Love and Black History Month: Any Connection?

Photo by Tyler Nix from

Is there a connection between  Black History Month and how we think about love? I know the inventors of Valentine’s Day weren’t thinking about deepening the meaning of Black History Month. But might there be a connection?

First, let’s look at what is unique about Black History Month and the Black experience in the United States.  There is much for all of us to learn. I recently heard a friend of Irish descent rant about why Black people want reparations and are always looking for what he termed “a free ride.” His grandparents came to this country from Ireland with nothing and worked in sweatshops. People of all ethnic backgrounds overcome adversity and move forward. What is so different about the Black experience?

A recent vacation in the Caribbean educated me about how Black people arrived on some of the islands. When the revolutionary war happened in the US, some of the white plantation owners who were loyal to Britain moved to the Bahamas and other parts of the Caribbean and took their slaves with them. Other Blacks were brought there directly as slaves from Africa. When I talked about this history with a Black cab driver, she told me she didn’t think it mattered. She said she could not understand why the African-Americans in the United States make such a fuss about the past.

I offer these examples not because I agree with the points of view. Rather, I want to shine a light on the complexity of race and racial equity and why we might want to approach the topic from a broader perspective – like love.

In an earlier post, I explored the limitations of either/or thinking. When the world is limited to a binary right or wrong, there is potential for enormous conflict. This is true in all relationships – personal and community. My wife and I often see things differently. My frustration with her perspective only intensifies the conflict. Until I can accept the difference, the possibility for change is limited.

Black History Month reminds all of us that we are very different and don’t really understand each other’s experiences. Last week’s post by Tamara Copeland on Black trauma offered a perspective that I suspect would seem foreign to many white readers and maybe even some Black and Brown readers.

Embracing learning about the Black experience requires accepting that while there is suffering in every family’s background, African-Americans in the United States face systemic structural oppression based on race. The evidence of how whites have supported a racist system of laws and policies that provided an advantage to whites and created disadvantage for Blacks is compelling. We need Black History and all history to reflect both the accomplishments of Black people and the systemic discrimination and lack of equity for Black people in education, health care, and access to capital and economic advancement.

We are all challenged to widen our lens and consider the possibility that we need to focus on “Black Lives Matter” because of the evidence they have not mattered for most of our country’s history. We need to focus on Black History and continuous learning about the Black experience and accomplishments because it has not been part of our education. And at the same time, we acknowledge there is and has been oppressive discrimination against people of non-white races and ethnicities, gay and transgender people, women, overweight people, people with disabilities, and others. In refusing to accept someone different from us, we, as a society have discriminated and failed.

Accepting this both/and reality is the first step to change. It requires learning about racism and noticing our part in it. Once we begin to accept this possibility, we need a way forward.

This requires the stretch that I call “love.” In 2000, bell hooks (pen name for writer and feminist Gloria Jean Watkins) wrote a book all about love New Visions. It was reprinted in 2018 and after 20 years reached the NY Times best seller list in 2021.

Her book and perspective offer a unique look at what love is and its potential as a force for change in our world. Hook begins observing how confusing most writing about love is and how few places teach about the meaning of love. She reviews past efforts at defining love and embraces M. Scott Peck’s definition of love as “ the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”

She challenges her readers to go beyond seeing love as a feeling. She observes: “Affection is only one ingredient of love. To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust as well as honest and open communication.” (p.5)

In making the case that love is about spiritual growth, she observes that our challenge is not the lack of interest in the world of the spirit and spirituality, but that our explorations are “constantly co-opted by the powerful forces of materialism and hedonistic consumerism.” (p, 71) Exploring earlier writings by Eric Fromm, Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King, she asserts that we are not educated to see love as our connection to one another and whatever life force one chooses to believe in.

As we observe Black History month and the month of love, what do we need to learn and accept about our personal and collective past in order to open our hearts to our universal connection? Can we love enough to make reparations for our mistakes and to work for a just and equitable society?


  1. sally mac

    Thanks, Tom for introducing the novel spin on Black History month/Valentine’s Day. It may have more to do with Abraham Lincoln, but that’s another discussion. 😉
    I’m glad you amplify bell hooks since she is an author vilified by Gov. DeSantis. We can learn a lot from her!

    • Tom Adams

      Love to hear more about how Abe Lincoln fits in the story? Be well, Tom