The New York Times Style Section’s Modern Love column on February 13 was entitled “What Is Black Love Today” and described as a “special collaboration” between its weekly Modern Love column and Black History that is designed to “illuminate how Black people live, and love, in this moment.” The introduction to the column talks about how racism infiltrates Black love, how it is an unwanted third party in any Black love affair, and how it is a thread in every story of Black love.
The column consisted of eight stories, three of which appear in the print version of the paper and the rest that are available online.
The first is the story of a highly-educated California lawyer and law professor who renounces dating only white guys in response to the killing of George Floyd and being rejected by another mediocre white guy. She reconnects with a former high school classmate. They revel in their shared Blackness, and dance to hip-hop in his living room. But he says it isn’t going to work out because their personalities are too different, and it doesn’t work out because he can’t live up to her expectations.
A Black man writes about yearning for his absent biological father whom his mother described as a good, smart, talented, and charming man whom everyone loved even though he never appeared for his son. The best friend of the author’s mother takes the place of his biological father. While others urged the author to be more manly, his surrogate father accepted his “innate softness” and nurtured it. Their relationship was close until he had an unspecified falling out with the author’s mother. The story is tinged with regret because the author fails to return the last call his stepfather made before he died.
A Black woman, who loses her father to prison and is raised by a single mother, writes about the cousin who becomes a single teenage mother and the author’s model for love in place of the couples she knew, all of whom were plagued by infidelity, absence, or abuse.
A lesbian poet who meets a gay poet at a poetry slam when he introduces himself by saying that she is destined to be one of his true loves. She marries him to escape abusive relationships, obtain citizenship, gain a loving mother-in-law, have children, while not being monogamous. They spend three magical years together before he dies of cancer. She goes on to have a miracle child fathered by her deceased husband’s brother.
The Times frames these loves and stories as tainted by racism. That wasn’t my reaction. My reaction was I understand some of them, I have experienced some of them, and I am a privileged, old, white male. Even so, I have experienced the love of a child, the love of a parent, the love of friends, romantic love, infatuation, unrequited love, lost love, and unwanted love, among other forms. I have regretted things said and done to loved ones, as well as things unsaid and undone.
Within four generations and the span of first cousins, I have family members who dated and married people of different races, religions, and national origins. Who were gay, had lasting relationships and children. Who had children with people they didn’t marry and didn’t stay together with. Who married criminals. Who were physically and mentally abused and who were abusive. Who were unfaithful. Who were children whose parents were largely absent. Who were adopted.
Some of these relatives overcame adversity such as the Holocaust, drug addiction and overdose death, alcoholism, mental illness, disability, divorce, prejudice.
The beauty of love is that it transcends differences, that it is universal, that it overcomes adversity, that it is redemptive. It is a sad Valentine’s Day when what was once the premier newspaper in America chooses to emphasize divisiveness instead of transcendence.