I’ve taken to swiping left on dating apps almost instinctively whenever I see the word “apolitical’ in someone’s bio.
The word signals one of many several things that I have not interest in having to deal with in a possible romance. It often signals uncomplicated contrarianism. It often signals (presumably privileged) blithe disinterest. Mostly, though, I’ve found that it signals stoic disillusionment with political governance, and an overly simplified understanding of the word and what it actually means to be political (maybe blame semantics and what Mike McHargue calls the asymptotic fidelity of words?). Admittedly, the latter is a sentiment that I have some empathy for- in a world that’s designed to exploit many of us, a declaration of such indifference can feel like a cathartic middle finger to the powers that be. (I understand what it is to feel so bogged down by the shittiness of the world that disengaging feels like the only way we can survive).
However valid this might seem, however, notions of apoliticality that are solely rooted in a definition of politics that is restricted to governance are dangerous. Politics and politicality include but transcend governance. They have to do with power. Who has it. Who doesn’t. At whose expense this power is adjudicated. Nothing, then, is apolitical, because everything is negotiated by power- facilitated by our proximity, distance, allegiance or aversion to it.
As a black, female citizen of a postcolonial country that is still in the systemic choke-hold of its western metropole, my existence itself, the movement of my body across borders, along streets, in society, is so postured against many hegemonic powers that I cannot survive under the illusion of apoliticality. I enter spaces, including romantic terrain, with the understanding that I am a politicised being in a political world. Apoliticality disempowers me, panders to oppressive forces, and takes for granted the subjugation that I spend my time and efforts actively resisting. I do have time for differing views- just not in my love life- not in this fundamental way. It is difficult to think of loving and being loved in any way that shrugs, unbothered, in the face of all of everything.
Life is so steeped in and informed by questions of power that it is difficult to have ‘no position’. Inaction is action. Silence speaks. Blithe disinterest shapes reality. The lack of a stance is, itself, a stance. I hope we are, at the very least, aware of this.
I’m not the sort to assert that everyone must use any particular sort of language or register to assert their politicality. I’m only keen on hoping that we are aware of the fact that our lives, as private as they might seem, are part of larger things we cannot escape by merely declaring that we aren’t a part of them.
I do not believe that we are entitled to our opinions- I believe that we are entrusted with them. Our opinions shape discourse, and we are charged with the responsibility to think and act with kindness and justice. Apoliticality, especially when assumed by those in more proximity to social, economic and (ironically) political power, has often been used as a way to silence necessary conversations and gaslight those for whom the brunt of injustice is a lived reality. I have been in conversations where my blackness or womanhood is in question, and had them dismissed because of someone’s ‘apoliticality’. And because that- the refusal to listen and take my pain and condition seriously- has been my experience with those who claim this word, I’m good with swiping left until glory comes.
See more of my writing at www.takondwa.com.