I decide to change my relationship with love not through entering another serious relationship. I entered the library, searching for books that could free me.
I found bell hooks’s books on love, which formed her “love song to the nation,” and devoured them. But it was the first of those four volumes, All About Love, that made the deepest impression. “The word ‘love’ is most often defined as a noun, yet all the more astute theorists of love acknowledge that we would all love better if we used it as a verb,” she wrote.
Love is about nurturing one’s own growth or another’s growth, she told me. Love is not instinctual. We choose to love a romantic partner, a relative, a friend. “Love and abuse cannot coexist.” What about feeling? “When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them.” Cathexis is different from love.
It was painful to admit that the relationship I had just left was rarely love. Painful to admit that I had not known regular love, had not been regularly loving to people I claimed to love. But with that admission came more freedom.
I felt free to grow through critique. I started reevaluating relationships and people and myself. Who had been a constructive force in my life? Who had been a destructive force in my life? Was I a constructive force in my own life, or in the lives of others?
We can ask the same questions of America: Who is a constructive and destructive force in America’s political life? Who is wounding America? Who is putting Band-Aids on problems that need surgeries?
David A. Graham: Trump goes all in on racism
Growth necessitates deep-seated, fundamental critiques. But radical critiques can hurt feelings. Asking these questions hurt me to my core. But no longer was I equating simply feeling good with love, or feeling bad with hate. Instead, I was starting to think of love as a constructive act, and hate as a destructive one.
Trump says he loves America, and he whispers sweet somethings that sound so good to his red-hatted supporters, but is he really nurturing their growth? Trump has shattered America in two: those who love him, whom he can abuse, and those who hate him, whom he can fight. How is that love? How is he being caring, affectionate, respectful, trusting, and honest—what hooks considers the active ingredients of love—to his supporters, let alone to the rest of us?
If love is a verb, then hate is also a verb. Trump hates America.
Racists can’t possibly love America. They are anti-growth, only talking about what they and America and Trump are not: not racist. They can’t look past their own hierarchal worldview to see that the problems afflicting them are not caused by other races, but by power and policy. Racism is hate.
Antiracists must practice love. Antiracists must nurture themselves and America no matter the pain that is essential to healing. They must construct antiracist ideas that say there’s nothing wrong with our race or any other. They must nurture their communities and institutions by constructing antiracist policies that yield racial equity.
The beating heart of love is nurturing, is constructing, is pumping out growth, like a person striving each moment to be antiracist. Doing it, love lives. Not doing it, love dies.
Love (of America) is a verb.