What is Black love? Is it simply two Black people in relationship, at all costs? Or is it a more profound experience of freeing the self into something beyond what the world defines as “for us?” And if Black love can be defined, is it possible to experience it in an anti-Black world that teaches us we are inhuman from birth? And what about Black women? How many people even have the language to love Black women, when colonisation has perverted Blackness, womanness and love itself?
In this context, it’s easy to see why so many Black women experience loneliness, both in and outside of relationships. Black celebrities chronicling their relationships on shows like Black Love and Red Table Talk unwittingly reveal a harsh reality underlying the dream of companionship for Black women. Some of us are settling. Some of us are accepting devaluation in place of love, enduring brutality in the search for it, because the consequences for being alone are unbearable. Some of us have chosen or been forced into aloneness, and the consequences remain. The glaring yet often obscured truth is that this lack and scarcity, these unbearable consequences are not coincidental for us. Black women's loneliness and isolation are intentional, historical, systemic.
Black women: there is nothing wrong with us. The game is rigged.
Black women are increasingly isolated by society to devastating effects and then punished for talking about it. When Black women online speak of isolation, loneliness and lack of care in romantic relationships, people descend onto our vulnerability like sharks in a frenzy. Men ask what we bring to the table, to demand so much. They blame us for the harms done to us by others, with accusations of “choosing the wrong men,” in a world full of men socialised to devalue us.
They treat us as isolated cases with personal problems and our shared experiences as outliers of disrespect, when, for most of us, disregard is society’s institutional way of engaging Black women. Very few care about our tears; and in fact we’re told that our stories, along with the skin we long to be touched, make us undesirable and that we should keep them to ourselves, isolating us even more. They take Black women's tears as something being done to them, as opposed to something they should help remediate.
But, there is knowledge behind the door of loneliness. And freedom.
The long nights of our bones aching from lack of holding, the pit in our stomach that moves when the chance of love comes near, the shivers across our spine when we think of touch. These are the senses longing to return from the dead. It means that we are alive. It means that we are human, despite what the world has to say about “the wrong kinds of women” like us. But, Black women: there is nothing wrong with us. The game is rigged. There is a small white man behind the curtain. Sometimes he leaves a man of colour in his place.
The world is a white supremacist, capitalist, ableist cisheteropatriarchy. That means even if we do not date men, men and their institutions shape the landscape of safety, worth, access and opportunity for women based on their desirability to men. The white supremacist construction of cis, able-bodied, white womanhood is the ideal to which we are subjected and rejected from womanhood. Under this pervasive system, our natural desires for connection, for sex, for love are compounded and exploited for profit. Media, tax breaks and healthcare incentives for married couples combine to communicate that singleness will be punished. Fulfilling sexual desires outside of marriage will be shamed. Pursuing queer existence, queer relationships or motherhood outside of heteronormativity will be grounds for humiliation, discrimination and abuse.
Isolation and the threat of it are used to dominate us into submission when we fall outside of the lines of acceptable womanhoods, centering men’s desire. Some of us fall outside of these lines by virtue of our refusal to extinguish our own light; others by virtue of our birth, and even more for the crime of both, like Black trans women, queer women, sex workers and any of us who refuse to conform.
Many men of colour subscribe to the socialisation of what proper womanhood is and often come running with the rest of the world when white women are sad or lonely, while allowing women within their own communities to hold collective burdens alone. They sympathise with white women because they've been indoctrinated by a society that says white people are real humans, and real womanhood is cis, white and then light. Then it’s labelled a "preference" to obscure the violence of its enforcement.
The truth is that people tend to match themselves according to what nationalism and capitalism value and then they hold on to that socialisation for dear life. This is not necessarily synastry or compatibility we’re witnessing in coupling; it’s colonisation and a product. Those of us without the social coin to buy it are left to compete for the resources of a society that devalues the “wrong kinds of women,” and ties economic security to securing the desires of a man, and social aliveness to partnership.
