We Don't Decide Who We Love
Jack Herrera

02 March 2017

We often think of a love as something natural and powerful—a mysterious feeling we experience spontaneously, deep in the recesses of our essential selves. But our love, and our capacity to love, may have a lot more to do with our society than we acknowledge.

Recently on Verso Books's blog, Dalia Gebrial published a powerful critique of how colonialism complicates love. For Gebrial, love—like any other interaction between people in society—is encoded within existing power structures. Gebrial writes: 

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.

To explore how society values different bodies in distinct ways, Gebrial surveys the growing literature on what Averil Clarke calls the "inequalities of love." Gebrial covers the literature of Junot Diaz, who coined the term "Decolonial love," in his novel Monstro, which depicts a Carribean woman's search for love in a world that does not consider her loveable. She explores Sandra Ponzenesi's writing on colonial sexual politics, which compares the distinct portrayals of African and Middle Eastern women in European art and literature.

Just in case that all feels a bit theoretical, Gebrial also surveys data from online dating websites. The conclusions drawn are grim: there are clear racial biases in the number of positive replies a person gets. 

Gebrial raises vital points that problematize love—a category many of us might prefer to think of as apolitical. Her essay is worth reading in its entirety. As she concludes:

To believe—as Fanon says—in the possibility of love, we must comprehend the fact that we do not obliviously fall into it, but are coded in and out of it, and that this has implications beyond our individualised experiences. 

Read the full essay here: http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3094-decolonising-desire-the-politics-of...

Image credit: Olympia by Edouard Manet (1865)