Love in the time of Black Queer Death

Zinzi and Tozama II Mowbray, Cape Town, 2010. Photo by: Zanele Muholi

I think of love often. The love for others, the love of self, love of nature, love of spirituality and humanity. I reflect on how we see love and how we express it — either through action and words spoken or not yet heard. I have come to identify love as the driving force behind everything I do.

M. Scott Peck defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” In The Road Less Traveled,he states: “Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.”

We are in an era where we are encouraged to find love not only from others but seek it within. Self-love was radical to me at 17 years-old. I was struggling with depression and social anxiety. I was so hungry for love, acceptance and validation from others. I did not think to seek it from myself. When I began to love all of me, I learned what love really felt like. I can imagine what it felt like for others who were searching for the same thing. To finally understand love for the complete self.

ZaVa I. Paris, 2013. Image © Zanele Muholi.

I am a student of love. I look daily for new ways to express and show love to myself and the people around me. Like many students, I don’t always get A’s on my tests. I falter and slip up. Some acts do not come from love but from anger, insecurity, or negligence. In these moments, I work to understand the root of these emotions. The acknowledgement that I am not perfect is an act of love. To love, you have to face — and accept — the darkness and the light. I used to hate my darkness. It revealed my humanity, my imperfections and the studying I still need to do. Now, I accept that darkness. It is a part of me. I forgive that darkness. The act of forgiveness is an act of love. Through forgiveness you are loved and through love you are free.

At times, I find it hard work to love. I find the emotional labor of actively committing to loving oneself and others to be taxing. Daily, I see evidence of hate, fear, and negativity. On every phone or TV screen I see evidence of Black death, racism, and global violence. I see women, children, and men in all shades of brown & black shot down in streets, on playgrounds, in their own homes. I see white supremacists, scared of losing control, resort to overt and subtle acts of violence on Black, Brown, trans and woman bodies. I wonder how love is still thriving in times like these.

Yet, everyday I continue to love. It is my resistance. My defiance against Black death is to love Black life. The angers that rises like bile in my throat as I witness social injustice is transformed into love and admiration for activists who devout their life to Black and Brown, trans and queer liberation. Through art, through protests, and through love, we are fighting.

by Zandele Muholi

We are fighting in churches.

We are fighting in schools.

We are fighting in prisons.

We are fighting in government offices.

We are fighting in homeless shelters.

We are fighting in our beds.

We are fighting in our homes.

We are fighting behind McDonald’s counters.

We are fighting with mops in our hands.

We are fighting in strip clubs.

We are fighting in hospitals.

We are fighting in psychiatric wards.

We are fighting in trashy motels.

We are fighting on the streets.

We are fighting in the night.

We are fighting in our hearts and minds.

This fight is a fight of love. My Black, queer love is radical because I commit to it. I relish in it. I have survived because of it. By loving myself I am able to love others at full capacity. In spite of all of our scars, imperfections and moments of fear and self-doubt, we are still worthy to love and to be loved. Even through the hurt and anger I feel from witnessing violence, racism, and discrimination; even as people work to silence our voices, I know that our commitment to love will drive our commitment to liberation, equality, and visibility.

Summer 2015 was a transformative year of love for me. I created Ebb&Flow as a radical act of love for myself. It was a self-love reaction to graduating college, overcoming psychological trauma, overcoming homelessness, and mourning death… after death… after death. The video validated my life in ways I did not recognize or fully understand when I was filming it. As I edited the video together, I saw a light behind my gaze that never faltered. In my eyes, I saw a woman who dared to be different, someone who took risks by wearing her heart on her sleeve and tie-dyed crop top tee. I saw a Black, queer, fat beautiful woman who stood up when people tried to keep her down. I saw the effects of loving and being love in spite of …. and it was beautiful.

There is something calming in loving and recognizing — that is, accepting — that you are loved. It is as if you no longer have to prove you are capable or worthy of love. To be loved and love is to be free of doubt and insecurity. Your acts of love are not tainted with the anxiety to prove your love. They are, instead, carried out in calm confidence and authenticity.

I find love everywhere. I found love in the waves of the Caribbean sea; in the innocence of a child’s laughter; in the eyes of a joyful elder; in the tender touch of a lover’s kiss; in the patience of school teachers; in my smile, reflected in my bathroom mirror every morning. To know, feel, and understand love is to see, feel, and understand it in everything. Through this act of acknowledging love, we can always be grounded in acts of love.

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