identifies as black, and fully embraces the myriad of experiences that embody my unique black experience, I find it hard to accept the idea that love is more or less worthy of celebration based solely on the skin color of the parties involved.
Among my friends and family, I have a reputation for generally treating people the same, regardless of their station in life. I am just as likely to crack jokes with a Senator as I am with a friend's two-year old. My parents find this mindset particularly unsettling because Yoruba culture has a pecking order. It values honor, respect, and status, especially with regard to age, gender, education, occupation, and especially title (my husband and I often chuckle at the sight of: "The Most Excellent Reverend, Doctor, Pastor, Engineer, Evangelist, Teacher, Bishop Chief Tyrone Olu Johnson III, PhD" listed in programs at Nigerian functions).
But as I got older I began to question some of these notions: Why should any adult I come into contact with recieve respect by virtue of being old enough to be my mom or dad? What if I know he mistreats his children or his wife? What if I feel uncomfortable because of the way he looks at me or because he hugs me a little too long? What if she calls me stupid or fat or ugly when my parents aren't around? So I concluded that the labels might make a difference, but that's not all that mattered. The labels without the substance weren't enough. It wasn't enough that the person was Yoruba, or a Doctor, or Nigerian, or African, or Christian, or Black, or a Pastor, or rich, or from my father's village, or royalty, or went to Harvard. Who are they? What is their substance? What are they really made of? And in the same way I'd hope that any love worth celebrating is because of its substance, not merely its color.