Valentine’s Day’s importance for the Black diaspora
This may be a wild take to some, but Valentine’s Day is unironically my favorite holiday. I’ve loved the holiday since I was a child.
For an even wilder hot take, I’d say my love of Valentine’s Day is directly tied to my relationship with Blackness.
The holiday gets a lot of flack for being cringe because of the couples, or because it was manufactured by companies to make more sales. But all holidays are like that. Holidays have the meaning we attribute to them, even if those new meanings contradict the circumstances in which they were created (i.e. Thanksgiving).
Thanksgiving’s origin was created as indigenous people across the United States were losing their land and lives to colonizers. Thanksgiving, whether intentionally or not, functionally sanitized the disturbing context for the holiday. However, though there are still moral issues with the way Thanksgiving is celebrated and discussed, the holiday represents coming together with family and friends across great distances to reconnect and keep strong bonds with one another.
In recent years — though belatedly — it seems that people also use the day to actively respect and support Indigenous communities. This is particularly necessary as some view Thanksgiving as a day of mourning.
For me, Valentine’s Day is an opportunity to shamelessly show affection for the people around me, whether that be platonically or romantically.
As a member of the Black community in the United States, there are a lot of stigmas tied to our emotional responses to things. Expressing anxiety, anger, or unabashed love is quite difficult for a lot of Black people in America. For me, expressing any of these emotions was often met with hostility, and it was potentially dangerous—the reaction to the “angry Black person” stereotype comes to mind. There is a lot of debate around why people across the African diaspora have issues expressing emotions on such a large scale, however, it’s generally agreed upon that our compulsive stoicism can be traced back to colonialism.
With the concept of “Black Joy” being more widely discussed, I feel as though there’s room for more conversations around the importance of Valentine’s Day happening during Black History Month.
My compulsion to not emote created my love for Valentine’s Day. As a society, I think we see Valentine’s Day as inherently romantic, mostly because it is promoted that way. However, in my life, it has functioned more as a familial or platonic holiday.
Valentine’s Day became particularly significant for me the first time I spent it with my mother. She is a Jamaican immigrant and a single mother of two children. She spent the majority of my early childhood working to provide for my sister and me. Because of this, we didn’t have a deeply emotional or openly affectionate relationship for a while.
When I began middle school, she randomly decided to take me out to celebrate the holiday. We spent the day shopping and hanging out at the mall just talking and laughing. This was one of the first times I can remember seeing my mother with an open and smiling face, free of stress or fatigue.
It felt like something clicked in our relationship — at that moment I saw her as another human being, and I think she saw me the same way.
She ended the day by getting me a pink, strawberry-scented Build-a-Bear elephant plush. At Build-a-Bear stores, there’s a tradition where you receive a small fabric heart to place inside the bear. You’re supposed to wish for something before the worker sews the heart inside. I found out years later that she wished for me to have a happy life surrounded by people that care for me and for my safety. To this day, I have held onto it because it reminds me of how much my mother cares — even though she still has trouble showing that from time to time. That day was the first time I ever saw my mother as emotionally vulnerable, and it permitted me to be a more openly loving person going forward.
That Valentine’s Day I spent with my mom was an opportunity to break the cycle of an emotional disconnect that has affected the Black community for centuries. That day marks important emotional growth for my mother and me.
Because the holiday falls within Black History Month, I think there is potential for a wider discussion regarding how we show love to each other throughout the Black diaspora. Though I’m putting particular emphasis on the importance of expressing familial affection, this thought process can apply to several ways we show love to each other within the Black community.
I sympathize with the difficulty of expressing love for the people we care about, and it’s something I believe a lot of people are still working on. This is why Valentine’s Day can serve as a holiday in which we can permit ourselves to unabashedly show love for each other. In this way, Valentine’s Day can be an aid for the Black community — it can help us surpass the stigma surrounding our emotional vulnerability.
This year I’ll be using the holiday as an excuse to spend time with people I love and care about. I’ll also indulge in the candies, flowers, and cute plushies that have been produced in excess for this lovely time of year. I strongly recommend taking this holiday as an opportunity to show the people around you that you care, especially your family and friends.