There are so many Black men I love. My dad. My brother. Cousins and nephews. Friends and colleagues. Ancestors. Artists and philosophers I’ve never met but whose contributions are inimitable, indisputable (Jean-Michel Basquiat, John Coltrane, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.). The tone and shades of my love are varied. Sometimes it’s the thicker-than-mud, essential love of family, and sometimes it’s the disciplined love of shared destiny, of community. Sometimes it’s the heart-busting leap and swirls of romantic love, and sometimes it’s a love built from distance, respect, and awe.
It’s a privilege to love. It is a privilege to love anybody and anything at all. Meaning, we who love are lucky — not everyone allows themselves to be so exposed, so raw. To open that red door of the heart, through which experiences both wonderful and terrible can pass.
It is also a joy to love — especially when you love Black men. I’m talking about joy as essayist Zadie Smith describes it. Which is to say, not the same thing as fun or feels good or pleasure but rather “a difficult emotion to manage,” a “strange admixture of terror, pain, and delight.”
Delight! Because nobody makes me laugh as hard as my Black brother, both of us clutching our bellies, cheeks aching and eyes watering. Because I am my Black father’s daughter, and no matter what, come hell or high water, through life and death, we are, in our ongoing togetherness, the hope and the dream of the slaves from whom we descend. Because Basquiat and Coltrane and Mos Def and others stir my senses, the senses made lazy by algorithms: the fat slide of oil sticks under the weight of fingers, the limber notes of the saxophone, the staccato, deep-thinking vocals. Because M’s hand on my inner thigh heals me in a way no yoga pose or therapy session has — the way the color of my leg and the color of his palm is indistinguishable, the way that our joined touch carries the ineffable, thrilling spark of Black love even though this is not yet love, and probably never will be. Because Black men are the original men. Because Black men are misunderstood and it’s still all good. Because Black men and Black boys and Black baby boys make me smile.
But also, joy as a thing that contains (is inseparable from, must include) terror and pain — because they are tracked…