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The Struggle to Understand How to Sustain Healthy Black Love

Trigger Warning: The week before I began my fall semester at Towson University, my girlfriend broke up with me. While I was excited about my new beginning, I still struggled with the ending of my relationship. We were consistently on and off for years and, honestly, were extremely toxic, yet I’m still trying to get over the breakup. Honestly, I was struggling not only to complete this article, but to also figure out the best way to start it. As I began to type, all sorts of emotions came up that I didn’t want to face. Good emotions and good memories came up, as well as bad emotions and bad memories. In this article, I will briefly explore different aspects of black love, including, most importantly, its intensity. For some, especially the ones getting over an ex or looking for their next, what I will discuss may hit home. But if you’re ready to be and feel real, then read on.

This semester I began my journey towards studying mass communications. As my professor began to discuss the initial presentation of mass media through the radio, I began to think about how mass media presents black people, or rather, black love. I later discussed with a friend about Tyler Perry’s “Madea” films, and the debate around the limited and toxic presentation of the black love experience within them. While I have experienced toxic situations, I believe that we deeply need more black films that portray the positive and negative, to exhibit the full scope of the black experience and black love. Luckily, we as black people can draw from our own varying experiences with struggling to sustain healthy black love, and some black films do portray more positive, realistic, and universal black experiences. While it would be nice to only focus on the good things and positive situations that come out of black love, I believe it is fair, even proper, to discuss its entirety.

Family Trauma

One element found within Tyler Perry’s films, that I can agree with, is the generational trauma or disfunction that is layered within the black family. The trauma going as far back as slavery has managed to trickle its way down from generation to generation. The disfunction within our black families from past generations – whether it’s thought processes, child-rearing practices, or even the kind of relationship a mother and daughter should have – are the first representations of black love we see and experience. Whether you hear the phrase “nappy hair” slip out of the mouth of your aunt when referring to the hair your mother calls “beautiful” and “thick,” or experience abandonment by your mother because of your sexual orientation, black trauma seems to bare its ugly head. The relationships we have with our parents have been proven to have a psychological effect on the partners we later chose to be with. According to Rebecca Bergen, Ph.D., “our first experience with this emotion [love] is with our parents, and those years set the bar for how we see, give, and receive love and what we want out of relationships later in our lives.”

So, if our first experience with love with our parents, or their representation of it, is heartache, what should we expect in our intimate relationships to come?

Could this be to blame for our struggle to sustain healthy black love?

Toxic Love and Self Love

As I mentioned earlier, I was in a toxic relationship. After getting out of it, I got into therapy and began to do more research into mental health, and most importantly self-love. While I’m still learning, I began to learn that I lacked self-love, and lacking self-love leaves room for these toxic relationships to come and stay in our lives. My past family trauma had trickled down into my mindset and formed the negative way that I thought about myself. I keep running from it, but I can fix it – we can fix it. Yes, we may have generational trauma, but the problem isn’t necessarily the trauma itself but the way, and if, we deal with it. It’s about changing our narrative, how we see and understand the things or the thing we thought we understood all along.

It’s about not ignoring ourselves for someone else and taking care of ourselves, whether someone else comes along or not.

It’s not just about knowing but grasping on to the fact that toxic love comes when self-love is gone.

Simply, we have to reshape our understanding of healthy black love.

Reshaping Our Understanding of Healthy Black Love

Writer Saddi Khali explains, “many of us (myself included) need to be reminded of what healthy Black love looks like. It isn’t someone putting you through hell. It isn’t someone who is making you pay for the sins of another by forcing you to break down their walls of pain built by fear.” We’ve all heard the phrase, “because he don’t know no betta.” And we didn’t. At one point we thought we knew what healthy black love looked like, we thought we knew what it felt like. But now we’re beginning to question it. We thought it had to hurt, or we had to hurt to attain it, but we don’t.

In his interview with Vice, black photographer Idris Solomon discusses his view on the way black love is represented in the media and provides a useful perspective on where and when black love was represented in a “very genuine way” (Solomon). When Solomon is asked how he feels about the way black love is presented in the media, he points out that there isn’t much representation, but references the “late 90’s to the 2000’s” as a time when black love was being represented. Solomon calls attention to the “romances with Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, and Larenz Tate.” Films like “Love Jones” and “Love and Basketball” not only presented successful black people, but a more realistic, and in some ways, healthy representation of black love. A memorable line from “Love Jones” was Nina’s statement, “I am dancing a bright beam of light. I am remembering love.”

It is important to remember love – real, healthy black love – or to at least try to get to know it. Through our journey across family trauma, toxic love, and the lack of understanding, we can arrive at a place where we begin to discover. We begin to discover our new favorite food, the comfort of our home, and the two cats that have loved you all along. Another one of Madea’s movie titles I can stand behind is, “I Can Do Bad All By Myself.” So, get rid of that toxic ex, get a therapist, and start loving yourself. It is a journey, but I’m on it with you. As we do this, get deeper into the new year and embrace the empowerment of black history month, we can begin to more deeply understand how to sustain healthy black love.


Grove, R., & Thompson, J. D. (2022, February 14). What healthy black love looks like • ebony. EBONY. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://www.ebony.com/love-relationships/love-relationships-bonds-advice/

Strebe, S. (2021, May 18). 4 ways your relationship with Your parents affects your love life. Brides. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://www.brides.com/relationships-with-parents-5112051

Wheeler, A. N. (2019, June 13). Photographer Idris Solomon shoots the kind of black love seen in Rom-COMS. VICE. Retrieved February 19, 2022, from https://www.vice.com/en/article/43j48q/photographer-idris-solomon-shoots-the-kind-of-black-love-seen-in-rom-coms

Milaka Saddler

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