Last week, the Black Students’ Association hosted an open panel discussion called “The Politics of Black Love”. We debated about the role that history, family, relationships, and the larger societies that we live in play in shaping our experiences, perceptions, and expressions of love. The aim was to deepen our understanding of the connection between the personal and political, the individual and societal influencers of love in different Black communities.
It was a loaded conversation that left me thinking about a lot. The most powerful sentiment that I walked out with is that you can define love for yourself, but you can never really impose your understanding on others; as a result, different individuals express love in different ways – we all have different love languages.
Lesson 1 – Did You Eat?: Understanding the Language of Your People
The participants and panelists shared the languages of love that themselves and their families “spoke”.
One woman mentioned that her mom, a Nigerian woman, never explicitly told her that she loved her, but the beginnings of all of their conversations started with her mom asking her, “did you eat?”. Another participant also noted a lack of verbal affirmation of love from her mom, but every time she walked out of her mom’s house she left with six bags of groceries and cooked food to last her a week.
I’ve had a similar experience; love is not something that is spoken to me, it is acted upon through caring, genuine, daily gestures, and acted upon differently by everyone that I’ve shared love with. It’s up to me to attempt to understand expressions of love in my life, and share my own understanding so that I’m being heard as well.
Lesson 2 – Love Languages Aren’t Perfect: Experiences, Perceptions, Prejudices, Beliefs, Values, Society…
Because we’re all a product of different experiences, it can be difficult and painful to see the love behind certain actions, but by doing so it becomes easier to understand others and allow them to understand us.
One woman expressed kindness and empathy in a way that I would never be able to; she described her mom’s homophobia as an expression of love. She explained, simply, that her mom’s inability to fully accept her stems from the worry that being gay would be a barrier to her daughter’s success. She didn’t need a disclaimer acknowledging and explaining the stiflingly oppressive homophobia rampant on both individual and systematic levels because love languages aren’t perfect. They carry with them baggage that can only be very slowly, and sometimes very painfully unpacked.
Love might just be the most complicated, weighty word that I have ever come across. Now, UofT, I’d to know: What’s your love language?