Ryan Destiny and Keith Powers | Photo credit: Aris Jerome

The Business of Black Love: How It’s Been Commodified

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10 mins read

By Brianna Patt

How has seeing love through rose colored glasses hurt us and fueled business?

Black love is a big business. From dating seminars taught by Kevin Samuels that teach you about how to conquer the dating world, how to find a “high value” partner. From coaches like these, your femininity as a black woman is put under a microscope. If you exhibit confidence, it will be immediately knocked down (i.e. a woman once stated that she saw herself as an eight and was immediately instructed by Samuels to lower herself) and if your features do not perfectly align with what he views as feminine (i.e. a woman who was 5’8 was once told that she was built like a “running back”) he is not afraid to let you know. But, for all of these insults thrown out and for his fervent shaming of women who don’t fit a standard of beauty are constantly told, people keep coming back to him. Men book sessions to learn how to replicate this confidence. Books like “Relationship Goals” by Michael Todd (a New York Times best seller that sold 44,000 copies in its first week), are snatched up with fervor by young couples looking to learn how to love. Whether you buy these courses with this as your sole intent or not, it can’t be denied that one of the unifying threads of these services is to sell you a way to secure “black love.” 

To clarify, Black love simply isn’t simply a Black couple. It’s Ciara and Russel Wilson, Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union. Couples that seemingly exemplify a sense of unity, strength and love that’s akin to “Love Jones” or “Poetic Justice.” The couples that tell us even if the idea of long lasting “ride or die” black love isn’t just in movies, its real. As Laterras R. Whitfield, an actor, playwright, producer and host of the “Dear Future Wifey” podcast states, what makes us aspire for this type of bond is, potentially not seeing it take place in our own homes. 

“To not have seen love, black love, and a thriving marriage is a little abnormal. So that’s why people gravitate towards any type of symbolic reference of Black love, whether it’s just for the media purposes, or by Ciara and Russell Wilson. They look at that and they go wow, that relationship goes to the point that they’ve been trying to model Ciara’s prayer, all the way down to the granular level of that to say if I can say the prayer that she says maybe I can get me a Russell Wilson.”

A lack of visible Black love isn’t an unexplored topic. Many articles have been written about the difficulty of finding “Black love” (one by Marketplace pointedly titled “Why are so few Black women married). A Pew Research Center study even found that Black women are the least likely to marry.  Black love, as a concept, is seemingly on life support, with seminars and relationship books are being bought to learn how to revive it. 

So, if these seminars and books (non refundable sessions if your seeking the services of Kevin Samuel to improve your image) are clearly catering to an in demand market, what could be bad about meeting a very clear need. Well, the way the need is being met. How do we pray like Ciara, how do we learn and grow like Gabrielle, how do we achieve what these women have? Well, you pay someone to teach you how best to perform femininity. How to dress, behave and carry yourself in a way that you may not even be fully comfortable with and you allow men to take the lead in situations where you would usually insist upon more transparent, equal communication. There is not investigation of why it is that your boyfriend or husband feels the need to always take control of situations even when its to his own detriment. There is little investigation of how taking on the role of being more submissive may be stifling and may cause more friction rather than building and forming healthy bonds.

Take Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, who famously have been an example of strong Black love whose public image slowly crumbled. Their marriage was long considered not only admirable, but a clear part of their brand. However, the public realizing that these two people were never really a goal and that what appeared to be perfection was heavily curated was an uncomfortable reality. This isn’t to shame them for faltering or growing apart, but it does raise a point: clearly, there are and always have been issues we as the public didn’t know about. Even Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union went through their own respective issues (i.e. him getting another woman pregnant) and for some reason, people learning that Union, as the woman she is today would not have stayed, seemed to be upsetting. But, why would that level of transparency be a bad thing? Well, because it disrupts their ideal image of black love. She was willing to admit that at one point or another she was not willing to stick by Wade no matter what happened, she was not willing to be a “ride or die.”  Maybe, the reality is that we don’t know these couples and that even if we did, what works for them is not a one size fits all. Divorce Recovery Coach Twyla Marks points this out, stating that regardless of what couple you are looking at, what you envy and admire in them may not work for you. 

“I think that’s kind of dangerous and it’s really not healthy because then you can start to become envious or, and or jealous of another person in their marriage. That couple and what they have in it just not may not be for you in your marriage,” Marks said.

So, if the business of Black Love is selling a false promise, if it’s presenting a standard that not all couples can or are meant to follow, what can we do in order to try to achieve, or at least reach for the goal of black love without clinging to an idealized version of it? Well, according to Marks and Whitfield, therapy (individual and couples therapy) regardless of whether you’re in divorce recovery or trying to reach for your relationship goal may be the best investment. No coaches or paid courses necessary. 

“You might not even realize that something is bothering you or something from your past something from your childhood, something from a previous relationship or even a previous marriage because some people have remarried, twice, sometimes three(which no problem), but deal with some of the baggage that’s done but deal with all of that baggage that you may or may not even be aware of that you’re bringing into another relationship and or another marriage because it’s just it’s a cycle. And until it’s addressed and dealt with, it can possibly just continue,” Marks said. 

To learn more about Marks and Whitfield work, click the links below:

https://twylammarks.com/ (Twyla Marks)

http://www.youtube.com/DearFutureWifey (Laterras R. Whitfield)

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