The Case for Radicalizing Love
A few long weeks into 2021, the world is reeling from an unprecedented collective traumatization that has us gasping for breath and grasping for hope. A member of my Magic and Melanin cohort Salem Afangideh likes to say that “this year has been a decade” and she isn’t wrong. Salem and I are 2 of the 5 pioneering participants in MM’s inaugural West African Residency Program, where we spent 14 weeks returning to our roots in Lome, Togo since October 1; rediscovering the magic in our ancestry and taking time to rest, recover and reinvest in what matters most. Being that close to source meant that the frequency of synchronicities and manifestation were accelerated and our reception to divine messages was the clearest it’s ever been. Something I’ve been marinating on since well before last year, before the global pandemic and worldwide racial reckoning popped off, definitely came in loud and clear since upon arriving on the continent: the ancestors want us to radicalize our love.
What does it even mean to “radicalize love?” To answer that question, we are best served by establishing definitions for “radicalize” and “love” as a starting point. After a summer marked by racial uprisings like the States haven’t seen since the launch of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement in 2014, with anarchy on the minds and tongues of government “leaders” who stokefd fear to play petty politics, the word “radical” may have a more explosive connotation than ever before. Angela Davis, paraphrasing Karl Marx, is known for saying “radical simply means grasping things at the root.” Looking to dictionary.com you’ll get two definitions useful to this discussion: “(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something” and “advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change.” The same source defines “radicalize” as to “cause (someone) to adopt radical positions on political or social issues.” We could easily, then, determine that to radicalize someone or something simply means to make the subject an agent of change.
Defining love is a more nuanced task. The Christian Bible is generous in its musings on love, with well over 100 verses dedicated to the subject. They range from the simple and altruistic “God is love” to the ubiquitous sonnet from 1 Corinthians recited at countless weddings:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
It seems safe to say that love is generally understood as an emotion or feeling. Indeed, the first definition offered by dictionary.com is “(n) an intense feeling of deep affection.” The definition for love in verb form is to “feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone).” It is arguably becoming more common for folks to think more expansively on love, evidenced by the popular contemporary mantras “love is a verb” or “love is an action word” — owing in all likelihood to beloved Black author bell hooks and her best selling All About Love. In it, hooks also undertakes a process of defining love and offers definitions that include “an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action” and “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” My own exploration and experience with love, informed by my academic training as an electrical engineer (at THE Howard University), allows me to further that expansion by defining love not simply as an action or emotion, but as an energy. Notice that action and emotion are both energetic in nature and I’m sure you’d agree (and if you asked a scientist or spiritualist they’d tell you the same thing) that everything is energy and energy is everything. I have formulated a definition that incorporates the understandings of love we just covered and that, for me, speaks to its purpose and point: “Love is source energy that creates and sustains life.” I introduce this definition because I believe, as MLK once said, “we have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.”
In the words of music trio Beautiful Chorus, love is all there is. If you ask me, everything we experience, from our emotions to our actions to even our material and physical interactions, is either a derivative or a distortion of love. That is in part why I say love is source energy — in that just as life itself results from the creative energy inherent in love, even when distilled simply down to pleasure, all things within our comprehension are derived from love. Self preservation can be understood as the love of self (sustaining ones own life), while romantic, friend or familial love is the love of another — the personal fulfillment from and desire to sustain a loved one’s (happy and healthy) life. As for distortions of love, capitalism can be understood as the love of wealth at the expense of wellness, while fascism could be understood as the love of money and power at its most extreme. I maintain that emotions like joy, happiness, pleasure and peace are also examples of direct derivatives of love, where fear, rage, anger and even grief are themselves simply distortions of love. From love, all things flow.
So, synthesizing our earlier definitions of “radicalize” and “love,” we can say that to radicalize love means “to cause love, the energy that creates and sustains life, to become an advocate for fundamental political and social change.” Put another way, to radicalize love is to direct the energy of our love with the intention of fundamentally changing the world around us. Directing our energy with intention is how some people define magic; indeed the transformation of our world using love would feel like an impossible, fantastical feat if ever there was one. But this is exactly what our ancestors, particularly those of us from the African diaspora, are calling on us to do, and who knows about making magic like them? If you know where to look, you’ll find that that transformation has already started and is rooted in Afro-indigenous practices that predate and survived colonization. I am in awe all the time here on the continent at the lasting impact of colonization on Africans across the diaspora as much as I am at the resilience of the customs and culture originated in Alkebulan (the indigenous name for Africa). From the “call-and-response” tradition in our music, to the greeting we know as “the dap,” to the pouring of libations to honor our ancestors (aka pouring one out for the dead homies) and the reverence of watermelon as reliable source of both sustenance and hydration, the way our ways have survived slaughter, erasure and enslavement speaks to the brilliance, sheer will and determination of our ancestors to sustain Black life, by any means necessary. If that ain’t love, tell me what it is.
