Panel ponders nature of love in black community

Miki Johnson

While most Northwestern students were frantically searching for love — or at least a date — for Valentine’s Day, a small group of black NU community members was trying to find out “what love is.”

With R&B music playing softly in the background, about 30 students, faculty and staff gathered Thursday night to discuss love in the black community with a five-person panel in the Black House, its front room decorated with red confetti and low lights.

The event, “Love Jones,” was partially designed to get students into the Black House, said James Britt, assistant director of the Office of African-American Student Affairs.

“I was also curious myself to see how much (love in the black community) was going to differ,” Britt said.

One difference, panelist Heather Foster said, stems from blacks’ tendency to be more passionate and expressive in general.

“The same goes for our love,” said Foster, an Education senior and interim president of For Members Only.

Panelist Erika Sanders pointed to historical differences, such as slavery and discrimination, that have made blacks unable to enjoy love in the “luxurious environment” that whites have.

“What (black) love has to experience and endure is very different,” said Sanders, assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Admissions.

Britt, also the event’s mediator, asked the panel questions written by the audience on pink paper hearts. Topics included “What keeps people together in the long run?” and “Do friends really make the best lovers?”

Although lighthearted comments and laughter frequently erupted, those in attendance discussed several serious matters as well.

Britt received an e-mail from a recent NU graduate who called herself “Fly in a bowl of milk” and wanted to know if she was wrong to limit herself to dating black men.

Audience member Courtney Deloney said she had dated black, white and Asian men and did not see a significant difference among them. Deloney, a Weinberg senior, added that she probably would marry a black man because she had an unhappy relationship with her father.

“It would mean that a black man would finally love me,” Deloney said.

Several people agreed that black women’s attitudes toward love often are shaped by their relationships — either positive or negative — with their fathers.

“I had a wonderful relationship with my dad,” Sanders said. “And I can see (his qualities) easier in black men.”

After several more questions, including ones about age disparity and sexual orientation, Britt asked the panelists to give their opinions of “the state of love today.”

“It has been a learning experience … to see how the conversation has changed over the years,” said panelist Kathleen Bethel, the university’s African-American studies librarian.

Twenty or 30 years ago, a conversation about love would have had “political and economic undertones” she said.

“None of that came up tonight, which is really fascinating to me,” Bethel said. “But I wonder if there is a price to pay for that kind of thing.”

Panelist Henry Perkins, a psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services, looked to Gloria Gaynor for his wrap-up of love today.

“Love will survive,” Perkins said.