History Shapes Our Here and Now.
Yesterday, I was with some young Nigerian-American friends. All young women in their 30s, professional, gorgeous and hella smart, they always consider me as the bridge between their parent’s Nigerian ways, and their bi-cultural identities as Nigerian-Americans and African-Americans. They were either born and raised in the US or came at an early age and can relate to both the African-American experience and the immigrant experiences of their parents,
I was asked the question, “Aunty, what do you think about ‘Black Love’?”
I talked about Black love always existing as love for country and love for each other. But I wondered where the question was coming from. I knew there was a question beneath a question.
Well, basically, as dark-skinned Black women, who are not coupled with a Black male partner, they felt that in their 30’s, they had not experienced Black love. They also felt that it was out of their reach.
My heart ached for these beautiful young women.
They talked about their experiences, working in predominantly white spaces, the pull between filling their parents’ expectations of them and what they wanted for their own lives. We talked about loneliness and isolation.
We talked about dating outside their race, and they talked about not being approached by white men. They also talked about not wanting to be in an interracial relationship because they felt that it was too “charged.” This was the one place they wanted to feel understood and safe, and not have to explain race, code-switch, or receive public disapproval when they went out.
These women have worked hard and are professionals and are on top of their game but feel empty.
The conversation turned to Black men who date white women and the animosity they felt towards such Black men. They talked about how they felt so rejected by Black men and never felt chosen.
I told them a story.
In my home, about 20 years or so ago, a young Nigerian female doctor came to visit me. She was single and wanted more than anything, her own family. She was very successful, came from a wonderful family and was a caring woman. We had started to hang out quite a bit and this was her first time in my home. Above the mantle were pictures of my entire family. She looked at my mother and father, who were still alive at that time, and asked questions about them and how they met.
She enjoyed what I had to say and then asked, “Why did your father not marry a Nigerian woman?”
I told her that in 1957 in New York City where he was attending Columbia University, he did not meet intellectual Nigerian women. He was one of a handful of African men pursuing higher education. He also met quite a few African American male scholars but African American female scholars were also rare. More than anything, my mother was his intellectual peer and that is why he fell in love with her.
“Where is your mother now?” she asked.
“Boston,” I said.
She asked where my father was, and I said, “Lagos.”
She then turned to the picture of my brother, his wife and newborn child, and said, “Well, I guess your brother followed in your father’s footsteps and got his trophy wife.”
She went on to say, “Those marriages never last.”
Well, needless to say, Iyabo went from zero to 100 in a nanosecond, and I blew up. “Why are you saying these things?”
I informed her that my father spent more than 6 months each year with my mother in Boston and that they were still happily married with almost 50 years under their belt. I told her how my mother lived in Nigeria for about 35 years and adapted quite well.
My brother is married to a woman from Turkey, and they have two wonderful children and have been together for umpteen years as well.
She then went on to talk about how painful it is to see accomplished Black men like my brother with a white woman, while, as a Nigerian woman, she felt overlooked by her peers.
I understood that she spoke for pain but I did not appreciate the attack on my family.
Yesterday, my young friends, and my friend from 20 years ago, were having the same conversation with me, even though they spoke painful words to my ears and heart.
Yet, something in me says I do not think I can fully understand their pain. Colorism (prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group) is a factor. I am a light skinned woman and I do not know what it is to live in dark skin regardless of how much I try. Yet I have empathy and I can relate to feeling lonely, unloved, unlovable and isolated.
I decided to share some issues they did not raise.
I told them that this was also social justice issue even though they thought it was a personal and emotional issue.
I talked about how Black love has been disrupted by racism. I talked about how Black men were separated from their families during slavery and through incarceration today.
I talked about embedded racism and how they had to be on guard to be vigilant to undo all the messages they were receiving as “undesirable.”
I talked about taboo when it comes to interracial relationships and some people may look at it that way and are tempted by taboo but also, Black men, like any other group of men, find different women attractive for different reasons.
The women wondered why a Black man would find a white woman attractive since historically, Black men have also been accused by white women for every little thing and have been lynched for less.
Emmett Till. Duh!
“It could also be freedom,” I told them. “The men get to pursue what they want to pursue. And if a man only likes white women, why do you want him? You are never in competition with white women,” I said.
I asked them to distinguish between a Black man who has dated women of different races and ended up falling in love with a white woman versus a Black man who believes that one way he can succeed in life is to only date and marry white women.
I told them about two interracial couples I know who are just wonderful humans, and the white women in the relationship have learned how to navigate Black spaces and be respectful of Black women, and I love them, as they are “cool as hell!”
