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 By Mark Anthony Neal | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015.


Could you be love, and be loved?”—Bob Marley

Oh, in another life, I bet you wouldn't know that”—D’Angelo


It was one of most genuine Loving Black moments that we’re likely to see in American cinema this year; Niecy Nash, portraying Coretta Scott King’s childhood friend Richie Jean Jackson, welcomes into her home, or quite literally her kitchen, a group of hungry Negroes.  The group, which included Martin Luther king Jr, Ralph Abernathy, James Orange, Hosea Williams and James Bevel, would use Jackson’s home to strategize the Selma campaign.  That scene though, with the free flow of grits and gravy...bacon and biscuits was a reminder of the ethic of Loving Black; you can’t be on the front lines with your belly empty.  

History don’t often remember who was cooking it up in the Kitchen—unless it’s a tireless Black domestic praying for a new day—and yet Ava Duvernay gave us this small glimpse of Loving Black, to not only acknowledge the labor of women who were on the first line, if not the front line, but as a gesture of love to us.


I’ve thought often about such gestures recently with regards to corporate media production. The occasions where we truly feel loved, by and within, that enterprise, are few and far between. 

Ava DuVernay’s SELMA and D’Angelo’s BLACK MESSIAH are visuals and sonics of Loving Black—an  ethical practice in which you never have to question that they (our artists)  and theirs (their art) are all in for us.  Loving Black is not simply the act of loving Black (though that’s something to aspire) but a something else, as in a politics in loving, as only Black can love itself, in a world where Black is so often perceived as absence, deficit and pathology.  A something unconditional.


Loving Black are those women like Diane Nash, Jackson, Coretta Scott-King, Amelia Boynton (who still walks the earth at age 103), and Ella Baker, who held tight the movement, even through the benevolent patriarchy and homophobia of its male leadership. Baker, for example, might not have appeared in the film, but her spirit clearly informs DuVernay's filmmaking; Baker is in that kitchen with Jackson; she is on that bridge being beat with Lorraine Toussaint’s Boynton. Loving Black.


It is in the spirit of Loving Black, that I have been fundamentally stunned at the rancor and disparagement directed at SELMA and BLACK MESSIAH.   In a media landscape in which our humanity is regularly assaulted--and often enough at the hands of those who are ostensibly us--SELMA and BLACK MESSIAH are nothing short of open arms;  D’Angelo’s mumbling  sweet nothin’s in our collective ears—come a little closer.  


Lacking in ridiculous claims for refunds for BLACK MESSIAH (as if the standards of art and love, wouldn’t demand refunds for much of what passes for commercially viable Black music) or those Historians of the trained and arm-chair variety, who apparently attended screenings of SELMA with historical reference volumes sitting in  their laps—is what Historian and Cultural Critic Treva Lindsey calls a “critical generosity.”

Loving Black is about loving back what loves you, and loving it enough that when it don’t feel like love, it is love that delivers that message. 

Almost two generations ago, Bob Marley asked—in the midst of the first post-Civil Rights era nadir—“could [we] be love and be loved?”  The question remains as relevant during this second nadir.  While we claim that #BlackLivesMatter, perhaps the relevant point should be do #BlackLivesLove?


SELMA, BLACK MESSIAH & the Ethics of Loving Black

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