This isolation and abandonment are colonial experiences that serve to replicate white masculinity and the women who can reproduce it. Black women have been relegated to the margins of society so that white men can recreate themselves in their own image, at the expense of our lives. When European colonizers first came to our lands, they violently disrupted our relations of gender, including persecuting those who are now considered trans women out of the communal space.
We are routinely targeted by political campaigns that label us as both lazy and villainous. White women made edicts to restrict the movement and sight of Black women in societies across the Americas, so as not to pull the economy of desire away from them. Examples include women of African descent in Louisiana being targeted with edicts such as “Tignon Laws” which required them to cover their hair in public. Now they inundate us with media that relegates us to spaces that do not detract from narratives of white womanhood as the only real one. People in Latin and US America sequestered white women under veils of precious femininity and then subjected Black women to the violent trials of the streets and their labour. And it is now well documented that people still perceive us as more able to endure pain and medical staff are therefore are less likely to adequately provide medicinal relief of it.
This is so far beyond a man merely wanting to f*ck us. It’s what men do when they aren't f*cking us; if they come to us with pure or dirty intentions; if they stay; how they make love to us, if we desire them, when they do show up; if they even show up at all for more than extraction. How often are people conditioned to believe that Black women only exist for a good time, trans women are perversions to be killed and that securing white supremacist constructions of womanhood in the name of proper manhood is the priority?
Black love is redefinition. We are searching for new genders, new sexualities and new ways of being that are beyond the white male imagination.
These are the punishments of falling outside of white men’s desires and their aims throughout history to keep their populations white and land owning. It’s no wonder our needs for connection can go unmet.
This is not a periodic moment of dating woes for Black and Indigenous women, it is a targeted starving of care, a purposeful obscuring of our worth — all designed to disappear us. To them, our skin means to be conquered, to be subjugated, to suffer violence intimately. They are running towards the deceitful safety of whiteness, into the abyss of it. Black women are often caught in the middle of that pull towards whiteness. It’s only in the rejection of white supremacist ideals that we can be free to discover and love ourselves.
Now, in the empty space, we get to want something different. We don’t have to want to be who they are, or rather who they aspire to be. We can choose our own way of being instead of constantly striving towards whiteness and its belonging that we will never reach, and for a cost paid in blood from the people who are violently subjugated by it.
It is possible to experience Black love or rather, love that does not have to be poured into the misshapen vases of whiteness to hold us. The Black love that we are seeking is not merely two Black people in toxic codependent relation to each other, aspiring to white norms instead of our own needs. Black love is redefinition. We are searching for new genders, new sexualities and new ways of being that are beyond the white male imagination. There is no transphobia, no queerphobia, no colourism, no ableism, no internalized misogynoir in the world we are building.
As we eradicate these colonised ideologies from our spirits, our connections to each other deepen, no longer bound by capitalism’s valuation of worth. As we call in men to interrogate their love of power and whiteness at the cost of love itself, we begin to take shape. As we do the same for ourselves, and challenge our love affair with seeking small power and exchange it for meaningful connection, empowered community, and even human life, we sail forward on the momentum. This is the dream of Palenque, the first free African town in the Americas — the hidden village beyond the reach of whiteness. This is how we decolonise love.
Though we are now a long way from European settlers first arriving on our Ancestors’ shores, still the settlers seek to wipe out our faces from the hearts of the world’s people. Still they seek to put out the inner light that has always carried us into futures of our own. The world is so afraid of Black girls and our magic.
Because our fire is Ancestral. It still burns, reshapes us and wants us to be here despite every attempt to eradicate us. Despite what the worst of them wishes they could do to us. Despite what they tried to do to our Mothers before us, hoping that it would end us too. That’s what colonialism wants to put out in us, the fire that was gifted to us by those who invoked its flames first. That is why it seeks to leave us cold and unlit. The loneliness of the isolation is meant to starve us into submission and make us seek where there is no love and no power to be found for us. It wants to pull us outside of our body and into a wrenching knot of subjugation.
But we are still here — even if, for the moment, we are moving through the Underworld, into the women that we will become. And that means their plans have failed.
As we throw off the shackles of colonisation and harness our fire, we will burn a path through this world to create the one that loves us.