To understand Black love, you must first know its history, its struggle for equality, and the need for erroneous stereotypes to be vanquished.
Black people in love are rarely ever just that. On the surface, the romance present in a Black relationship doesn’t differ from a relationship between people of other racial backgrounds—love and affection remains the same no matter who is involved.
But “Black love,” as the concept is affectionately known in the African American community, and how we see it, comes with a storied past and a bright future.
Romantic love among African Americans has its modern origins in the days when slavery-era marriages weren’t considered valid. To stay together meant to fight to show the world that the union was one worth protecting.
Luckily, Black love has proven time and time again that, while it has its roots in emotion, it’s also rooted in strength and perseverance. Its very existence is the proof of overcoming societal odds unfairly placed against it.
Outside of the community itself, the world may be largely familiar with Black romantic love because of what is depicted on television and in movies.
Diahann Caroll and James Earl Jones in Claudine, Martin Lawrence and Tisha Campbell on Martin, Issa Rae and Lakieth Stanfield in The Photograph, how we see Black love in media has changed with time, jumping from enduring a struggle to pure celebrations of love.
While it has had its moments in the unflattering light of reality shows like Jerry Springer and Maury, the overwhelming amount of positive imagery that exists of Black romance have helped eclipse those stereotypes.
That is the spirit creatives must seek when looking to depict Black love through their medium of choice. At its heart, to love while Black means to do so joyously.
How We Saw the Black Love of Yesterday
To understand Black love is to understand its history inside and outside of the Black community.
Even though I am a Black woman who grew up in two Black households, as a child, the concept of Black love didn’t exist to me because love was love, plain and simple.
It’s a reality familiar to many. The Black couples in my life were just my relatives living as married and long-term couples.
It was only when I began to consume diverse forms of media as a preteen that I reconsidered what Black love actually meant.
That first brush, unfortunately, began with reality shows like Jerry Springer and Maury. The latter was responsible for popularizing the trope of the bickering Black couple who argued about the paternal legitimacy of their child.
The “baby mama” and “baby daddy” trope helped turn the image of the Black couple into a running gag—a joke that could be used in television and movies—and eventually became a racial stereotype that still exists today.
Thankfully, despite the popularity of these exploitative shows, classic Black sitcoms brought more depth to the portrayals of Black couples.
The 1970s to the 1990s gave rise to shows such as The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil gave audiences a view of what a stable, passionate marriage looked like.
Florida and James Evans often struggled financially on Good Times, but their love for each other and their family never soured.
Martin and Gina Payne on Martin had the perfectly imperfect mix of a fun, deeply romantic relationship.
Black love and how it was presented in popular culture was often a mixed bag.
The amount of personal conflict Black characters went through—in movies like Claudine, choice Tyler Perry films, or shows involving Black characters in interracial relationships—often seemed unfair, especially when it involved a character being put in an “either this, or that” situation.
Black characters weren’t always able to “have it all,” a luxury often awarded to their white counterparts. On shows like The Nanny or Sex and the City, and in movies like Legally Blonde and 13 Going On 30, white protagonists were allowed to weather romantic hardships in style and with support from their best friends.
And, in the end, something always worked out for them, even if they didn’t know they needed it—unlike Black characters who often faced increased adversity and outcomes from their onscreen relationships.
Angela Moore’s interracial relationship with Shawn Hunter in the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World, for instance, ended in a breakup despite the strong feelings they had for one another.
How We Show the Black Love of Today and Tomorrow
Today, in a world where people have the ability to tell their own story, the room for Black love to grow has expanded. Compared to years past, Black love today has more of the freedom it needed to exist in more than one form.
Not only does contemporary Black love get to be silly and serious and messy and loyal, but it gets to be queer, involve multiple partners, or portray a fairy tale.
When artists show Black love today, they show a storybook romance from The Princess and the Frog on the big screen.
They show same-sex couples enjoying the holidays together with a loving family on television and online.
They show people with darker skin tones reveling in romantic love, not being denied it because of colorism and outdated beauty standards.
Black love will always be rooted in defying the odds because that’s the position history has put us in—that will never change. And, for decades, that same notion of defying the odds and overcoming “the struggle” was a primary crux in the love story, recycled over and over.
Artists and creatives today know that Black love deserves more than just sitting in that struggle. It deserves to be carefree, not constantly bogged down with the weight of the past or tired stereotypes that have run their course.
In an era of embracing and celebrating Black boy joy and Black girl magic, Black love embraces what it’s been traditionally denied. To show that love, no matter the creative medium, means to choose hope.
License this cover image via Ground Picture.