*Disclaimer: Adult language, spoilers, and sarcasm are used throughout.
My life up until recent years had been like a replay of the Movie Soul Food over and over again to the point where I just accepted it as my reality and really thought it was ok. But when I truly think about it that movie is hella problematic and toxic and all the other buzzwords people like to say nowadays. But I’m not here to bash the movie because I still love it and watch it, I just realized that the way they did things are not ok for me to have healthy relationships with family and friends. And the sad part is so many families, especially Black families, handle issues like the characters in the movie Soul Food thinking that unhealthy grandmas, Soul Food, and eating at a dinner table on Sundays wipe away all the fuckery you’ve done to each other. As I’m reflecting on my life in 2022 I realized that my existence was no longer a reflection of the problematic movie I grew up thinking was a way of life.
Unconditional Love Exists and You Don’t Have to Steal Your Sister’s Boyfriend or Hunch Your Cousin’s Husband to Get it
As I’m thinking about this past year, I’ve realized that I have not been this full and complete for this long ever in my life. I credit that to me “doing the work” to keep myself in a good mental health space and to the love of my life, my boyfriend. And honestly, I feel like that title doesn’t do him justice at this point because he’s so much more than that. He’s truly my life partner and my husband in my head (and for the sake of this article I’ll refer to him as that moving forward) we just haven’t tied the knot yet because he wants a wedding ( I’m fine with going to the court house, but that’s another story for another day).
In my reflection, which I do every year now, I realized that this relationship is the first one in my life where I feel unconditionally loved, deeply supported, selfishly and fiercely protected, completely transparent and open, and willing to compromise. And I’m not just referring to romantic relationships either, I mean any dynamic of a relationship that I’ve had as a human being from family to friends and anything in between I’ve never felt all of these things at once. I always wanted this type of connection, but past traumatic relationships made me feel like they were out of reach or something that I could never achieve. I’m so grateful to therapy because that helped me to realize I deserved this type of loving relationship. And before Clara’s prayer was made famous or at least brought to my attention, back in 2018 I had manifested my husband based on an assignment my 1st therapist gave me. In our sessions, he realized that I had no male baseline because I grew up without a father (crack took over his life). My stepdad went to jail when I was 9 years old (might I add he was also a verbally abusive, womanizing deeply selfish man with a God complex and I’m high-key glad he went to jail when he did and has never been released. I think had he stayed around I would be on psychiatric medication, real talk). My therapist challenged me to create a male baseline for the man I wanted to be with and to write out all the things I needed and wanted in a man. I did the assignment, recorded myself reading it, and would listen to it every day on the way to and from work. I noticed quickly that the type of men I attracted changed and within 6 months my husband and I decided to commit to building the relationship we have now. And honestly, I don’t think the type of men changed I think I was able to see through the bullshit easier to avoid men who were not right for me, and also I was very intentional and honest about what I wanted in a relationship. I remember one guy I was dating during this period, we had a long great conversation the first time we went out and I told him straight up what I was looking for, he told me he wanted something different and I was like that’s cool. I knew not to put too much energy and expectations into him because he wasn’t looking for anything serious. But I was cool with that because he was honest about it and he was fine as f*ck so why not have some fun (I mean I’m keeping it 100 with yall so don’t judge me). There was a freedom in that though that I never had before because we both were super honest and respectful to each other. I still dated him but left my options open versus like in the past wasting months of my time playing games trying to figure out what he wanted without making him think I wanted to tie him down immediately. (Sn: N*ggas be honest in the beginning. I can promise you many women are ok with whatever you share. We hate when we’re lied to because you rob us of our ability to make a decision that’s best for us. And lying to get pussy is so 2005, like seriously grow up).
Although my life didn’t mirror the scenario with Terry and Maxine, the movie had me thinking that in order to get a man something trifling had to take place that we could “get through.” I’ve discovered that love is easy (including romantic love and friends’ love and family love) and it doesn’t have to come via hurt and pain first. It can be unproblematic. And I’m not saying that my relationship is perfect — trust me it’s not– we have the things we work through, but we don’t have some traumatic experience that bonds us together. Maxine and Kenny’s marriage will always have an asterisk next to it because of how they got together. I’ll explain later how they met.
Sibling Rivalry is Not Cute and Big Momma Needed to Squash That Sh*t when the Girls Were Young
All throughout the movie of Soul Food, Terry and Maxine were at each other’s throats. They barely seemed like they loved each other and for years I thought Terry was the problem (Plot twist: the real villain was that damn family and that salty carb-filled delicious Soul Food). In the movie Ahmad, Max’s son gives us the tea as he narrates that Max stole Kenny from Terry when they were in high school (she’s really sooooooo fuckin flaw for that). *Watch scene below*
As a result the two never got along again. And you can tell it deeply hurt Terry because even after all those years, when she found Miles banging cousin faith on the wall in the studio, she later said to Kenny at he and Max’s anniversary party, “Maybe things would have been different if we stayed together.” He immediately rebuffed her with a nicely put “hell naw”, but I digress. (Sn: I probably shouldn’t have been watching that sex scene at 8 years old. The 90s was a wild place…. Also, I later found out that that position Miles had Faith in on that wall is physically impossible but that’s another story for another day as well).
