I’ve been trying to write about what it is to love straight white men as a straight brown woman for a long time.
I wouldn’t say that all my writing, academic and non-academic, is reducible to that particular project, but as I work on making sense of the things I can and do write about, and the things I want to but don’t write about, I see that there are some connections between all my writing projects that are becoming clearer now.
When I went to grad school it was a really a kind of stopping place on the way to writing fiction. I thought I would just use it as a structure for becoming a writer, but as I attended classes and wrote papers I became interested in other aspects of questions of race, writing and desire. I was incredibly irritated by the way desire could only be spoken about in terms given by psychoanalysis, which were always already white terms. Histories of love in colonial societies, and representations of such love in literature, all seemed to presume that the question of desire should and could be addressed by identification, lack, fetishes, Lacanian mimicry, haunting and mourning. It seemed that if I was going to say something about love in a time of colonialism, I would have to begin by explaining why psychoanalysis wasn’t enough.
Meanwhile, at the same time, I tried and failed to write my stories. I taught classes where the students and I talked about the sweet seduction of interracial love as a colonial narrative–all we have to do is fall in love with each other, despite the odds, and we will have found our way back to the ‘universal’, no need to actually decolonize the world or our desires. I also struggled with increasingly difficult and demoralizing encounters with straight white men in the academy, nearly all of which I can’t elaborate on at this time of writing.
If I were to try to characterize what has happened to my writing, knowing that I still don’t see a lot of it very clearly, I would say that I allowed myself to be diverted, over and over again, from the things I thought and felt because I believed that I could not write directly about the things I wanted to say. It seemed to me–and it still seems to me–that I have to work my way through the historical morass of how desire and colonialism have been understood before.
I recognize that to a layperson that last sentence might seem rather strange–isn’t a psychoanalytic approach to desire all about recognizing how our individual histories have formed us? We desire this because of Mommy-and-Daddy, or that because Mommy-and-Daddy would not let us have it when we wanted it. But that is not history. It is the mere passing of time as understood on the scale of one individual’s life. An actual history reveals that psychoanalysis is one of the key theories developed in the nineteenth-century to colonize our ideas about desire–that we love what is the same as us, that we identify with others so as to incorporate them into ourselves, that we repeat these searches for what we know and can consume over and over and over. Psychoanalysis does recognize some difference as part of the play of desire, but it cannot recognize or admit to its own part in deciding what kinds of differences will matter when we talk about desire. (So, yes to sexual difference, but no to racial difference.)
In thinking and writing about how problematic our theories and histories of desire are though, I have forgotten myself. I have tried to forget about the ways that loving actual white men, who didn’t love me back because of the colour of my skin, frames the world I live in and try to write about. I have tried to forget about how difficult it is to write as a recognizably rigorous scholar when you want to talk about race and colonialism as more than simply ‘context’ or ‘background’ to a universal theoretical problem. I have tried to forget about how much more talent I would need as a writer to write stories about race and colonialism that would be read beyond a niche audience. I have tried to forget about myself and this desire to write.
And I have almost succeeded.