In order to radicalize love, it is necessary first to decolonize love; rescuing it from the commodification and romanticization that dilutes its potency and misrepresents its purpose. Capitalism’s insistence on commodifying every aspect of our natural world has turned love into a product to be plastered on tote bags, t-shirts and bumper stickers and sold to make a buck. Romance novels, romcoms and pop culture’s obsession with celebrity un/coupling severely narrow the collective imagination on what love is, who gets it and why. Recognizing love as an energy rather than a feeling allows us to realize that love can have many faces; something that the global pandemic has clearly illuminated through the countless mutual aid, tenants’ rights and community organizing efforts that spread like wild fire globally and locally to support those most impacted by the dual health and financial crises. If the point and purpose of love is to create and sustain life, then we can see almost anything that contributes to another person or living being’s well-being as a manifestation of love. This can be as simple as warmly greeting a stranger with a smile and “hello” in passing, to something more fundamental like successfully fundraising over $2M to buy and open the nation’s first housing complex dedicated to the Black transgender community. Radicalized love can look like tenants and neighbors coordinating eviction defense blockades to keep their community members housed as landlords self-evict renters in the middle of a global pandemic. It could look like returning stewardship of stolen lands to indigenous tribes in North America or appointing Rep. Debra Haaland to the Department of the Interior, which was the first time a Native American held a position in a presidential cabinet. Radicalizing love could look like politically educating white people in suburbs or Black and Brown gang members to understand the true nature of the American settler colonial project in order to enlist them in dismantling it;or even legitimizing gangs by giving them opportunities to serve their community in a public safety or eviction defense capacity following that political education. It could look like creating People’s Assemblies to directly engage members of a community in its own self governance outside of the traditional electoral process and creating a local government committed to developing cooperatives and community land trusts for the purpose of radically uplifting a majority Black, under-resourced community, as is the case with the Cooperation Jackson initiative in Jackson, Mississippi. Radicalized love could look like a community rallying together to demand the opportunity to buy a failing mall in a neighborhood being rapidly gentrified and repurpose it for the benefit of the Black natives and locals of that community such as with the Downtown Crenshaw Rising project in South Central Los Angeles.
Whatever the ultimate impact, what has to be said about 2020 is that, on a planetary level, the year represented a wide-scale shift in our consciousness and upheaval of our collective value system, especially as we approached the formal initiation of the Age of Aquarius with what’s known as the Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in Aquarius on December 21, 2020. In her audiobook Energy Anatomy, author Carolyn Myss describes how we individually create our own realities through the ways that our seven chakras each relate to the external world; with the 1st chakra, or root chakra, correlating to our relationship with our “tribe” or the beliefs and values held by our community and society. Myss says that pandemics and epidemics often represent a collective reconfiguring of our root chakra, where what we value as a society is re-evaluated, re-organized and restructured. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that we must collectively heal our root chakra by highlighting America’s long-standing systemic darkness, made manifest by the inequities in access to resources and wellbeing for those who are not both white and wealthy. The pandemic has led many to interrogate who deserves what and how resources are distributed and exploited. Calls for radical transformation of how our society supports its citizens, including forgiving rent and mortgages, housing the unhoused, and establishing universal healthcare and universal basic income (UBI), reached a fever pitch this year as folks recognized those measures’ necessity to public health. Malcolm X called it when he prophesied “a new world order is in the making, and it is up to us to prepare ourselves that we may take our rightful place in it.”
Malcolm was speaking directly to and about Black folks in his urging that we prepare for the world’s eventual and inevitable transformation. We know by now that Black Americans are contracting and succumbing to the Coronavirus at higher rates than any other race thanks, by no surprise, to systemic racism. This past summer, instances of fatal police and vigilante violence against Black people led to an incredible global revival of the BLM movement and the subsequent emergence of two new mantra that express radicalized love for Black folk: #protectblackwomen and #defundthepolice. We can see that both statements speak to sustaining life for Black women and Black people at large, since as brother Malcolm pointed out, “the most disrespected person in America is the Black woman” and because Black folk are disproportionately targeted by, incarcerated and murdered with impunity by agents of the criminal justice system. Breonna Taylor’s murder by Louisville Police while asleep in her bed in March is one story that underscores the dual demands to protect Black women and defund the police, especially after a grand jury failed to charge the officers responsible for her death.