All that to say I fault Big Mama for allowing Max to keep seeing Kenny. Like how the f*ck did they even work through that? (Well clearly they never did). They just ate Soul Food to the point where they both forgot about the pain I guess. But seriously, so many times in Black families we eat away or laugh away or just straight up ignore our issues that end up ripping the family apart in the future. My personal experience again is not a mirror reflection of Max and Terry, but there definitely were deep issues that my mom, Grandma, and aunts didn’t address that fractured our family dynamic. I would implore, hell I’m begging any parents, especially moms with daughters close in age range, to be mindful of how you treat your daughters and how they are perceiving that treatment. Children see certain things as favoritism or special treatment when it’s not or in some cases, it straight up is special treatment (And in that case you the parent need to sit on somebody’s couch asap). Also, pay attention to how they treat each other. And don’t ignore those incidents (that in my case didn’t happen often but happened nonetheless) where there is jealousy, bullying, belittling, etc. I think parents, especially ones from my mom’s generation, and before wrote those incidents off as “they just being kids” or no big deal. Instead, it should have been seriously addressed and the offending child should have been taught that as a family unit and as a human being you don’t treat people that way. And a deep conversation and probing into their bad behavior should have been done to figure out why it was happening in the first place. But I know I’m speaking on some new age shit for people who were just 5 minutes out of Jim Crow and just trying to keep their heads above water. So I fully understand that my parent and their parents didn’t have the understanding that we do now about communicating with children and mental health, but Lawd I wish they did. The lack of that work from my village caused one child to feel superior to the other and they knew they’d never have consequences for their bad actions against me and it caused me to think that family can do whatever ever to you without any accountability or change in behavior as long as it didn’t happen every day.
Unfortunately, my family never got a chance to reconcile over hammocks and collard greens and having a TV full of hidden cash solves our problems like in the movie. Through therapy, I learned that our problems weren’t going to be solved that way and I refused to participate in a farce of fixing things. Now ironically, while I was going through this split from my family members, I learned later that an aunt of mine tried to pull an “Ahmad” and trick the family into coming together with an invite to her birthday dinner and not tell one the others were coming. Do you know who declined the invite? ME! I didn’t know that’s what she was trying to do, but at any rate, I wasn’t going because I wasn’t fucking with people in the family and I don’t break bread with n*ggas I’m not speaking to. Recently my family tried another Soul Food-Esque get-together but I declined again.
At this point in my life, I’ve created a new family for myself and I preferred to spend my Thanksgiving with them. Also, up until that recent get-together NO ONE had truly tried to reconcile things in a real way. I had to let go of the idea that they were gonna be the people I needed and wanted them to be. I also realized that they didn’t change but that I had changed. I learned that I wanted a more healthy family dynamic and they aren’t capable of giving me that and that’s Ok. So I created a healthy family unit through my husband and his family, my close friends, and some of my blood relatives who I still fuck with. I couldn’t go back to “eating away” our problems at a dinner with people who just decided this year that “we’re cool” but refused to speak about anything that happened to cause the rift in the family. And hell more than 4 years have passed by and we went through a whole killer pandemic and not ONE person said: “people out here dying let’s heal our family because you know that’s what Big Momma would have wanted.” But I digress.
It’s wild that shit like this happens and when the older generation of your family dies, so will any connection holding the family together. There are these fractured families that exist where kids grow up knowing nothing about their mom or dad’s families because people be too fucked up for you to introduce your kids to them. If the longevity of your family line matters to you after you pass away, then I suggest you don’t be the Big Momma in your family and actually get your family help from a professional who can walk yall through your shit. And younger parents don’t even let that shit sip into your family dynamic in the first place. I’ll say again, no one is perfect and every family will have their issues but dammit I know you can work to prevent a Maxine and Terry-type sibling rivalry or a cousin Faith from fucking your husband.
Since I don’t live in that reduced state anymore, I accepted the fact that as a unit they’re my relatives, but they are not my family and that’s Ok. In my new family, we talk shit out, we apologize, we extend grace, and we take accountability, but most all of we don’t let things get to the point where they boil up and explode. Also, a major rule we have is to NOT speak in anger and say mean hurtful things if someone upsets you. Honestly, I don’t even like going low with insults with anyone I’m having an argument with especially if I care an ounce about them. I’m just past the days where family is cussing each other out like they were doing over Big Momma’s body in the hospital.
And here’s the thing the movie is not totally to blame for me thinking that what the characters did was OK. The way I was raised and how we handled our problems was very similar to what I saw in that movie so I accepted it as a way of life. Today, I’m happy to see so many Millennial parents my age raising and creating different dynamics for their families. I’m glad today we have more information, resources, and examples of healthy ways to build families. And on a deeper Black Power type of note, I truly believe strong Black families will be a key to Black liberation and economic elevation in this country because we won’t be so distracted and bogged down by family trauma that it keeps us from participating civically (I’ll dig deeper into that in another story for another day). But ultimately I’m glad I learned that I didn’t have to be the real-life version of problematic characters from one of my favorite 90s movies. I learned that I can’t heal or fix relationship and family problems with 40 years of tradition and a heap of Soul Food or whatever Ahmad said.
Check out their movie trailer and watch the movie like I’m about to do.