At TBINAA, there are articles that affect us and inspire us from other digital magazines and blogs on a daily basis. One article in particular that seemed to strike a great chord with our followers on Facebook is one by Gwendolynn Benaway for the site Working it Out Together titled “Decolonial Love: A How-To Guide.” In this article, Benaway talks about her experiences as a trans woman of color dating men—more specifically, white men—and how those often unhealthy relationships “taught [her] a lot” about how to handle those relationships through the concept of “decolonial love.”
As Benaway mentions, the term “decolonial love” was coined by author and activist Junot Diaz, who defined the idea as “the only kind of love that could liberate…from that horrible legacy of colonial violence.” What this refers to is a form of love that fights against the colonial value and standards that exists in so many of our relationships, oftentimes without us even realizing it. It’s important to devote to decolonial love because it means we are trying to move our relationships into a realm of practicing radical self-love and radical interpersonal love rather than perpetuating the long history of colonialism, racism, and sexism.
Benaway goes on to talk about some of the important things she’s learned in her relationships when it comes to decolonial love, including “Learn to Recognize Love,” “Learn to Practice Self Care,” and “Know the History.” Throughout her article, Benaway reinforces the idea that practicing decolonial love is not a “get-out-of-jail free card,” and that there must be a constant sense of self-analysis while working on eradicating the colonial burden of the various relationships we’ll engage in throughout our lives. To help continue this very important conversation, we wanted to add to the list started by Benaway on how to successfully devote yourself to decolonial love.
1. Relationships Are Not About Ownership
In many relationships, especially straight relationships, there is a norm of believing that at least one person in the relationship owns the other. And I’m not talking about Dom/sub-type relationships, although there’s plenty to unpack with that. I’m talking about even the most vanilla couples who make light of some honestly very heavy terminology of ownership. Whenever we hear someone say “that girl/boy is mine!” we typically don’t bat an eye at it, let along think of the implications of that statement.
The truth is the very idea that anyone in a relationship is “owned” has some very colonial roots, particularly in the sense that colonizers would claim to “own” land they “discovered” (looking at you, Columbus). This also has a basis in colonial era slavery, with people wanted to take ownership over those they deemed as subhuman. In order to practice decolonized love, the concept of ownership has to be disrupted, understanding that when you claim your partner is “yours and yours alone,” you are attempting to remove their agency from the relationship.
Decolonial love looks like using language in relationships that doesn’t reduce your partner to a piece of property, but rather acknowledges both of you as people with agency.
2. You Don’t Always Get What You Want (And That’s Just Fine)
It’s important to understand that you are not entitled to having all of your wishes granted in your friendships and relationships, and you’re not always going to get what you want. If you go into a relationship or pursue friendships with unfair or unrealistic expectations, you can’t be upset when those expectations aren’t met. This is an important note for people who enter relationships and friendship with sex as a top priority, such as straight cis men who complain about being “friendzoned” by women who aren’t required to have sex with them, even if it was supposedly promised.
We can have more authentic and wholesome relationships when we drop the unrealistic expectations and allow them to change and grow more naturally. Projecting all of your wishes and desires onto partners and friends is wholly disrespectful to their lived experiences. This is evident in relationships where a person of color is being held hostage by a partner’s oppressive forces, especially when the other partner is white. Love should never be a selfish endeavor, rather it should be an experience of mutual understanding and healthy negotiation.
Decolonial love looks like an equitable understanding of each other’s wants and needs, without unfair expectations looming over the relationship.
3. You Don’t Always Get Who You Want
Related to the idea that relationships are about “owning” someone, there is also a great amount of implication to unpack in the dissatisfaction many people feel when they don’t end up with the person they wanted. It is a terrible feeling, of course, to be rejected from anything, let alone a potential relationship (or even friendship) with someone you have strong feelings towards. The issue lies in the negative and aggressive reactions to that rejection; when people feel they are entitled to that other person’s affection, even if feelings were never clearly reciprocated, and decide to react poorly to that loss of what was “theirs.”
This reaction has many ties to our society’s colonial legacy, primarily through its similarities to the way colonizers would react to people they deemed their “property” when they would try to escape their imprisonment. Colonizers felt that it was their natural born right or destiny to hold ownership over indigenous and enslaved people. When indigenous and enslaved people would stand up to their colonizers and fight for their rights over the years, colonizers would refuse to acknowledge their intelligence or agency and would react in aggressive, often directly violent, ways. While this current view of rejection comes from a different origin, the constant theme among these two scenarios is the negative reaction that often leads to the rejecter being injured or killed, and often occurs with white men (e.g. descendants of colonizers) after they’ve been rejected.
Decolonial love looks like accepting rejections as a part of everyday life, not as a loss of “property” you felt entitled to control.
4. Anti-Rape Culture = Anti-Colonial
Rape culture, while being influenced by many different things, is largely a product of colonial ideals of perpetuating violence against other people with little to no regard for the consequences. Directly related to the above ideas of not getting what or who you want, rape culture relies on the entitlement over and dehumanization of victims, where victims are seen as objects of sexuality that should be able to be used whenever someone pleases. We see the effects of rape culture on a daily basis, as more and more people, primarily women and femmes, are subjected to the sexual attacks of aggressors, primarily cis men.
Controlling populations through sexual assault and rape was essentially a cornerstone of the modern colonial era, from Columbus to the “Founding Fathers” and beyond. Indigenous and enslaved women were very often punished by colonizers through rape, while others were subjected to upholding long-term sexual relationships with their colonizers, with Thomas Jefferson as a prime example. This boils down to the misogyny against and dehumanization of women that has existed for centuries (even millennia), something that was heavily present in the colonial era, and is of course still very present today, despite our efforts to dismantle and eradicate it. While we work toward a society that places consent and respect before sexual “needs,” we have to keep calling out the many ways that rape culture plays out in our society.
Decolonial love looks like building relationships off of consent and respect for each other’s bodies and agency, as opposed to sexual entitlement and dehumanization.
5. Your Worth In Relationships (And Life) Is Not Defined By Money Or Success
Our culture is obsessed with defining our lives based on money or success (which, of course, are inherently related). If you are able to obtain wealth and hold onto it for a significant amount of time (i.e. not winning the lottery and then losing that money within 5 years), you are deemed worthy of praise, attention, and special treatment, let alone the fact that you are seen as more deserving of housing, health care, and other basic rights. When you do not have money or are seen as unsuccessful, those amenities and privileges aren’t accessible for you, and the ways in which they’re inaccessible or dangled in our faces is often decided along the lines or race, gender, sexuality, ability status, etc. This plays out significantly in our relationships, where our society points to those with the least amount of money or success as those who don’t deserve or can’t handle happy, sustainable relationships.
This obsession with money and success ties directly back to our colonial history, where the more resources (money) and land (success) you had or took over, the better off you were, and the better respected you were. The amount of money and success you have correlated to your worth in society, and that largely still holds true today by our current standards. As we work to dismantle the idea that you have to have money and success in order to be worthy of happiness, love, and positivity, we also have to work to remove this standard from the way we look at relationships. Modern capitalism is a direct product of the colonial era, and our society has to work toward a system that doesn’t rely on that colonial legacy.
Decolonial love looks like placing the value of a person’s character over the value of their money and success.
[Featured Image: Two individuals sitting outdoors at the water. Pexels.com]