Last year is one that has radicalized many thanks to the overlapping health, housing and economic crises endemic to the time. Despite recent attempts at undermining #defundthepolice as a “snappy slogan” by a widely beloved former president (although honestly he’s lucky activists evolved from “fuck the police”), the idea is embraced by many as a manifestation of what it might look like for society to radicalize love by redirecting police budgets to alternative means of ensuring public welfare and reimagining public safety. By funneling resources allocated for policing back into the community via funding schools, hospitals, housing, food and social services for mental health, domestic violence and homelessness (where police are typically first responders), communities would reduce interactions with police and thus the phenomena of officer-involved shootings. Defunding the police would be a first step toward a radical end of ultimately abolishing the prison industrial complex (PIC), upending its impact on the Black community as we know it. The campaign known as “8 to Abolition” includes defunding the police as its first point in achieving abolition, with 7 remaining points going further to illustrate the means to abolition: demilitarize communities, remove police from schools, free people from jails and prisons, repeal laws that criminalize survival, invest in community self governance, provide safe housing for everyone, invest and care, not cops.
The 8 to abolition campaign has strong ties to the Black Panther Party’s 10 Point Program; particularly where both call on the formation of cooperative housing, grocery and business solutions to meet Black folks’ basic, immediate needs and free them from the oppression of the white supremacist, settler colonial US nation. In fact, cooperative economics and collective organizing for survival (starting in the US with the Underground Railroad) are themselves ancestral technologies that Black folk have long depended on and that many a Black radical have advocated as a liberation praxis. Although the contemporary collective awareness of cooperatives is lacking, many Black leaders were proponents of cooperative economics even as this ideology was largely omitted from teachings about them. Fannie Lou Hamer, famous for her fight for Black voting rights, recognized the transformative necessity of Black cooperatives, founding the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Mississippi in 1969 as a means to ensure that under resourced Black people in the south had access to and ownership of land and food. It was her position that “cooperative ownership of land opens the door to many opportunities for group development of economic enterprises which develop the total community rather than create monopolies that monopolize the resources of a community.” In her book “Collective Courage, A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice,” Professor Jessica Gordon Nembhardt points out that Marcus Garvey, WEB DuBois and Booker T. Washington all “urged African Americans to find separate economic solutions to their plight and to control their own economic enterprises.” DuBois stands out as the most outspoken champion for Blacks creating cooperatives, reporting on the Atlanta University Cooperative Conference 1907 as well as writing many articles advocating cooperation as editor of the NAACP’s publication The Crisis. Much like myself, DuBois believed that it was “the race-conscious black men who are cooperating together in his own institutions and movements who will eventually emancipate the colored race, and the great step ahead today is for the American Negro to accomplish his economic emancipation through voluntary determined cooperative effort.” While capitalism breeds a population conditioned for production and consumption, for individualism and competition founded on scarcity and exploitation, cooperation was and is understood as an alternative that can ultimately win liberation through sharing resources and building relationships — the most valuable form of wealth. Indeed, with Black people holding the unique distinction as the only people whose very bodies were once considered capital, it would serve us well to recognize the value in one another and commit to ways to collectively expand our inherent wealth.
The Magic and Melanin residency is the first time I’ve traveled to the African continent, and I am the first person in my family to do so. Within the first few weeks of our arrival, we had the opportunity to visit the Ghanian home where DuBois lived the last days of his life and transitioned into the next, in a house gifted him by the Ghanian people’s redeemer Kwame Nkrumah, so I was immediately instilled with the revolutionary spirit of these great men. The connection between Nkrumah and DuBois is not insignificant nor lost on me, as figures integral to the liberation of Black folks across the diaspora, with Nkrumah leading Ghana to be the first African country to gain independence from its European colonizers in 1963. It is their revolutionary spirit that I believe is being called into being now as we reflect on a traumatic year and forge ahead bravely into an age of awakening and recalibrating our society for the greatest good of the collective. Though free “on paper,” Black people around the world suffer from the ramifications of capitalist, White supremacist, settler colonization that breeds deadly institutional racism and neocolonialism, and positions communities of color around the world for perpetual oppression, marginalization and exploitation. Kwame Nkrumah said it best when he said “freedom is not something that one people can bestow on another as a gift. They claim it as their own and none can keep it from them.” I believe that. I believe too that revolution is how people claim freedom and that the core of revolution is love — love for self and the collective. Once we embrace the call to radicalize our love, we enable the liberation of Black people, and by design, the liberation of all oppressed people; indeed a fundamental change our energy can create with intention.
How radical would that be?