If the comments from panelists at the Where Did Our Love Go book signing and open discussion are any indication, love among African-Americans can thrive. But like anything, it takes effort, honest self-reflection and proper priorities.
The book’s editor, media critic and veteran journalist Gil Robertson, said, “What I discovered was, we want love. We value it. But a lot of us have fallen off on how to find it,” Robertson said.
Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African-American Community aims to help anyone who believes in love find their way. The book is sectioned in three parts — Single, Married, and Divorced — with more than 40 essays from a wide range of contributors, from R&B icon Anthony Hamilton and his wife, Tarsha; to Huffington Post contributor Morris W. O’Kelly; and life coach and author Dr. Nicole LaBeach.
Five panelists, including Robertson, gathered at the Hammonds House on Tuesday to celebrate the book’s release with a signing and discussion, partly courtesy of Written magazine‘s Wine and Words series.
Each of the panelists was a contributor to the book: radio personality and ordained minister Twanda Black; From Afros to Shelltoes founder and Spelman College educator Ed Garnes Jr.; publisher and architecture and construction consultant David Horton; and psychiatrist Dr. Cassandra Wanzo.
The crowd was tight with about 60 attendees, mostly women. That is part of the problem, Robertson said, noting the futility of talking about black love with black men largely absent.
His frustration was palpable, particularly because “After editing three books dealing with black people, I am convinced we are in critical shape,” Robertson said.
He expressed just as much frustration with African-Americans’ failure to “focus on what we’re doing” and instead take up the burdens and concerns of other cultures.
That’s beyond unfortunate. Because when the excuses stop and the work begins, the panel agreed that’s when many African-Americans will find the love they’re seeking.
One of the book’s assistant editors, Michelle Gipson, served as the evening’s gracious emcee and moderator. Her questions to the panel were succinct, and she did a good job making sure questions from the audience were acknowledged.
Most of the conversation focused on the work women have yet to do. For example, Black said she had to “change me and what I wanted for my life … and not go for the perception of what was my type.” She is now happily married to a man she met decades ago who she’d maintained a friendship with throughout the years — one who certainly wasn’t “her type” at first. But as her values changed, so did her priorities.
“We can’t deal in generalities,” Garnes said in response to one panelist’s concern that there’s largely one type of black man — the kind that only values what his peers think and whether he “hit that” more than the honor and respect of his partner.
Garnes acknowledged a few of his own mismatched pairings. “The possibility of love opened up with my own healing,” that is, once he decided to make smart choices and take responsibility for his own growth. Garnes is happily coming up on his one-year marriage anniversary.
Religion plays a role in many relationships, as may be expected for a culture with such deep spiritual and religious roots. It can bring a couple together — the most important thing is for a couple to share the same belief system, Horton said — but can also be subversive. In a marriage that eventually ended in divorce, Wanzo faithfully submitted to her husband as head of the household. She maintained and supported the traditional Bible-based roles, but rather than uphold them, her husband abused his privilege and dishonored them, all to his advantage.
Surprisingly, the ubiquitous concern of black men’s lack of availability for women — due to incarceration or homosexuality — wasn’t raised until late in the discussion.
In all, the ideas expressed by both the panelists and participants were honest and sincere. While they didn’t get as nuanced as the collection of essays likely allows, the elements were certainly present in the room — courageous effort, a dose of humor, and without a doubt, love.