Commentary: Real Love on Valentine's Day

Commentary: Real Love on Valentine's Day

Keith Boykin reflects on the complications of love seen in real life and on television this week.

Published February 13, 2015

It's a three-day holiday with the NBA All-Star weekend and President's Day on Monday, but it's also Valentine's Day weekend, and today I'm thinking about love and relationships. 

I started reflecting on love earlier this week as I read the news of Alabama's Chief Justice Roy Moore ordering state probate judges not to enforce a federal court order allowing same-sex marriage in his state. The much publicized confrontation harkened back to scenes of segregationist Gov. George Wallace standing in the school house door to block Black students from entering the University of Alabama.

Moore resisted even after the U.S. Supreme Court refused the state's request for a delay. But this time there was a Black member of the nation's highest court who sided with the south. "I would have shown the people of Alabama the respect they deserve and preserved the status quo," wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in his dissenting opinion.

Apparently, Clarence Thomas failed to see the contradiction of participating in an interracial marriage while supporting marriage discrimination for others. If it hadn't been for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, Thomas's marriage to a white woman would have been illegal. Surely, he couldn't have forgotten that famous case. The case was aptly titled Loving v. Virginia. Thomas lives in Virginia. His wife's name is Virginia.

Clarence Thomas makes himself an easy target for ridicule, but he's not alone. Other powerful gatekeepers in society have also tried to perpetuate the fantasies of a nonexistent bygone past.

On television, network executives are only now realizing that African-Americans watch more television than any other group. This helps explain the success of Fox's huge breakout hit Empire, the first program in the history of Nielsen’s People Meters to grow in total viewers with each of its episodes following its premiere.

Empire's executive producer Lee Daniels has saved Fox, just as Shonda Rhimes saved ABC and (dare I say) Bill Cosby saved NBC years ago.

Surely, part of Empire's success comes from its colorful and diverse, multi-generational cast. Black, white, Latino, gay and straight characters all inhabit this drama. We see similar diversity in Rhimes's hit shows, including Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. And we see it in BET's own hit drama, Being Mary Jane, which breaks from the mold of a television series on a Black network.

But what makes these shows so compelling is not just their diversity. They also tell the story of our tangled affairs with love. This week's episode of How to Get Away With Murder featured Annalise Keating betraying her boyfriend in the final moments of the show, while on Empire this week, budding young pop star Jamal Lyons denied his boyfriend's existence to build his up-and-coming brand.

The characters in these shows engage in messy, complicated relationships that challenge, and sometimes offend, our sensibilities. But that, after all, is the way life operates in the world off the screen. We don't live in a world where "perfect" couples marry each other and live happily ever after. That was a fairy tale that never existed for most of us. We live in a world where imperfect people fall in love, make mistakes, argue, fight, break up and try it all over again.

I've had my share of complicated relationships that made sense to no one but me. I've had my heart broken and broken other people's hearts as well. But I wouldn't trade love for all the riches in the world.

Love can be complicated, risky and messy. But love is also beautiful, inspiring and life-affirming. In a violent, troubled world where so many live in fear, shame and anger, love is the only answer.

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Keith Boykin)

Written by By: Keith Boykin

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