Where has all the love gone?

Taylor Braswell

For Black women seeking love, the Purple Valley is more like a desert. Yet our non-Black counterparts seem to be living in a lush rainforest abundant with any fruit of their picking. Why is that? We know that this country is anti-Black. We know that this country seems to hate women. And we know that our campus is no exception to these things. But frankly, I’m tired of these being the responses to every issue that concerns Black women. “Anti-Blackness” and “misogyny” are our generation’s equivalent to a shoulder shrug. I am getting to an age where I’m far less concerned with what the issue at hand is and far more concerned with why it’s an issue and what we’re going to do about it. What is it about the College’s particular climate that seems to have dried up all the love? Where has all the love gone? Can we get it back? Has it permanently evaporated from our campus, or is there a cycle just waiting to be broken? I really don’t f*cking know. 

A lot of people here are desperate to love someone, anyone. Most of the time, I am one of them. There is no shame in my game, at least not anymore. I am no longer interested in continuing to lie to myself about what I want — even when the wanting hurts. I hope you feel the same. There is nothing weak about wanting to love. But even if it was weak, so f*cking what? It might be the most human thing about us — our desire to be soft and messy and ugly and passionate in front of someone else. I try to love myself very much. I spend a lot of time learning how to do it because I am not willing to be unloving towards myself. I love my sense of humor, my interests, my laugh, my hair, my intelligence, and my propensity towards loud clothing. I love it, and I know it’s enough. I love myself. I am enough by myself, and I want to share myself with someone else. These things are not at odds. I can’t allow them to be. 

I think that love is the best shot we have at ever being free. I am open to all kinds of love so that I can experience all kinds of freedom. At the College, it’s hard to be free because it’s hard to feel loved. The College asks us to be profoundly cerebral, to exist in our minds ceaselessly. The College demands that we exercise great self-control in every aspect of our lives. When things get messy, the College expects us to clean it up before any cracks begin to show. The College asks that we toil without tiring, to rest only when the work is done. The issue is that the work is never done. And I’m not just talking about academics. The social fabric of our school rewards detachment and feigned disinterest. It discourages caring about anything or anyone “too” much. You’re not supposed to want anything too badly, to ever feel desperation or longing. Only once we’ve proven how hard we’re willing to work and how little we’re willing to care are we able to access love from this institution and all its people. Only then are kind looks thrown our way across campus. Only then are our names mentioned in circles of power. Only then are our names remembered. 

Being at the College is like going through your whole life with your stomach sucked in. You refuse to expose the softness of your belly and so you never really breathe. 

A love with so many conditions, that expects us to be stoic and neat and always presentable and moderate — well, that’s not love. At the College, it is so easy to forget that we have a body beyond our brains. It is so hard to be soft. It is so easy to lose track of our humanity and its beauty. 

Romantic love is one way to fight back against that. See, when you have a lover, real or imagined, it is practically impossible to ignore your body. A passing comment or a quick remark has the power to set every nerve ending in your body aflame. Your heart suddenly begins to beat to its own rhythm, showing no regard for the one set by your brain. And when their body touches yours, you become acutely aware of just how many feelings and sensations there are to be felt. It’s kind of like being born all over again. And your lover is attracted to all the things about you that are out of your control — your smile, your sense of humor, your temper. And there is absolutely nothing that you can do about it. How terribly wonderful. 

There is nothing wrong with wanting to be seen, desired, loved, and touched. There is something divinely right about it. Love — its highs, and especially its lows — are a poignant reminder of our humanity. And in a place like this we desperately need to be reminded. Black women at the College probably need these reminders the most, yet accessing them is ten times as hard.

Black women on this campus are subjected to the same environmental pressures as everyone else at the College — probably more. We expect it and know that it’s just par for the course. But the pressure becomes unbearable when we are not allowed to bask in the joys of being college students even as we drown in the challenges. We are young, beautiful, brilliant. This campus should be like putty in our hands. We work damn hard to keep ourselves and our communities afoot and afloat. We are one of the populations on campus most giving of our time and energy. It is exhausting and unfair at times, but we persist because we labor out of love. But when that love is not returned to us year after year after year, we begin to grow weary. We have officially arrived at weariness. 

The Black women of the College are eloquent. We sit on student panels, plead to trustees, and negotiate with deans. Yet we are not spoken to at campus parties or during entry snacks. The Black women of the College are fiercely loving and compassionate. When a friend, professor, or staff member needs counsel or feedback or solace, we are often the first people they turn to. We do it time and time again because we know what it’s like to go years without feeling heard, but this labor comes at a high emotional price for us. By the time graduation comes around, we are forced to start our adult lives in emotional bankruptcy due to years of withdrawing without ever depositing.  

We are asked to nurture, but we are not given the option to be nurtured. We are asked to care but are not cared for. We are asked to speak and yet are not spoken to. We are asked to educate, even though we ourselves are here to seek education. We are expected to hold enormous weights on our shoulders, and we are expected to appear joyous while doing it. That way, when the pressure finally crushes us, they can say we fell doing something we loved. We are expected. And there is never any room for us to expect things in return. 

I can’t accept this. There is no form of love that has been untouched by Black women, so there should be no Black woman untouched by love. As a college, we need to do more than offer affinity to our Black women. We need more than just a cave to seek shelter in. We need a mountaintop from which we can shine. Our beauty, our brilliance, and our divinity should not be a question when it has been the answer to this institution’s failings for decades. We deserve to be loved, courted, touched, protected. We are soft and messy and passionate. We are not your rock nor are we your soft landing. Black women at the College are where the love has come from but we are not where it has gone. 

Taylor Braswell ’23 is an English major from Chicago, Ill.