Black women deserve to read stories that feel accurate to their experiences and notice the struggles of Black love without passing judgement or minimizing their feelings. We deserve to read well-rounded characters that are complex and confused, powerful and vulnerable. Impulsivity and infidelity are forgiven for the Allie Hamilton’s of the literary world, but too rarely are those imperfections illustrated in such a forgiving light when Black women are imagined. Instead, Black characters too often play into obvious, binary tropes: rappers are cold, violent, and arrogant; professional women are sassy, ill-tempered, and mean-spirited.
Black vulnerability is ignored while white fragility is celebrated, perpetuating the dehumanization of Black people even in intimacy.
Nia Forrester’s first novel, Commitment, portrays unique, complicated Black adults with differing opinions, professions, and dreams— bringing a fresh spin on the classic "when opposites attract" story. Riley and K-Smooth, a writer and a rap star respectively, find themselves consumed in their shared feelings. When Riley is tasked with interviewing K-Smooth for her newspaper, Power To The People, she is bothered by the disturbance to her more serious work. However, she finds herself surprised about Shawn Gardner–the man behind the moniker "K-Smooth"–that she winds up in bed with him within the first three hours of their acquaintance, forgetting her own boyfriend.
The electricity between the couple, and the following whirlwind–gripping hotel room soirees, lively celebrity events, and authentic, witty dialogue–proves to be more than a fling as they navigate commitment together as husband and wife.
Forrester writes the excitement and confusion of finding a person who makes you feel with immense clarity. She is able to aptly highlight the instinctive and consuming nature of love, the futility of attempting to classify those emotions that elude exact description, and the importance of trusting what you know over what you fear. Letting us into the minds and emotions of Riley and Shawn, she is able to emphasize that Black characters can, and do, make mistakes. She allows her characters the space to fumble, learn, and grow— free of judgement.
At a critical point in the novel, after Shawn has been unfaithful, Riley says: “But I know this; it can never be the same between us.” Lorna, Riley’s feminist mother, responds: “It just seems like a romantic notion to me..‘It’ll never be the same’…You decide the terms of your life, Riley. Don’t let someone else’s standards for what marriage is make that decision for you.” Lorna’s character rejects this fragile view of love—that, once damaged, it’s somehow tainted forever—choosing instead to emphasize that stability and growth don’t always go hand in hand.
Forrester never glorifies infidelity. Instead, she examines her characters' unique situations, and the ways in which we hurt people we love, begging us to consider our own limits and boundaries; rather than abiding by the “Hollywood version” of relationship goals. “Someone else’s standards” are oftentimes those ideals created by a world that institutionally has never seen Black people as people – and, by those standards, Black love will never measure up.
As the story unfolds, Forrester illuminates how frequently and deeply we suffer when we derive our happiness from others' validation of our own choices. We will only feel the magnitude of our power as Black people, and Black women especially, when we transcend stereotypes often and intentionally, especially as they pertain to love.
Commitment interrogates the standards that we have been institutionally conditioned to blindly accept: that a romance novel can’t be both serious and entertaining, that love can’t be both hurtful and healing, that Black women and men cannot be both imperfect and worthy of forgiveness.