The topic of black love never gets old in the African-American community. Behind concerns over falling marriage rates and lamentations over the dearth of “marriageable” black men lurks the question of “what to do” to preserve the African-American family. Journalist Gil Robertson, IV takes an innovative approach to understanding the precarious state of black relationships in his latest anthology, Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community. In his third book on black culture and society, Robertson presents a multifarious series of essays by African-Americans from many walks of life, and at various stages of relating. At times thought-provoking, but always uplifting, Where Did Our Love Go offers an insightful complement to the many relationship books that train readers to work within the status quo of black love without encouraging African-Americans to evolve beyond it.
TheGrio sat down with the author to learn more about how the black community might tackle the issue of more meaningfully relating.
theGrio: What inspired you to write Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community?
Gil Robertson: To address the immense need. Black America has a problem in terms of the sustainability of our relationships, and so I wanted to explore that theme and some of the issues, and also work to find solutions to circumstances that are leading so many of us not to be able to find real, lasting love.
This is my third anthology that examines critical issues that impact the African-American community. The first one, [Not in My Family: AIDS in the African-American Community] addresses the AIDS situation. The last one, Family Affair: What it Means to be African American Today, addresses black identity.
Love is an evergreen topic. It’s definitely the ultimate hot button topic in the black community.
Your book contains stories about people at different stages of their love evolution: People who are trying to cope with being single, people who are newly married. Is it your hope that different kinds of readers will find themselves in this book, and through a sort of empathy with the different essayists, reflect on their own journey towards improving their relationships?
Absolutely, absolutely. I think you said it better than myself, and I’m going to have to take you on the road with me, bow out and listen. (Laughs.)
I mean, absolutely. The “Single” chapter — those essays speak to the aspiration of being married, and what that hopefully will represent in those people’s lives. The “Married” [chapter] represents accomplishment and how it feels to be on top of the hill, and to make it work. And of course the “Divorce” section offers the perspective of those who have done that. It’s bittersweet… [but] not written in any kind of distaste. Those essays offer readers a lot of pause and an opportunity for soul searching[.]
So as a collective, I think when you draw all three sections together, it takes you, as you said, through the evolution of a love relationship. And the contributors really came to the party with this one, a thing that I am so pleased about. This book has a healthy level of contributors who are professional journalists and writers, and they took a very thoughtful approach.
Can you describe how your book is different from other very popular books on black love by African-American male authors?
Let’s be very clear: Black people are not a monolith, and we come from different experiences, different backgrounds. I think to talk in a comprehensive way about any subject it’s necessary to have voices that represent various segments and perspectives within our community. That’s why the book represents a gathering of different people who are at different places in their lives, who are all equally concerned about the status of our love lives and who deliver thoughtful opinions and advice as to what can be done to correct the current course of things.
The book Is Marriage For White People? — another look at black, heterosexual relationships — became controversial by recommending that black women seek mates outside their race. Is there a similar surprising insight in your book?
That love is important. That all is not lost. People place a priority on having viable, productive relationships, they just don’t know how to love.
The black community has been burdened and beleaguered by so many different issues and themes throughout our experience here in America. Honestly, if you were to look at it, black love has always been under attack.
Obviously during the institution of slavery it was illegal for couples to come together legally. Traditionally marriage was… really a way for individuals to solidify their place, standing on wealth, in a particular community. So obviously, starting from that model, a black man and woman coming out of slavery were starting at the bottom. There were no assets to be exchanged or shared.
So it’s been a challenge. But the one prevailing theme is that black marriages — and the institution of marriage as something that society overall recognizes is important — the black community embraces that. Marriage as an institution is literally the centerpiece for love, not only the love that holds the family together, but also the community and society in general.
So the big takeaway is the fight isn’t over and that people are determined to try their best to hopefully find mates.
What do you think of the fact that in America in general people are getting married less and less? Do you think it’s possible that, much as in other areas where blacks have been culturally ahead of the times, the rest of society is just following this trend of marriage as an institution that is dying?
I know what you’re saying and you’re right. Very often black people are trend setters, but I think it would be delusional to think that one can take the journey through life, to navigate all of its ups and downs, successfully, [alone]. I think that two is better than one. I’m certainly not saying there’s anything wrong with being single, but I just honestly believe, as someone who’s in their 40s who hasn’t been married, that it’s something that I certainly need and welcome, because I can see the benefits.
Particularly if there are children involved, the benefits of having two parents in the home are incontestable. I think we need that more. I don’t think that this is going to be one that we’re going to set the trend for.