Who was your first love? Episode 11 of Black Enough, “The Funk in Your Right,” takes up the question as Amaya and the crew attend BSU’s “Black Love Night.” The event features artistic expression around the theme of Black love. Judging by the expressions on several of the audience members faces, the first performer we’re introduced to (“Zora Assata Baraka X”– admit it, you giggled) is a little lackluster, so expectations are low.
But when Nora Obi (played by guest star Hanna Watson) takes the stage to perform a spoken word called “Second Love,” a whole new world, full of new relations and wonder, unfurls before viewers’ eyes. While many in the audience are enraptured by Nora’s words, Amaya begins to curl into herself, literally and figuratively, seemingly attempting to distance herself from the rush of emotions Nora is awakening for her. Ember and Jaheem are appreciative of the performance, but Dre takes the opportunity to steal glances at his ex, Hadiyah– even though his current girlfriend is using his shoulder as a pillow. And before the performance even begins, Tryston responds to an inquiry about Amaya from Dre (“That you?”) with, “Somethin’ like that.” The map of relationships between characters has gotten messy in a matter of minutes, all thanks to Nora’s mastery of wordsmithing.
The episode is bookended with interviews from both Kemi Layeni and Freda Assuah. Kemi discusses how her expectations of college and love were shaped by the popular show A Different World. And in truth, what Black college student who watched A Different World before or during college didn’t have unrealistic expectations about what the undergraduate experience would hold for them? (While ADW had a profound impact on my expectations of love, my parents meeting at ages 5 and 6 was the relationship that really shaped my ideas about love.)
This episode also calls back to a moment from over four years ago for me, from the first Black Monologues at the University of Virginia. The script included three Love Letters, written by Black women in the cast and crew, to their loves, one night stands, and to Black men at UVA at large. Four years ago, I remember watching friends perform Love Letter Number 1, which was written by my now dear friend, about her Black Love, and this September, I had the privilege to watch those two embark on a lifetime of adventures together in marriage.
Watson’s long standing interest in depictions of Black love do not stop at romantic love. They also involve friendships (“Celie’s Rites” and Canaan ), love of Jesus (a thematic arc through all of Watson’s work), and love of self, as we see in the final interview of the episode with Freda Assuah. Assuah reminds us that coming to self-love is a process, a practice that is often learned and cultivated.
Black Enough does a beautiful job grappling with all of these different layers to love over the course of the season, and in this particular episode. What is striking is that all of these components are equally important, no one overshadowing the other, working together in harmony. It points to the multi-faceted and complex nature of us as Black folks, as humans, and allows for us to be and feel everything all at once with no fear.
Beautiful Quotes from “Second Love”:
- “But in dust he saw soil/where he could he plant himself and grow his whole world”
- “See the earth is heavy when you don’t look to heaven”
- “Love who sees all of me and stays anyway”
- “Will you beatbox to my heartbeat when you think of me because you know my rhythms?”
- “Beloved, be loved by Him”
Hanna Watson, The Poet
Love Jones (1997)
A Different World (1987-1993)
Ravynn K. Stringfield is a Ph.D. candidate in American Studies at William & Mary. Her research focuses on Black women and girls as creators and protagonists of futuristic, fantastic and digital narratives in new media. She often likes to say she writes about Black girls flying. When she’s not researching, you can find her writing for her blog, Black Girl Does Grad School; learning new yoga poses; or bullet journaling.