I’ve been Bell hooks’ “All About Love,” and while I Love me some bell hooks, a part of it just didn’t sit right with me. I was offended reading about the love our families experience. It felt like she was saying love couldn’t exist in relationships with trauma survivors; that trauma had stopped people from expressing their love. It felt like a harsh judgment of someone’s best effort.
I thought: “Who is she to tell me my mother didn’t love me? Who is she to pinpoint moments of dysregulation and use it as evidence of the absence of love?”
When I look at my parents in how they have evolved their parenting practices from the parenting they received, I’m proud of them. I didn’t face anywhere near the amount of physical, mental or emotional trauma my mom faced in her childhood. It was the result of conscious decisions made by my dad and her.
My mom worked hard to create a fun, safe and supportive environment for my family. My dad provided loving encouragement. The both of them created a balanced experience for me. Did they ever act in a way that was not loving toward me or my siblings? Yes! However, I do believe they did their best.
Google Doesn’t Have the Power to Love or Parent Without Google
I guess another reason reading bell hooks’ book was painful is because these are the people that taught me how to love, and if she suggests that they didn’t know how to love, then where does that leave me?
Yes, I have done my part to improve my parenting style from what I was taught by my parents. I don’t think I’ve done any more work than they have, given the access and knowledge available to them at the time. I don’t mean they had Google to help them parent.
Many Black people use social media to laugh about their childhoods, despite never having met. This amazing display of connection and relatability is shared across Black households.
With all of these similarities among African American households, hooks’ book feels like an attack on Black people’s ability to love. Now she doesn’t explicitly say this, so my personal sensitivities are showing, but I think we can agree that Black people have faced much trauma. It is possible to draw conclusions about how trauma affects our ability love. (It is important to note that I do not speak for other races who have experienced trauma. I’m writing from my own unique, Black experience.)
It feels like bell hooks’ assessment is saying Black people are just too traumatized to love properly. And that just feels like another thing to add to the list of things American culture tells Black people we don’t do “properly.” We don’t speak properly. We don’t dress properly. We don’t eat properly. We don’t dance properly. We don’t spend money properly. We don’t create families properly. And now we don’t love properly. It’s exhausting.
‘It Was Love Then, and It Is Love Now’
While I admit to some of the aforementioned characteristics, they are adaptations and attributes to slavery and oppression. It is heartbreaking to see how oppression has taken away our capacity to love.
I just don’t want to believe that oppression has stolen Black people’s ability to love. This is a distortion of our definition of love and it feels more accurate to describe what is happening. You can’t tell me my mother searching for and driving 30 minutes to schools she thought would better educate us wasn’t love; that her rising before dawn just to prepare breakfast and lunch for four children was not love. Separating love from care just doesn’t sit well with me.
But I get it—sometimes care is harmful and enabling. Too much care can hinder or delay maturation. I realize that growth-inducing love requires care. I’ve learned that love has to evolve beyond care. But I don’t agree that we get to negate a step in love evolution and call it something other than. Calling it something other than our parents’ best attempts at love during that evolutionary period feels disparaging.
It was love in those days, and it is still love today. But we should feel obliged to keep love moving forward as our forefathers and foremothers did. While I have the option to let go of parts of my love that are no longer serving me or my family, I choose to recognize those parts that made me who and what I am today.
I can take responsibility for my spiritual growth, but not the entire responsibility of others. As Cre Dye says, “ We must make ourselves the primary subject of reflection.”
There is something to learn from every encounter—the ones in which we were loved well and those where people were making their best attempts, despite poor examples and limited access to information.
We must be responsible for our spiritual growth in order to evolve love. Teaching others is an acceptable way to honour our growth path. As we all love each other out loud, may our example be an example of how to love others. Let the light that we shine today with the best love we have, inspire tomorrow’s perfect love.
This MFP Voices essay doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Mississippi Journalism and Education Group or the Mississippi Free Press. It does not represent the opinions of its staff members or board members. Send up to 1,200 words along with sources fact-checking information to submit your opinion to the MFP Voices section. [email protected] We are open to hearing from all points of view
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