These young women can never get enough of hearing about my parents and their wonderful love. They look up to the stories of my parents as a model for love and yet, they did not make the connection with the Black men they see with white women.
I told them about how I felt when I remember a visit to Montgomery Alabama to visit the Equal Justice Initiative’s site, The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration.
I was overwhelmed and I stood frozen beneath a hanging sign that looked like an enlarged faded newspaper print of the anti-miscegenation laws from Missouri which was overturned in 1969 when I would have been four years old. In my lifetime, I, like Trevor Noah, was born a crime in certain spaces. The law literally hung over my head saying I was illegal.
That day, I thought of my parents and their courage. I never thought of them as courageous. I only thought of the as loving.
Yet, it is not a sin to be in an interracial relationship.
I pointed out that it took courage to be in an interracial relationship in America, even today. And I asked them to go out of their way to not judge interracial couples and to begin to own their desires to be coupled.
I invited them to not look at the issue through a lens of scarcity. After all, they did not want “all” Black men but just “one Black man.
They thought that was “not cool” to articulate such a desire as it would make them look “needy.” I told them that at my age, it is such a beautiful thing to be super clear on what you want and to be open to it.
Loneliness is an epidemic, and it is killing people. Wanting a partner is nothing to be ashamed of. I informed them that in social justice circles, we often talk about three things that Black women need to heal, reclaim the fullness of our humanity and be whole: Joy, Rest, and Pleasure.
We are so busy striving and struggling to survive and reach goals that earn us respect and status in society. We have invested years in proving ourselves that we are just as smart as whomever. Yet, we forget that the purpose of life is to breathe and thrive.
Joy, Rest, and Pleasure is evidence of thriving. And it is powered by Love – Love for self, love for others and love for being alive.
Every Black woman is entitled to a joyful, rested, playful, pleasure-seeking responsible life of thriving.
They appreciated the conversation as we talked about the larger context of their feelings and experiences. Our young folks have to know history. They have to understand why they feel the way they feel today and how history is part of their own personal stories.
Historical Context shapes our young folks experiences in the here and now.
Teach history, friends. Please do.
I was grateful as the evening ended, amidst deep lingering chesty hugs, one of my young friends said, “Aunty, we need more of you in our lives.”
They felt a glimpse of not being broken, not ugly, not unattractive, and deserving of all the good life has to offer.
Turns out that today, June 12, is Loving Day, a holiday which celebrates multiracial families. We also talked about this legal case which helped them understand how the law has shaped a culture that has perceived them as not lovable, and not able to own the right to love whomever they damn well please. This is due to the lingering effects of being considered non-human, property, in the eyes of the culture and the law.
Loving v. Virginia was a Supreme Court case that struck down state laws banning interracial marriage in the United States on June 12, 1967. These were called “Anti-Miscegenation” laws.
What is that big word, you might ask?
The Oxford Dictionary defines miscegenation as “the interbreeding (Jesus, help me. My breath is stuck in my throat!!!! INTERBREEDING??) of people considered to be of different racial types.” Other dictionaries use “marriage” or “co-habitation instead of “interbreeding.” Phew.
From the colonial era, such laws existed on the books of all but 9 states in the US. After the Loving v. Virginia decision, some states were slow to alter their laws and, in 2000, Alabama was the last to amend their state constitution by removing this statute although it had not been enforced for many years. Many states had laws on the books specifically designed to “preserve racial integrity” and made it a crime to violate such racial integrity.
These laws were considered a felony (up to 5 years in a state penitentiary), and prohibited the issuance of marriage licenses as well as the solemnization of marriage.
I feel for my darker skinned sistas who want to be in healthy monogamous relationships with Black men but cannot find such connections.
I understand the narrative they have been fed about interracial couples.
I understand that the narrative they have been fed about their bodies are so damning and harmful.
I understand the void created in society by Black men being killed in gun violence or being incarcerated.
Yet, as we celebrate Loving versus Virginia, still, Black women feel left out.
And, Black women, of all shades and hues, do so much to uphold our communities.
And, Black women deserve love as much as any one else.
And, I am naturally defensive when folks react negatively about my parents and my brother and his wife.
And, at the time of my birth, I would have been considered “illegal” in many states in the US.
What I do know is that need to keep talking and keep loving on each other as we literally need each other.
And, we can love whomever we damn well please.
And we all deserve to have what we want when it comes to love.
Blessings on those who seek love and who have loved and who are satisfied as they are!
Let me know your thoughts below.