“Guess who’s coming to dinner?” was the title of the American 1967 box office hit that starred Sidney Poitier and Katherine Hepburn among others. The story was a controversial one at that time in the United States: a young white woman from a liberal upper-class background marries a black man and brings him home to dinner with her parents. The parents, however liberal and open minded they consider themselves, are horrified and shocked that their daughter has chosen a black man as her husband. At a time when interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states, their reaction wasn’t a surprising one, though it was to the daughter who thought the parents who had raised her to consider all people equal would be anything other than accepting of her newfound love. Thankfully, the laws of storytelling in Hollywood dictate that a happy ending was inevitable and eventually the parents are won over by the charm and personality of the near-perfect Poitier and the couple can embark on a life of marital bliss with their parents’ grudging approval.
Fast forward 45 years later to 2012. The world has come a long way, it seems, since then. We look on laws that prohibit the marriage between people of differing races as outdated, racist and barbaric. Love knows no color and anybody can love anyone they wish. “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” might seem outdated, but the themes and questions it presents are still very much alive in 2012. In these post-racial, post-anything times, the movie presents us with questions that are still very relevant today: who is desirable and who is not? And why?
The parents in the movie would rather have welcomed an upper class, white man as their son-in-law. Why? Because privilege is still a major social force in the public AND the private life. There are still hierarchies of privilege and desirability that have a lot to do with who has the power to dictate discourse. White and light skinned is privileged over colored and dark-skinned. Masculine is privileged over feminine. Thin over fat. Middle class over poor. The list goes on.
For anyone committed to social justice, feminism and decolonization, the idea that the personal is political is well known motto. And yet…though we might be raging radicals when it comes to our public lives and fighting the good fight in the broader arena of social life, we often have a blind spot for how privilege structures our personal lives and our most intimate relationships. When it comes to who we want to love and lust after, we sometimes are amazingly blind to the effects of colonization.
For myself, a big part of decolonizing my mind is understanding how from the moment we are born, we are bombarded with ideas and images telling us who must aspire to be and who we must to desire to posses. And then, going beyond that in order to be able to see the full humanity of ourselves and others.
Because how can I love truly and be truly loved, when what I’m attracted to is not the person themselves, but their privilege? And how can I truly love and be loved, when I don’t know what my own configurations of desires and preferences are based on? Though I’m sure many people are struggling with these questions, this is a conversation that we rarely have in public.
You might be wondering why I’m making a case for having this conversation out in the open. Why is it important to ask ourselves and each other who is worthy of our lust and love? And why?
As the Domenican-American writer, Junot Diaz, puts it:
“We are never gonna get anywhere as long as our economies of attraction resemble more or less the economies of attraction of white supremacy. [And finding people who practice decolonial love is as hard inside a vast movement as it is outside.] The actual standard of decolonial love: how little discussed, how little understood and yet in many ways is the great test of who we are, of our praxis and of our communal praxis.”