On the night of February 11, #BlackDuke all joined for the annual “Black Love” event. Well known in the black community, “Black Love” is endeared by many as an opportunity to discuss the perils of finding a “bae” in the Duke community. Discussed topics ranged from the hook-up culture, interracial dating, off-campus cuffetry, and how academic stresses can stifle a dating culture. For me, though, the narrative I fully expected was lacking from the discussion. Given that I can count approximately 3.5 couples in the entire black community, all heterosexual, in a community as rich with attractive individuals and diversity of sexuality as Duke’s black community, it is absolutely astonishing to me that so few people are “cuffed,” or even remotely considering the pursuit of cuffetry. Literally no one has a Valentine; it’s ridiculous. And since loneliness seems to characterize our community’s bae relations so accurately, I expected someone to cogitate the reasoning for this fascinating phenomenon, or at least bring it up as having been their experience in on-campus boo searches at “Black Love.” I misjudged.
On one hand, when I hear “black love,” I’m reminded of a shackling and oppressive history of black enslavement, and I think what besides a supreme love for a Divine Creator and community support could have helped our ancestors come to terms with the plight they had been subjected to against their wills? More contemporarily, “black love” makes me think of George and Wheezy. Florida and James. Raven and Eddie. (I’m deliberately leaving out the couple that had been my locus of understanding what black love could look like and be, because I’m sick of the husband telling me where on my gluteus maximus I’m allowed to wear my pants AND because that marriage was annulled in my consciousness the moment I discovered that the freakin’ obstetrician had “a thing” for violating women). Juxtaposed with those flowery and arguably unrealistic depictions of black love on television, however, is the seeming reality, both in the Duke community and in the black community in general—nobody is freaking cuffed! Why?
If I may venture a guess, I think that there are quite a few contributing factors to the phenomenon of general baelessness in our black community. For starters, you have to consider the type of black kids who are coming to Duke—mostly middle to upper-middle class; very respectable; having, for the most part, been to the best high schools and preparatory programs in the country. In effect, you have put 800 black valedictorians in an overwhelmingly white space, all of which have been convinced by their parents that exceptional negritude is fundamental to black success and is ideologically unproblematic. Some of us are a bit nerdy or socially awkward, but just about all of us have been told that we are “hot stuff,” contributions to the race—“uplifters”—for as long as we can remember. And yet, many of us have had difficulty navigating race relations, since our respectability made us “too white” for black spaces, and our melanin always made us stand out in white ones. I’d like to posit that that complex scaffolds an environment controlled by pride, formed out of black students’ scorn for their racial pasts. An environment of pride makes genuine, authentic interactions with other black students difficult to come by (to say the very
least). Pride stifles trust and vulnerability, the undeniable building blocks of any successful relationship (platonic or otherwise).
The same phenomenon doesn’t exist in our interactions with whites, I’d imagine, because they landlord the spaces we’re being allowed to rent, like the college environment—the spaces were not made for us, and no has blueprinted a re-model to accommodate our needs and preferences. And yet, we know how valuable the real estate is, and can’t forget how long the waitlist of exceptional negros is behind us; but, I digress. My interest is in deconstructing the environment of pride, such that we facilitate the kinds of loving interactions we’d like to see… (To be continued)