by Ejuma Adoga
It is no coincidence that Black History Month and Valentine's Day share the same month. Valentine’s Day is commercially celebrated and advertised as a day celebrating romantic love—stores participate by selling heart-shaped chocolates, giant teddy bears, flowers, and everything in between. Black History Month highlights the achievements of black men and women in spite of the racism and discrimination that faced them, and which still faces black individuals all over the world. Valentine’s Day has always been a cheery, bright, and uplighting holiday—though not all partake in it—that puts it main emphasis on romantic love. But I believe that the connection between Valentine’s Day and Black History month goes much much deeper than this.
Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Racism is derived from hatred and ignorance because people with prejudices and racial biases do not have love within their hearts. As a black woman living in the United States, I can attest that racism is something that is very much alive. Human beings are socialized to treat those with cultural differences as “other,” instead of fully embracing their shared humanity. I was blessed to have an upbringing in which my mother always encouraged us to be our most authentic selves and to treat those different from us with the utmost respect. Seeing today’s current political and social climate—even on campus, and even after the horrific events that have happened here, too—it is disheartening, to say the least, that others do not carry the same mindset that all humans possess dignity.
Racism and prejudice arise from a lack of love and mutual understanding. Valentine’s Day is about love, yes, but that love is not and should not be limited to just romantic love. Romantic love is something that is potent, powerful, and one of the many tangible examples of God’s love in our lives. Love also lies within our relationships with family, friends, and the global community. Agapic love encapsulates all aspects of love, and it the love that Christ talks about in when he says that one of the greatest commandments is to love your neighbor as yourself. St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians also beautifully and eloquently describes this agape, and while these readings are widely used for weddings (as they should be), they are also a powerful way to think about all of our human interactions.
Black History Month is a reminder of the amazing diversity within the United States, and I am so grateful and proud of the person that God has made me to be. As Valentine’s Day prompts many to show their love for their significant others in a wonderful and exquisite fashion, it is equally important to recognize our own internal prejudices and biases in order to promote change. On my very first Kairos retreat my sophomore year, we were all asked what we thought God was to us. One of the girls in my group remarked that she saw God as unconditional love, and that idea has stayed with me ever since. Love is complex, beautiful, and powerful, and the choice to love, while not always easy, makes a huge difference in the quality of human life. If Jesus, who was God made man, was able to treat the very marginalized of society with the utmost respect and decency, shouldn’t we as well?
Featured image courtesy of Count the Cost Photography Inc. via Flickr