By Erika Turner
This is a celebration of Black love.
Of thick thighs, big lips, and coarse hair.
Of soft kisses, strong arms, and mutual experience.
This is a meditation on looking in the mirror and falling in deep; of seeing shared history and shared struggle reflected back with pride and resilience.
Before college and in my first years of young adulthood, my primary partners were white. I did not seek them out; they were simply all I knew. The queers of color did not congregate at the time – not where I lived. Not where I studied. Not that I knew of. But I could, with minimal effort, find an interested white man or a proud rainbow-flag-waving white woman, in the suburban streets of my middle class neighborhood or in the hallowed halls of my liberal arts college, who fancied my exotic brown body.
(Of course, even knowing that I was exotic to them, that is not to say we did not share in love; we did, as human souls do without regard to coloration or systemic oppression. We shared in love. Sometimes, we still do. But love is an extra burden when the one who must most often “rise above” anger and offense is the partner less desired or approved of by society.)
In my deepest truth, loving white people and being loved by them made me feel special – like I was worth something, despite my blackness. I grew up believing that it was a mark of good character to be different from other Black people — to listen to rock and indie as opposed to hip hop, for example, or to speak so-called “proper” American English.
While I could recognize my humanity by virtue of living in my own skin, other Black people were just that – other.
It was not until I began to seek out the company of my skinfolk that I began to see and recognize the humanity that media and society told me did not exist. Indeed, I had only come to recognize my own irreconcilable “otherness” when I realized that the white people I organized with in mainstream LGBTQ spaces did not understand – and did not want to understand – the unique challenges I faced as a person of color who identified as queer. Only then did I begin to realize that I could not survive on white standards of affirmation.
So I went in search of real community. Upon finding it, I learned quickly that I was not different from other Black people, nor did I want to be. In fact, I wanted to be closer – to fall deeper in love with our historical, social, spiritual bond.
So friends, of course, became lovers and from such happy circumstance was bred my first taste of liberation.
Without the glitch of racial separation, I became suddenly divorced from a certain level of social anxiety. For example, I need not, in sharing my experiences of Black love, shyly admit that there is, of course, in some ways, a deep need to be affirmed. There’s no romantic allegory in which my partner’s attraction serves as a surrogate to the acceptance I long for in American society.
Without this anxiety, I experienced a shock of independence, relying strongly upon my own preferences – my own discoveries of delight. I suddenly had the power to declare what I liked, what moved or inspired me, regardless of what the media or society had to say about it.
For example, I grew up being taught that the way other Black people spoke signaled a lack of education; a predisposition towards ignorance. And yet, this very sort of language made my heart beat off rhythm: a southern twang in her pronunciation; the lyrical use of East Coast slang in his vocabulary; one friend’s demonically seductive Jamaican accent and please God just don’t stop talking.
Ignorance? This was poetry, swag, self-defined expression.
And I knew I was supposed to have a peculiar distaste for all Black hair – fake hair as much as natural hair if it was not groomed just so, but – wait, babe, when did you get your hair done? Oh, you did it yourself? Oh, you watched a YouTube video and did it yourself? Oh, you spent the last 12 hours braiding your own hair for the first time ever after watching a few YouTube videos? And you finished all your readings for class this week too?
Well, damn. Aren’t you something special?
This was my constant revelation. Other Black people were amazing. My Black friends were amazing. My Black partners were amazing.
So did that mean…I was too?
Yeah, it did.
Having fallen in love with everything I was told I was better than growing up, I have become better. Now, I am kinder and gentler to myself. Now, I am in love with my lips, and my nose, and my hair, and my thighs, and my code-switching, and my strength, and my power, because I have found an intimate appreciation for those very things in my partners.
I have learned that I need not fight to be different from my kin because my worth is not in our differences, but in our similarities.
It’s taken more than two decades to experience this kind of relief – the true and deliberate pleasure of loving other Black people.
So, this is a celebration.
Of seeing each other and loving what we see.
Of social autonomy and personal strength.
This is a celebration of Black love, and of blackness, mine and ours, and how deeply, proudly, irrevocably, I am in love.
Erika Turner is a freelance writer and editor, whose work centers around identity and context. She is a queer femme with boi-ish tendencies, who lives and writes in Brooklyn. Her ultimate goal is to become a published author, but she’ll settle for having her own apartment and adopting a French bulldog. She is a Point Foundation Alumna and Lambda Literary Non-Fiction Fellow.
Featured Image Source: Essence.com