From Fri Mar 30 07:54:47 2001
Subject: [BRC-NEWS] What's Love Got To Do With It?
Precedence: bulk
Date: Fri, 30 Mar 2001 07:29:33 -0500 (EST)

What's Love Got To Do With It: Politics, Care, and the New Millennium

By Isaiah Leroy <>, 29 March 2001

“We need more love in the black community.”

“The Black community doesn't have enough love.”

“What black people need to do is love ourselves more.”

I've heard this refrain now in a number of different fora, from a number of different sources with varying levels of political consciousness. One occasion was during a forum on “black leadership” sponsored by a black graduate organization—another occasion was during a pickup basketball game. Most recently bell hooks gave a talk entitled “Feminism is for Everybody.”

It focused on the subject of love and the black community. She argued that because of a lack of self-love, black men and women do harm to themselves, to their families, their friends, their lovers. What we need more than anything else is to recapture this sense of love that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about in the sixties. Cornel West in Race Matters argues something similar, positing that what we face is a nihilistic threat, one that can only be soothed by returning to “the love ethic.” Indeed, some conservative nationalists argue something similar, noting that a return to African values will place black people on the path to righteousness.

To be fair there is some truth in their comments. That is, there are a number of individuals in our communities who could use love in their lives.

There are a number of women and men who have suffered and continue to suffer from all kinds of psychological traumas. Men for example who have been mentally beaten into submission by their spouses, women who have been similarly subjugated working 12 hour shifts at the plant. Finally the most vulnerable among us—children—endure hours upon hours of latchkey treatment, of being ignored, of being treated as worthless in public and private schools.

Perhaps an excellent example of how a lack of self-love affects individuals and those around them is the crack-baby syndrome identified by many pundits and scholars as beginning in the mid-eighties and coming to a head sometime in the early nineties. These children, it was argued, faced a number of developmental deficits all stemming from the horrible addictions of their mothers. In fact in a significant number of cases, mothers had their children taken away from them by the court because of their addiction to crack cocaine.

If indeed that it is love that we need, then arguably no one needs more love than people addicted to drugs, and the children they raise.

But in making the argument that places love and self-esteem in the center, it seems that there is something missing.

Maybe politics?

In order for the love argument to work it seems to me that it must be true that either material resources are evenly distributed amongst various cultural groups, or that they simply do not matter in improving their life-chances. Now we know that the former isn't true—by all indicators black people are in poorer shape than their white counterparts. With college degrees in hand we don't have as much accumulated wealth as our white counterparts with high school degrees. Because of hyper-segregation (segregation based on both race and class) our schools have fewer resources, as do our communities in general. If anything then, material resources are woefully skewed against us.

How about the latter idea—that material resources don't matter?

Though neither bell hooks, Cornel West, the grad student at the “black leadership” forum, or the brother I was playing ball with in the park would say that we have as many material resources as our white brothers and sisters, they do not shy away from the position that material resources don't matter—or at least they don't matter as much as love does. Hooks talking about the school she grew up in notes that her school had little to nothing in the way of resources, but it had love—the type of love that helped her to become who she was. Cornel West has argued similarly.

Is it that we were all wrong in fighting for increased access to education, to an end to Jim Crow? Maybe we should just toss all of that stuff out and get back to basics. Give us some shacks and some love and we'd be alright?

The reason it sounds absurd is because at base it is. The fact that we were able to survive through the enslavement, through Jim Crow, and through various and sundry forms of subjugation stands as a testament to our ability to love ourselves. The fact that we were able to expand the conception of democracy throughout our struggles is further testimony. We've got love for days seemingly. What we don't have enough of, are organized attempts to re-allocate state resources to meet our needs.

Revisiting the crack baby syndrome may help here. In the March 28 edition of the St. Louis Post, buried underneath a story addressing the foot-and-mouth outbreak in Britain, was an article looking at the “crack-baby syndrome.” In research soon to appear in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of the risks previously associated with parental crack cocaine abuse were more closely related to poverty than anything else.

If the central issue that these children face is not caused by their mothers not loving themselves enough not to fall victim to crack, but rather the day to day problems associated with poverty, then what does love have to do with their life-chances?

Talking about love sounds—well lovely. It is hard to argue against pampering, against wrapping ourselves in the arms of love, against feeling safe to express love in grand and wondrous ways. But let's be clear. Love absent from politics doesn't clear asbestos from schools, doesn't end regressive tax policies, doesn't provide safety nets for victims of the global economy. Besides perhaps making us feel good in fact, it isn't quite clear what it provides for.