Where Does the Black Working Class Love in Pop Culture?

I often write and think about how love relationships for black people are depicted throughout the media. I could discuss how these relationships tend to fall back on the politics of respectability, but I want to take that conversation in another direction. I wrote a post asking if love was a luxury a few weeks ago and asked if love was something not available to black working class women in pop culture.

The reason this stays on my mind so much is because in various books, films and other media targeted toward black women, black women are not allowed to be working class and pursuing love at the same time. If a black woman with a working class background finds herself pursuing a romantic relationship, she must somehow “overcome” working class status in order for the relationship to work.

I find this disheartening for a number of reasons. One reason is because this “magical” disappearance of the working class erases so many of our stories. When we are portrayed as working class or poor, all the mainstream wants to see is a struggle: struggle to pay the bills, struggle to put food on the table and struggle just to survive. Apparently, in the midst of all this struggle, we do not see the struggle to love each other.

Of course, there are exceptions. Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep (1977) puts working class black experience in a three-dimensional light. We see the struggle of everyday life, but we also see how that struggle affects the way this couple does and does not show love for each other. This part is missing in so many books, films and television series, especially those that only show one present parent in the family.

I live to see the day when black love of all kinds is a regular part of how we are seen in pop culture depictions of ourselves. I definitely want to see more of this love in the black working class. Dreams and aspirations of getting out are fine and good, but just like everyone else, many working class black folks have learned that getting out is much easier with someone at our side. Maybe it’s a romantic love, a platonic one or a familial one, but that love needs to be prevalent in our black working class stories.

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