Dalia Gebrial examines the colonial scripts that encode people in and out of the possibility of love. Embedded within the constituent discourses of love – of desirability, emotional labour, support and commitment – are codes of social value assigned to certain bodies; of who is worthy of love’s work. The labour of decolonising these representative paradigms is structural, and involves addressing their material histories.
“The oriental woman is no more than a machine: she makes no distinction between one man and another. Smoking, going to the baths, painting her eyelids and drinking coffee — such is the circle of occupations within which her existence is confined….What makes this woman, in a sense, so poetic, is that she relapses into the state of nature”
Gustave Flaubert on Egyptian women
“I’m so obsessed I want to skin you and wear you like Versace”
Katy Perry, referring to Japanese people in an interview with Jimmy Fallon
“Today, I believe in the possibility of love; that is why I endeavour to trace its imperfections, its perversions”
Frantz Fanon, Black Skin White Masks
What does it mean to be lovable? Who is and is not deserving of particular kinds of love? How is love coded and reproduced? What, and who, is absent when love is represented?
There is a slowly growing body of work exploring what Averil Clarke calls the ‘inequalities of love.’ In her book, Clarke uses national survey data and ethnographic interviews to explore the unique difficulties faced by university-educated black women when seeking romance and marriage, as compared to their white and Hispanic counterparts. In 2014, OkCupid released data demonstrating how ‘response rate’ to dating profiles is profoundly affected by how you are racialised. There is a plethora of blogs and think pieces – particularly by women of colour – documenting traumatic and degrading experiences during dating and sex that specifically happens through and alongside their racialisation. Writer Junot Diaz – credited with coining the loosely defined term ‘decolonial love’ – explores in his novel Monstro the dynamics of a half-Dominican half-Haitian girl’s “search for – yes – love in a world that has made it a solemn duty to guarantee that poor raced girls like her are never loved.” Of course, getting attention on a dating website – or being married – is not an indicator of being loved. However, what this body of data and personal narrative tells us is that race profoundly structures your experience of desire, commitment and respect.
—OkCupid dating research, 2014
Dalia Gebrial responds to a history of women's movements to ask how a transnational feminist politics of solidarity can change and embolden our vision of the world.
The question of transnational solidarity has progressively faded away from the realm of feminist conversation. The idea of intersectionality – a powerful descriptor of how seemingly circumscribed systems of oppression operate through and alongside one other – has been reduced to representative diversity politics: a coalition of limited but energy-consuming practices of privilege-checking and callouts; a seemingly immovable emphasis on bodies and checklists as the prime marker of Good Praxis. Solidarity has been supplanted in favour of ‘allyship’ and ‘standing aside’. Creating spaces of self-determination has been neutralised into creating spaces of safety. Only the personal can be political.
Rani of Jhansi Women's Regiment of the Indian National Army, training, early–mid 1940s. via End of Empire.