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Opinion: Creativity is the catalyst for restoring healthy Black love narratives

Bishop Freeman sings on stage. Freeman performed three songs at “Foldin Clothes,” an event co-hosted by the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Cultural Affairs Commission and Hip Hop Congress. (Grace Wilson/Daily Bruin)

By Danielle Taylor

Feb. 25, 2023 3:53 p.m.

This post was updated on Feb. 26, 2023 at 8:23 p.m.

UCLA student artists are helping to restore the narrative of Black love in the media, and it is necessary for others to do so as well.

What exactly is Black love? In her poem titled “Nikki-Rosa,” Black activist Nikki Giovanni writes, “Black love is Black wealth.” While Black love does directly tie to a person’s love for the Black community, its implications are often romantic.

On Feb. 16, the Undergraduate Students Association Council’s Cultural Affairs Commission and Hip Hop Congress co-hosted “Foldin Clothes,” a showcase depicting Black love through the lens of hip hop to commemorate Valentine’s Day. For the event, the Black Bruin Resource Center was transformed into an art gallery featuring the photography and paintings of UCLA students along with live performances by student artists.

The artist showcase reminds the Black Bruin community that they must invest in their healing by creating spaces dedicated to rewriting Black love narratives in the media.

After all, pop culture plays a key role in influencing many aspects of our identity. It not only shapes the way we view the world, but also the style and psyche of each generation.

There appears to be a frontal assault on the Black love story in the media nowadays. While there are undoubtedly some examples of healthy Black relationships, modern portrayals are often negative and dysfunctional. The relationship between Vanessa and Earnest in “Atlanta” and the couple portrayed in the film “Malcolm and Marie” are just a couple of examples of highly dysfunctional Black relationships.

It is crucial to see healthy narratives in the media because Black love is an essential part of the Black experience. It creates opportunities for Black people to process shared struggles together.

Jovana Tankou, a second-year sociology student who recited poetry during “Foldin Clothes,” said that racial injustice permeates every aspect of Black life.

“Regardless of where you come from throughout the (African) diaspora, trauma is a very big part of your bloodline,” Tankou said.

A 2022 study of African American couples found that discrimination experienced by one person had negative mental and physical health implications for their partner. Through Black love, Black people often help each other shoulder the burden of racial injustice by empathizing, validating, supporting and encouraging each other through hardships.

Black artists have historically acknowledged the unique, intrinsic value of Black love in media. Like many other young people, I always look back at the media from the late 20th century for examples of quintessential Black love. Songs like “Love and Happiness” by Al Green actively display how pop culture uplifted and encouraged Black relationships.

That isn’t to say that the narratives surrounding Black relationships were ever perfect. Infidelity, colorism, degradation, mistrust, stereotypes and other toxicities aren’t new phenomena in media – they have persisted for centuries. However, the narrative of Black love wasn’t focused on these themes.

Today, in every pocket of the media from celebrity news to music to television – especially on social media platforms – a harmful narrative surrounding Black relationships has become the social norm. The healthy Black relationship narratives depicting positive themes like strength and joy are becoming harder to find.

According to Ebony Magazine, the media is lying about the state of Black relationships by depicting them as toxic. Actually, by perpetuating this myth, the media is playing a significant role in dismantling our generation’s Black love experience.

Given that Black communities, families and relationships have historically already been divided by systemic injustices – including but not limited to the mass incarceration of Black men and the gender gap in African Americans in higher education – media is exceptionally damaging for Black relationships.

Nyomi Henderson, a second-year African American studies and sociology student and a co-director of “The Word on Wednesdays” – a program hosted by in the USAC Cultural Affairs Commission – said Black self-love is at the heart of the issue.

“It carries into what we pass on to our children,” Henderson said. “If we don’t have Black love, what do we have?”

Our generation must correct the cultural misrepresentation of Black people. If we don’t, Black love, the very thing that has kept Black people strong through centuries of trauma, will be irreparably distorted as older media falls out of style.

There is a way to restore the Black love narrative.

Jay Satten, a second-year undeclared student who sang at “Foldin Clothes,” said we must tap into our creativity. Creative performances like those in “Foldin Clothes” actively resist harmful narratives and build a healthy sense of identity by helping to process Black relationship experiences in spaces that are specifically intended to protect Black love.

“I want people to be able to interact with it (the music) and feel their feelings and understand what they’re going through,” Satten said.

Our generation must continue to create a healthier narrative around Black relationships by producing music, films, paintings, poetry and every other form of media that reflect Black joy and pride.

If UCLA students continue creating spaces that are dedicated to celebrating Black love and sharing their experiences on social media, it could catalyze a change in the culture.

“We can work as Black people to push against this idea that all the love that we experience has to come with a level of pain,” Tankou said.

Henderson added that the USAC Cultural Affairs Commission will be hosting more events focused specifically on Black love, and hopefully, more organizations will follow their lead.

If we want the next generation to know what Black love feels like, then young Black people must produce counternarratives that highlight the beauty, strength and joy that are central to the Black love experience. Through events like “Foldin Clothes,” Bruins are beginning to do just that.

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Danielle Taylor
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