Three years ago, I wrote a piece attempting to unpack intracommunal horizontal violence. Newly introduced to the concepts of abolition, it was a struggle for me to resolve the real violence happening to non- men in Black communities outside of carceral state. The conversation was made more difficult to unpack when any attempt to discuss the matter fell on the deaf ears of people who found it more beneficial to subdue truths than come to grips with them.
My thoughts, then and now, on intra-communal violence were centered in the ways love was thrown around in movement spaces with implications that revolution, itself, was an act of love. If that is true, then what is love when Black non- men are the direct victims of counterrevolutionary horizontal violence?
To assist in unpacking my thoughts on love’s place in a revolution and in relation to community, I incorporated the first chapter of All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks. I chose this book because it has caused me to be very honest about what love is, what it isn’t, and what it can be.
In chapter one, titled Clarity: Give Love Words, hooks opens with a Diane Ackerman quote:
“As a society we are embarrassed by love. We treat it as if it were an obscenity. We reluctantly admit to it. Even saying the word makes us stumble and blush… Love is the most important thing in our lives, a passion for which we would fight or die, and yet we’re reluctant to linger over its names. Without supple vocabulary, we can’t talk or think about it directly”
In these 15 pages, hooks unpacks the opening quote using other frames of reference, intermixed with her own personal experiences. She continues to cite Ackerman who believes that everyone “admits that love is wonderful and necessary, yet no one can agree on what it is”. It is this opening chapter where hooks suggests a world where it is easy to love because it should be easy to define.
The concept of revolutionary love is nothing more than romanticized optics which does not translate to a community based love. Despite how true this may be, seldom are we allowed to honestly discuss community or love.
When harm happens within community, many are silenced when attempting to speak on that harm. This silence of the harms we cause one another (and harms done to us) is done in the name of unity cloaked with a symbolic Black love that is hardly seen in praxis. A unifying idea of Black love void of the acknowledgment of harm done leads to mistrust which deeply fractures community.
In the chapter, hooks explores the ways lack of trust, and the damage it causes, makes one unable to express love in healthy ways. But the bigger issue we face is the denial of that.
“We all know how often individuals feeling connected to someone through the process of cathecting insist that they love the other person even if they are hurting or neglecting them. Since their feeling is the cathexis, they insist that what they feel is love.”(p. 5- 6)
When attempting to unpack love’s place in liberation, it is necessary for me to highlight the dynamics of Cishetero Black men in the Black community in relation to others. However, this is not another indictment of Black men as the “white people of the community” because I actually find no use for that sort of circular conversation.
The most prominent concern is the ways in which we are asked to ignore how perspective privileges cause harm and allow for harm caused. While the structure of privilege places Black people, in general, at the bottom, within community (intra-racially) there is a glaring and obvious power dynamic and Cishetero Black men are centered above all others.
Those who live along the margins of that power dynamic are met with push- back when they attempt to speak on their experiences. They are asked to continue to love so others can grow and possibly one day understand. In most instances, many along the margins of that power dynamic are guilted into love.
There is seemingly far more concern shown to those who may feel victimized by harms being said aloud than for the actual victims of the harm. If we can not address abuse, how can we claim a movement dependent upon something as basic as love?
“When we understand love as the will to nurture your own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive. Love and abuse cannot coexist.”(p.6)
As the chapter continues, hooks describes how she’s come to understand that being loved in abusive ways during her childhood manifested into how she received and gave love to others. There is a toxicity that exists intra-racially that we’ve grown accustomed to; possible PTSD from the generational effects of being kin to once enslaved Africans. But my true belief is, as a society and as a community, we have gotten so used to abuse as a substitute for love so we define love as what we can tolerate; what we can endure and not as something freeing. We do not see love as liberating because we have manipulated its use.
“Most of us find it difficult to accept a definition that says we are never loved in a context where there is abuse. ” (p. 8-9)
Love and abuse cannot coexist. Even while knowing this, people weaponize love as a silencer to harm, in the name of unity. How can harm benefit community? How could silence benefit community?
“To begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.” (p. 13)
Feelings obstruct doing the work of love. To hooks, love is an action. Unfortunately these actions are reduced to optics. Any valid criticism of this sort of love gets pushed aside to account for how others may receive the criticisms. It then becomes a matter of who has the right to be a victim. We have yet to uproot the true colonial cause enough to take action with love .
That is the significance of this chapter, the very first chapter, being titled “Clarity”. To understand that we do not understand what we are asking for when we speak about love. Certainly not when we discuss it under abusive constructs that we continuously sustain.
To close the chapter, hooks challenges the reader and our perceptions of love—- reminding us of “the work” and how so much of it is dependent upon unpacking before rebuilding.
“Definitions are vital starting points for the imagination. What we cannot imagine cannot come into being. A good definition marks our starting point and lets us know where we want to end up. As we move toward our desired destination we chart the journey, creating a map. We need a map to guide us on our journey to love– starting with the place where we know what we mean when we speak of love” (p. 14)