Love is a feeling nurtured through experience, invariably making it a product of what we see as much as what we feel. Whether it’s birds-and-the-bees chats with our parents, observing close family and friends, or pop culture, our collective idea of what constitutes love and romance is rarely decided by us and us alone. In episode 8 of The Chi’s fourth season, we see characters finding inspiration for love in Black films like Love Jones. But, the crux of the latest episode of The Chi is how the outside world makes it difficult for Black women to feel loved and love themselves.
In one scene, Kevin ambushes Jemma outside of a bakery to vow his undying love for her. He enlists all of the typical tropes of romanticism: pledging to always fight to get her back. That’s when Jemma, as she has done since she entered The Chi’s universe last season, not only rebuffs his advances but explains to him how that form of “love” is actually harassment. “When guys say things like, ‘I have to have you’ or ‘I’ll never stop fighting for you’ or ‘I can’t live without you,’ it’s not romantic, it’s harassment,” Jemma explains to Kevin. “You’ve been trained to think fighting for your woman is noble, but the truth is, it’s scary. And I have the right to leave you, even if it’s messy.”
The scripted concern Jemma has for Kevin’s persistence in pursuing her is drawn from real-life terror women face every day. Months before Jemma educated Kevin on the controlling nature of traditional romance on a Chicago sidewalk, 25-year-old mother Lasonya Agee was shot 11 in front of her three-year-old child by an ex-boyfriend on a Chicago street after she refused to get in the car with him when he requested following an argument. Four years before that gruesome event, 18-year-old high school senior Priyanka Kumari was brutally attacked with a machete from an obsessive admirer turned stalker by 20-year-old Neel Salil Mehta. When conventional courtship is rooted in control, it’s almost impossible for women to love themselves.
One of the prominent storylines of episode eight involved Maisha hiding in her home away from the public eye due to a barrage of negative comments on his Instagram account about her photoshoot from an earlier episode in the season. When Poppa tries to relate to Maisha’s ordeal by pointing to how he also has attention on him from people, she quickly corrects him that women go through different types of critical attention on social media than men. Later in the episode, Maisha tells Kevin he doesn’t have to read the negative comments she sees, to which he tells her he sees her comments, and most are people congratulating her. Maisha relaxes and agrees, showing social media has a way of distorting her self-worth where the negative comments overshadow the overwhelming support resulting in her not feeling like a queen or good about herself.
Research has shown teenagers who spend more than three hours a day on social media are more likely to report being depressed and unhappy. In addition to that, the Chicago Tribune reported girls spend more time on social media than boys, a fact that could explain Maisha’s disconnect with Kevin and Papa’s view of how her social media interactions. The Chi showed a relatively tame consequence of social media harassment since the suicide rate among adolescent girls more than doubled between 2007-2015, a time period marked by the birth and rise of modern social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. For young Black girls like Maisha, social media can be a way for people to control how they look and a possible catalyst for the trauma that could prevent them from loving themselves as they deserve to.