Love. A complex love. A difficult love. A fleeting love. An unconditional love. Black America has experienced and endured all these aspects of this intense feeling and sentiment throughout our existence here in the United States. Rarely though, if ever, has Black America felt the full spectrum of a complicated, humanity-centered, and restoring love from this Union. I have to admit, that as I pen my thoughts, I find it hard to muster the spirit needed to properly honor the brilliance and beauty of Black people during this month. Not because the radiant brilliance and unmatched beauty aren’t clear and present… but because a brother is just tired and frustrated, frankly, at the willful disregard to allow that brilliance and beauty to simply… BE… to exist.
As I was thinking about the power of love and it’s absence in the lives of Black folks in relationship to these United States, the essence of my thoughts for this essay emerged (with an assist from Jay-Z.) I typically turn to music to ground myself for putting my thoughts in some sort of prose. I am product of the 80s so the music I turn to has messages of hardships experienced, unwavering optimism and resolute overcoming. I turn to music invented out of inner city struggles that now bears the standard for mainstream influence and success.
“All I need is the love of my crew, the whole industry can hate me, I’ll thug my way through” – Jay-Z
This couplet from the song ‘All I Need’ by Jay-Z sums up that position Black folks have had to take to live and thrive and rise since 1619. On this song, Jay-Z is stating some of the essential things he needs to make it in this life, so when he rebelliously raps this verse early in the song it sets the tone for laying out exactly what has been present for him to persist. After a little liberal paraphrasing of the lyrics, what resonates is the powerful symbolism in the stanza that strikes deep when thinking about Black America, the Black Diaspora and our unequalled resilience here in America.
The Black community, for the most part, have historically only been able to depend on, lean on and seek the comfort of LOVE from each other. And sadly, even that LOVE experiences corruption from a suffocatingly implicitly and explicitly racist system that implanted seeds of self-hatred that bloomed into in episodic instances of self-destruction as witnessed by brutal beating of Tyre Nichols, a Black man, by five black police officers in Memphis, Tennessee. This inability to depend on others for a love that restores and provides refuge created both a deep, somewhat cosmic connection to each other, that produced the condition in which we refer to one another as actual “brothers” and “sisters” while simultaneously fostering an unrealistic yet hopeful proclivity for any adoration or acceptance from others as the provision of love. The essential human need for connection and love has been systemically circumscribed to a small terrain which consists of Black folks loving Black folks. Black agape love has been the only joyous constant in our American experiment.
“The whole country can hate us”
When George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis on Memorial Day, 2020, the entire globe started asking how we could have allowed something like this to occur. In the aftermath, mainstream America finally seemed to have started the process of becoming aware of not just personal, but systemic racism, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness that is rife throughout society’s structures and institutions. One could rightly assert that what we saw play out that day, was the result of a whole country “hating” Black existence so much that we stood by and witnessed in real time the outcome of unabated anti-Blackness’ and its inevitable impact on Black people. We see anti-Blackness manifest in every aspect of American life from education to housing to employment to incarceration to healthcare to literature to legislation to leadership to beauty to the innocuous and abstract. Anti-Blackness… White Supremacy… Systemic Racism… all share an all-too-common trait… hatred and contempt for Black existence.
‘We’ll persist our way through”
I do want to point out that Jay-Z engages in a verifiable Black tradition of “flipping” the intent of a word or situation such as “thug” to one that provides a positive posture for our success. Now I am of course not advocating for “thugs” or “thuggish” tendencies or implying “thugs” is somewhat synonymous with Black culture, but simply pointing out that my interpretation of his use of the word here reflects a defiant, dare I say, constructive stance for his triumph. He takes what typically has a negative connotation that is weaponized against Black folks and reforms it to one that is being used affirmatively to transcend trials, tribulations, and barriers. Black America has consistently taken what was meant to degrade, deny, dismiss, and denigrate us and transformed it for our betterment. Black Love carried us through to this point and will carry us forward to see a Black futurism that has been embraced as a bold rebuttal to a society that didn’t recognize us as full, complete and complex beings worthy of enduring into the centuries to come.
As I reflect on Black History Month 2023, I strive to regain the energy needed for the road ahead and re-root myself in the resolute spirit of a people able to persist through all attempts at nullification. Yes, I am still tired and frustrated at the current condition of Black folks in the country we love most dearly yet I remain inspired by the ancestors, freedom fighters, pathfinders, and visionaries. Let’s remember to center a love… a complex love… a difficult love… a fleeting love… an unconditional love… that has produced a mighty people. Black love has granted a miraculous victory over what at one time appeared to be insurmountable odds. Black love has sustained a people long enough to witness glimmers of a world where Black people’s brilliance and beauty can simply BE… EXIST… FEEL LOVED.
Written by Bukata Hayes, Vice President of Racial and Health Equity and Chief Equity Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.
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