I almost couldn’t write this. There are two photographs I viewed yesterday that, after making me cry until I sweated, left me numb. The first photograph was of Senator and Reverend Clementa Pickney’s, horse-driven hearse as it passed in front of South Carolina’s State House while the confederate flag (which as far as I’m concerned is an accessory to his brutal murder) still waved on high. The other was of Reverend Pickney’s wife Jennifer and his daughters Eliana and Malana, all three wet-faced and dazed, as they continued the burial process for the man who must have been the love of their lives and the anchor and center of their worlds. It was the second photograph, the sorrow in it and repetitiveness of its kind, that created my writer’s block.
How can I write about love when it was some kind of idealistic love, for God and His power to heal even the most wicked of hearts, that allowed the members of Emanuel A.M.E. to open their hearts and doors to terrorist and cold-blooded killer Dylann Roof? And wasn’t it, again, some kind of love and need for comfort that forced Alana Simmons (the granddaughter of 74-year-old Daniel L. Simmons Sr.) to offer forgiveness to Roof as he stood in court on charges of savagely murdering her grandfather—even before his blood ran cold?
I am of the opinion that Black people have loved enough, and forgiven enough, obviously until our bodies and souls are unrecognizably mangled, and that maybe it’s time to talk about something else.
As we are bombarded daily with report after report, image after image, of Black bodies being brutalized by police, and White men whose anger we have somehow survived—the carnage prescribed to us by America (and all its institutions), our shoot dead leaders, matriarchs and patriarchs—we had better believe in loving one another more fiercely than ever before. Because without love (which is where we begin the ritual of caring and healing) for ourselves, for our families and friends, and for our lovers, we simply may not survive.
My feelings of numbness are joined by hardness. I have to remind myself, daily, to be gentle with the people I love. Because they are experiencing the same kind of post-traumatic stress that I am, and need to know (as I do) that they are loved and worthy, and that they are not walking through this time of terror alone.
We must never forget that love is a verb that requires action, but that words must also be a part of this Black love work. During times when we are consumed by other things—work, family, even social justice—it is easy to forgo giving our lovers the attention and reassurance that they need and deserve.
Here are three things we need to say to our partners today.
1. Thank you. I recently asked a good friend, who is always so full of joy and is happily married, how she maintains that joyfulness in her relationship. She said that even when she is upset with her husband, she reminds herself to be grateful. “When you lead with gratitude,” she said, “it’s hard to carry anger.” She also said she finds gratitude in the smallest, most mundane, things that her husband does. We easily, especially in long-term relationships, build a long list of expectations for our partners that we forget they don’t have to fulfill. Showing gratitude for the things our lovers do encourages them to do more.
2. I still choose you and I still desire you. As someone who reports on, and is interested in, social justice, I can’t turn away from what is happening in the world. There are days when I’m overcome with sadness, which makes it difficult to show my partner the love I desire to. This lack of affection can also be a result of stress at work, trying to juggle family, and a ton of other factors. Our lovers need to see our love manifest physically, and when we don’t have the energy to do that, we need to remind them that it is not because we don’t want and need them. Also, recalling why we chose and desire our partners can open us up to rekindling that physical connection.
3. I’m here and present for you. One thing my girlfriends and I practice is, when we’ve been distant because of the many things we juggle in our lives, we do check-ins. “I’m checking in with you. How are you?” we simply call to say, or text. It’s just as necessary to check-in with our partners, to remind them that they are an important part of our lives—as much as our careers and children are—and that they deserve our undivided attention as they navigate the pain we are collectively feeling.
As the old adage reminds us: we must be careful with each other so we can be dangerous together. Black love is, indeed, a revolutionary act. I guess I found the words after all.
Josie Pickens is an educator, culture critic and soldier of love. Send her your love + relationship questions here. Also, follow her on Twitter @jonubian.