Love is a universal emotion that we all feel but no one can explain. Poets pen sonnets, singers sing melodies and human beings hope to spend a lifetime solving this age-old riddle. But with countless media, familial models, friendships, break-ups and all the obsessing over three words and eight letters, one thing is for certain – we all ought to know what love is not.
Last Monday evening, I prepared for the worst as I entered Hamden Town Hall again for the second time in less than four months. Chills ran down my spine as I recalled the November police commission meeting that would come to be one of the most shattering experiences of my college career. During that meeting, for over two hours, community leaders and supporters voiced grievances over the April shooting of Stephanie Washington and Paul Witherspoon that took the police commission over half a year to take action to resolve. Although this time it’d be the legislative council that we’d stand before, the injustice we faced was still the same. It has been less than four months since the police commission meeting and over four hundred years since my ancestors arrived in America, yet the color of my skin still determines the way this country looks at people who share my complexion. Love is many things, but love is not hatred.
“As president of the Legislative Council, I express my sincerest regret, remorse and sorrow that this issue needs to be discussed [here] in 2020,” Mick McGarry – the Legislative Council President – affirmed in his opening remarks regarding a scandal at West Woods Elementary School in Hamden. The fifth-grade class curriculum included a Scholastic play to teach a lesson on the trans-Atlantic slave trade. A teacher cast a biracial girl and African-American boy as slaves. The mother of the little girl and member of the Yale community, Professor Carmen Parker, confronted the council following his speech. Solemn and strong, Professor Parker called for the school principal’s removal, citing lack of communication and the fact that she was prevented by police officers from entering the school her own child attended. Love is many things, but love is not fear.
Although she reprimanded the principal, Professor Parker acknowledged her love for the teacher who caused the incident. “That teacher, through love, is willing to learn and grow,” Professor Parker proclaimed about the educator’s willingness to take accountability for her mistake. The Assistant Professor of Psychiatry – whose research includes studies of unconscious bias in the medical field – emphasized forgiveness and the shared bond between her family, daughter and the teacher. “The most powerful thing we have against discrimination [is] love,” she professed. Love is many things, but love is not anger.
Still, many local activists, educators, parents and Yale students took to the podium to share in collective disapproval of the school curriculum. A representative from the activist group Hamden Action Now, Rhonda Caldwell, demanded funding for the creation of a pipeline for African-American and minority teachers and staff in Hamden. Jaelen King ’22 – a Yale student activist – advocated for educational programs and activities that reckon with our country’s painful past and appreciate the immeasurable contribution people of color have made to each and every field. “There is more to black history than slavery, oppression and colonialism,” he said, echoing those who came before him and the path he would set for those who’d come later. Love is many things, but love is not despair.
Love cannot be deciphered into one definition, but people can learn to understand it by perceiving what it is not. Perhaps those who recognize love most clearly are the ones who have been afforded its greatest denial. A lack of love is a lack of equality – something African-Americans have been deprived of for generations. It continues today in institutions such as the Prison Industrial Complex and the school-to-prison pipeline. To view us equally is to not ignore the historically significant and recurrent obstacles that African-Americans have had to endure in this country. To view us equally is to realize how past injustices have shaped the world we live in today. We must become painstakingly aware of the role color has played in shaping our everyday lives. Love is not colorblind; love is color conscious.
Yet, the love I speak of is ambiguous and does not judge – especially based on the color of one’s skin. In fact, it looks beyond the primary colors – black, white, yellow and red – that history has coined to reinforce a global racial caste. “Imagined moral qualities somehow got mixed into the imagined color of their skin,” Yale professor David Kastan writes about the Western ideology of Asian identity in the 20th century. “On Color” is the collection of essays that Kastan penned on the phenomenon and how, for better and worse, color has captivated the human condition. Yes, the color of one’s skin matters in this world we have created. In fact, it is of the upmost importance when planning for a school play or protesting police brutality and discrimination. But we must be mindful of the historical racial biases that have perverted color, causing us to see people as who they are not. “Color was produced by prejudice and not pigmentation,” Kastan inscribes. Perhaps our true skin color – because no one is pure limestone or completely colorless – does not divide us, but instead brings us together in commonality and various shades of brown and pink. Perhaps if we thought in this way, we would not be polar opposites – as some colors are defined – but rather equals. Love is not divisible; love is one whole.
The love I speak of is many things, and even in trying to explain what it is not, I have seeped into elucidating what it is. But that’s just it — if love is universal, then it must fundamentally be the same. Language does little in explicating the complex emotion, but we all encounter it each and every day; such to an extent that not to say, but to feel, what love is and what it is not is simple.
The love we feel reflects Byron Kim’s ’83 Synecdoche painting, which juxtaposes hundreds of skin tones in an effort to express identity and race. It reminds us we are not so different after all.
ZAPORAH PRICE is a first year in Ezra Stiles College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .