Pride weekend in London. Glitter, pink, parade. Supposedly the peak of LGBT visibility. But instead of marching this year, I decided to go with a friend to check out the South Bank Centre’s Festival Of Love opening weekend. Damn am I glad I did. The entire programme of events were ‘pay what you can’ (which is more than I can say for Pride Glasgow), and all centered on the subject of love. What I found refreshing was this was not ‘love’ in the stock heteronormative rom-com version of the word, but 7 of the ancient Greek’s words for the multitude of things ‘love’ can mean.
To me, the weekend felt inclusive, perhaps more inclusive than the Pride Parade that now feels like a commodification of the community it’s meant to represent. I felt comfortable that I could go along as a queermo and find resonance, although the events weren’t exclusively for the non-normative festival go-er. Everything I experienced felt like an explosion of the word love, with a wide range of talks and workshops from the origin of the myth of monogamy to the recent legislation of equal marriage.
I attended a brilliant poetry-writing workshop on Self-Love, by Mimi Khalvati.
I went to a talk entitled ‘How To Make Love Last’ by David Waters from The School Of Life that also examined the role of self-love and solitude in relationships. (and that being the way to love sustainably)
I wondered round the Museum of Broken Relationships, a collection of items that people had donated from relationships past, and felt the pain of others.
These were all fantastic. But this post is really about the thoughts sparked from a panel discussion I attended called 'Make Love Not War'. The speakers, Lyse Doucet, Akala and another historian for some reason not listed, all spoke about the place of love in freedom struggles. Chaired by Shami Chakrabarti, the highlights of the discussions for me were the ones with self-love at their core.
The idea of love being the heart of freedom fighting is not a new one, love being famously politically championed by Che Guevara and Mandela. Akala’s speech focused mainly on the civil rights movement, and those such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr (and their different approaches).
Poignantly, Akala said
‘To love oneself is to defend oneself’
(I will come back to why this is so awesome later)
He continued to speak from the perspective that White supremacy is based on Black self-hatred; self-hate is what sustains the system. The whiter the skin, the more privilege one has. I.e to not have white skin is to be lesser. Akala linked this to things such as the trend of skin bleaching in some cultures; to want what is ‘better’ you have to dislike what you have. I had never heard someone put it that way, but it resonated with me instantly. To tell a group of people they are lesser than others is to tell them to change themselves, where possible, to be more like the favoured ones. This is insighting self-hatred, the idea that ‘you are not enough as you are’.
I do not belong to any Black community, and although technically I belong to a minority ethnic group (Jewish), I have never experienced racism. Nor do I hold in-depth knowledge on the black power or civil rights movements. I don’t believe you have to belong to a BME group to write about BME issues, in fact I believe that it is important for white writers to write on the subject, but this post is not about my take on Black Self-Hate. Thanks to Akala's words, my white middle-class queer mind went straight (hah) to joining the dots in other systems of oppression closer to home. Queer theorist Donald Hall explains origins of homophobic language:
To be a homosexual is to be a lesser version of a heterosexual. As sexual activity became a particularly urgent means by which individuals were classified during the 19th century, slurs were marshalled to make sure [people] understood the degraded nature of that place - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003
These deep rooted inequalities have existed for centuries. All my life, and particularly for the past year since identifying as queer, I have been grappling with the concept of self-love. Although not all I have been struggling against could be directly blamed on social or cultural things, I do believe that being brought up in a society where I am constantly told I am lesser (or perhaps worse, invisible/ignored) has an impact on my self-worth.
Let me put it this way.
- White Supremacy = White As The Desired = Black as lesser = (for all those who do not fall in to the category) Impetus to be ‘Whiter’ = Black Self-Hate + White Privilege = Racism
In my brain, what Akala said isn’t just true of White Supremacy; Self-Hate sustains different systems of oppression.
- The Patriarchy = Man as The Desired = Woman as lesser = Impetus to be ‘more Manly/have more masculine qualities’ = Women Self-hating + Male Privilege = Sexism = Misogyny
- The Gender Binary = Cis as The Desired = Trans* as lesser = Impetus to fit into the binary = Trans* Self-Hate + Cis Privilege = Transphobia.
- The Patriarchy + The Gender Binary = Straight As The Desired = Queer as lesser = Impetus to be Heteronormative = Queer Self-Hate + Straight Privilege = Homophobia/Biphobia
- Capitalism = Rich As The Desired = The Poorer The Lesser = Impetus to be Richer = Class Self-Hate + Class Privilege = Classism = Poverty
- Medical model/Ableism = Able Bodied As The Desired = Disabled as lesser = impetus to be have normative body = Disabled Self-Hate + Able Privilege = Disablism
*These things should actually be presented in a more circular fashion, rather than sums, as it is a vicious circle. And the diagram would be inter-related, as all these issues are. I will make that diagram one day.
I hope that makes my point clearer. Of course these issues are highly complicated, and I am in no way implying self-hate is the only thing that fuels it all. Nor do I mean to homogenise different marginalised groups by implying that we all have the same lived experiece. BUT with all this Self-Hate sustaining normative systems, the demonisation of Self-Love as egotistical or hippie new-age shit starts to make sense. Skin bleaching or tanning is only a manufactured version of self-love. The system doesn't want you to wake up and really engage with self-love, because that would disrupt the system. We would relate to ourselves and one another differently. As Hall points out:
If oppressed find coalitions across various forms of oppression - gender, race, sexuality, social class - they will greatly outnumber oppressors - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003
Because to love ourselves, we need to embrace all of us – including the part we are being told is lesser. And once the queer/black/trans*/woman/marginalised person figures out how to embrace their otherness, they start to express it. And then we would demand freedom of that expression because no one fits in to a fixed category, the realm of expression is too narrow. There would be no impetus to hide that part of us; there would be no impetus to stay in the system. The system's aim would be clear; to disconnect us, from ourselves and from others.
If they take the worst slur that society can hurl against them, and undermine its power through different usages, a tool of those oppressors is potentially, palpably weakened - D, Hall, Queer Theories, 2003
What Akala pointed out is that White supremacy, like other oppressive systems, is not just based on hate for others, but hate for the otherness within ourselves. Self-hate is the first step towards hating others.
Perhaps, as Doucet mentioned, that’s why we ‘don’t care’ about other countries in Western society. Just like a lover who gives all to their partner and finds themselves exhausted, we haven't even learned to love ourselves beyond the superficial. No wonder we have not learnt the ways to sustainably care for others.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but if I didn’t believe it before I sure as hell do now. It’s all about the self-love. Self-love as a disruption of normative systems of oppression. Self-love so that the way I treat myself is sustainable, the way I meet myself is not exhausting. Hopefully this will mean more sustainable relationships with others, and more energy to put in to activist causes.
In this sense, Self-love is the way to defend oneself, against systems of hatred. (thank you Akala!)
*(I am sure I am not the first person to write about this, so I will continue to research! Feel free to add your ideas…)