The Concept of Love and Its Impact in the African American Community
Love has shown to be a controversial, yet consistent, topic in multiple communities. There are components within the concept of love that must be understood before one can achieve love of self and/or love of a partner. The theory of relationship maturity emphasizes the key components that should be considered when in a romantic partnership: the self-focus, role-focus, and individuated-connected. Furthermore, there are cognitive, affective and behavioral dimensions that must be considered as well.
Along with these elements, there are challenges that make the process of being in a relationship complex. For instance, the perception of love has been heavily influenced by how society defines and expresses it through media and other public representations. This perception does not always align with the belief system and experiences in all communities. In the African American community for example, both men and women experience difficulties with how the world perceives them individually; which, inevitably has an impact on the quality of their romantic relationships. This article will delve in to the challenges African Americans face that contribute to their perception of love and ability to develop and maintain relationships.
Tyson (2011) breaks down the theory of relationship maturity in to three components and elaborates on the differences among them. At the self-focus level, cognition, affect and behavior are based upon the individual rather than on another. At the role-focused level, the other person is considered, but only within the context of oneself and what is considered socially acceptable. At the individual-connected level, there is an understanding of oneself and one’s partner, and conscious actions are routinely taken to protect and nurture the relationship. Within the African American community, how these elements are displayed and considered is impacted heavily by the challenges both men and women face.
More specifically, punitive social policies and restricted access to resources and jobs due to institutional and ecological racism impact the lived experience of young African Americans while influencing the development and sustainability of mature love relationships (Lavner, Barton, Bryant, & Beach, 2018). This discrimination is positively correlated with psychological aggression in men and physical aggression in women. Greater levels of discrimination produce instability in the overall relationship causing large amounts of stress and strain among each partner (Allen & Mitchell, 2015). The office of Black Student Achievement makes it a mission to address these challenges and disparities in the lives of African American students on campus through programming and by giving the students a brave space to discuss their struggles and learn about how others have been able to cope with their negative experiences.
There are influences in to how adolescents, emerging adults and adults view and experience love in romantic relationships. More specifically, with adolescents and emerging adults who observe their parents’ relationships throughout their lifetime, there becomes a substantial influence on the values and beliefs they have about their current and future relationships. Furthermore, the public figures and values portrayed through the media impacts what adolescents and emerging adults want for their personal relationships as well.
For Black History Month, the office of Black Student Achievement strives to gather a better understanding of these perspectives and influences on love within the Georgia State University community. The office is providing a brave space within our dialogue series (Black Men’s Dialogue, Black Women’s Dialogue and Black People’s Dialogue) for students to open-up about their personal experiences regarding love and gain insight that they can apply to their daily lives. The theme for Black Student Achievement’s dialogue series in the month of February is Black Love, with the intent to disclose aspects of love that should be taken into consideration, such as emotional and sexual satisfaction, commitment, respect and trust. Other factors include a couple’s ability to endure vulnerabilities, stressful events, adapt to their environment and the quality of their interactions (Lavner, Barton, Bryant, & Beach, 2018). Along with discussing romantic love, the office hopes to address the importance of self-love in the community, as well as building upon how this can be achieved while understanding the different perspectives on what it means to have self-love. Overall, the concept of love is deeply embedded within human nature and the daily pressures of society should have no role in interfering with one’s capacity to love.
Allen, K., & Mitchell, S. (2015). Perceptions of parental intimate relationships and their effects on the experience of romantic relationship development among African American emerging adults. Marriage & Family Review, 51(6), 516–543. https://doi.org/10.1080/01494929.2015.1038409
Lawrence-Webb, C., Littlefield, M., & Okundaye, J. N. (2004). African American Intergender Relationships: A Theoretical Exploration of Roles, Patriarchy, and Love. Journal of Black Studies, 34(5), 623–639. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gsu.edu/10.1177/0021934703259014
Lavner, J. A., Barton, A. W., Bryant, C. M., & Beach, S. R. H. (2018). Racial discrimination and relationship functioning among African American couples. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(5), 686–691. https://doi.org/10.1037/fam0000415.supp (Supplemental)
Tyson, S. Y. (2011). Developmental and ethnic issues experienced by emerging adult African American women related to developing a mature love relationship. Issues in Mental Health Nursing, 33(1), 39–51. https://doi-org.ezproxy.gsu.edu/10.3109/01612840.2011.620681