It’s also something that might feel good to say out loud if you can’t make sense of the violence. If you watch videos of unarmed black men shot, or watch the names of dead black women vanish almost as quickly as they appear and you are detached enough from any level of resistance, it could be overwhelming to imagine a world where this can happen so frequently. I’m more optimistic than most, but I think those who arrive at the idea of “Maybe this is all our fault” might be operating from a position of disbelief and detachment.

To see this position come most frequently from rappers this year has been exceptionally disheartening for me, as a hip-hop fan. The tenets of respectability that are most draped over the black populace are rooted in wearing “better” clothes, listening to “better” music, speaking with a “better” tongue. With that in mind, I’m especially let down to hear a wave of respectability preached by people who are making the music that we are supposed to turn off if we are to have our lives valued. When you want to have a fix for The Problem, but you’re so removed from it that you can’t appreciate or understand the nuance and complexities of The Problem, the only thing that can be imagined is that everyone just needs to, quote, “get their house in order.”

When we talk about what black love looks like, it’s often through the lens of terrible paintings steeped in misogyny, the black man as ruler of all, especially the submissive black woman. Black love pushed into the same box as a very standard white, biblically-based love, one that dares not be too loud. When a country holds up one way of life as the standard for so long, even in its relentless mediocrity, any “other” lifestyle has to be so overwhelmingly excellent to gain acknowledgement. And so I imagine that black love is as present as it has always been — and just as silenced.

There is no monolithic definition of love, especially a love that has been rooted in survival for as long as it has had a body to be present in. Sometimes it’s standing in a cloud of tear gas. Sometimes it is coming home to a child, or a lover, knowing that the world hasn’t won yet. Sometimes it’s doing the former so that you can do the latter. To pretend that black love isn’t also about black survival is entirely unfair to the entire idea of a love born in a people who were carried to a country that was not their own. It calls for a representation of blackness that is often subdued, silent and always reaching to conform to an identity that does not share its urgency.

Love, above all, is a complex emotion. It doesn’t simply arrive, as much as it is born out of a cocktail of other emotions. It reflects the life that you are living, both at calm and at risk. For a lot of black people I know, love has always been at least somewhat triggered by fear. We love the hardest when we see ourselves dying. When we see a man killed on camera, we reach out to our loved ones to make sure they’re maintaining. We take to the streets because we are still alive and we can. Black love is not always a silent love or a complacent love. Of course, sometimes it looks as we imagine all love to look. I go home and hug my father tight, even if we haven’t spoken in a month. I talk to my niece on the phone from miles away and feel fulfilled. I send a handwritten letter to a dear friend in Ohio who I wish could be with me. But sometimes, black love is simply about being alive and wanting to stay alive.

When we hear things like “black people don’t love themselves as much as they used to,” the “used to” is never identified.

The time and place where this black love was overflowing onto the streets, covering up the blood and silencing a mother’s grief can never be pinned down. Because it doesn’t have to be in order to bring calm to even the most well-meaning person who just wants this all to end. Nostalgia can do a lot to cloud the memory, especially in times of violence. It allows us to bend what the past looked like for people pushed up against the margins in this country.

Protest and resistance have always been languages of love. The task, perhaps, is not to “love ourselves more,” but to reimagine a love that has time to both fight against a system trying to destroy it AND revel in an existence that has yet to be destroyed. It’s not about demanding that black people get their house in order before they can speak up about anything that impacts their lives. It’s about changing the way we look at the house. Order doesn’t look the same for every house on the block. It never has and it likely never will. If black love is equal parts urgent, frantic and silently holy, the best houses will reflect that. The mess will only be a mess to those who never wanted the house there in the first place.