De­colonis­ing the kiss

Why do black peo­ple find it gross to watch other black peo­ple kiss­ing? Mil­isuthando Bon­gela tries to find an­swers

CityPress - - Front Page - Mil­isuthando Bon­gela voices@ city­press. co. za

‘Might there be another way to kiss that we haven’t ex­plored be­cause we learnt how to ‘kiss’ from The Bold and the Beau­ti­ful?” I asked my boyfriend in the mid­dle of what one would de­scribe as a French kiss. “I don’t know why black peo­ple’s lips are big­ger, but could it be pos­si­ble we might have for­got­ten how to use them ac­cord­ing to their de­sign? Is it pos­si­ble to for­get some­thing so fun­da­men­tal to hu­man sex­u­al­ity?” I con­tin­ued, damp­en­ing the mood but piquing his in­ter­est … “We need to de­colonise sex.”

A lot of black, mid­dle class South Africans watch shows like Our Per­fect Wed­ding and Khum­bul’ekhaya, where our work­ing class com­pa­tri­ots are the cen­tral char­ac­ters in a par­tic­u­lar black nar­ra­tive. Un­for­tu­nately, for many mid­dle class peo­ple, watch­ing Our Per­fect Wed­ding is not about cel­e­brat­ing black peo­ple in love but to gauge how good the cou­ple is – or work­ing class black peo­ple are – at mim­ick­ing the ideal white wed­ding or the white wed­ding ideal. The en­ter­tain­ment is in watch­ing them mess it up. Nowhere is this hy­poth­e­sis more ev­i­dent than when the cou­ple kiss af­ter say­ing their vows. I don’t watch the show but have seen the in­fa­mous kiss clips be­ing passed around peo­ple’s so­cial-media time­lines as if they were smelly, lost socks in a pri­mary school class­room, at­tached with ad­jec­tives such as “gross”, “dis­gust­ing”, “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” and even “de­monic”. Rich black cou­ples kiss­ing on Top Billing don’t re­ceive the same treat­ment. Is it per­haps be­cause they are bet­ter at the art of white wed­ding mimicry?

By these stan­dards, there is noth­ing funny when a black cou­ple gushes over the beauty of their wed­ding venue, a 300year-old wine es­tate in the Western Cape. But a pas­sion­ate kiss be­tween two black peo­ple in love is judged as the las­civ­i­ous speck of black sex­u­al­ity, a sea­soned archetype of the colo­nially con­demned.

Why do black peo­ple find it gross to watch other black peo­ple kiss­ing? Is it a deep-set self-loathing? Is it a phys­i­cal thing? It’s al­most im­pos­si­ble to or­bit this part of the sub­ject with­out tread­ing on the edges of sci­en­tific racism and how it was used to in­vest or divest phys­i­cal at­tributes with par­tic­u­lar val­ues. So I will only put the ques­tion out there be­cause it is some­thing I gen­uinely con­sid­ered in my quest to un­der­stand this cul­tural mis­nomer. Racial es­sen­tial­ism con­sid­ered, is it be­cause Ridge and Brooke have thin­ner lips? In other words, does it fun­da­men­tally look hi­lar­i­ous when black peo­ple kiss be­cause our lips are too big for our tongues to make the same grace­ful, rib­bon-like tongue move­ments?

Or, dear black peo­ple, is it a con­di­tional thing? Do we laugh at im­ages of our­selves kiss­ing be­cause of decades of con­di­tion­ing through var­i­ous media that showed white peo­ple kiss­ing as the “ideal”, con­di­tion­ing that we bought into and brought into our bed­rooms in the same way that we – at times un­der duress – ap­pro­pri­ated colo­nial ideals of beauty, mar­riage, knowl­edge, ar­chi­tec­ture, fash­ion, re­li­gion and lan­guage? Did colo­nial­ism reach the fron­tiers of what we do be­hind closed doors?

When we laugh at our­selves kiss­ing, are we laugh­ing at how ter­ri­ble we are at mim­ick­ing our colo­nial kid­nap­pers?

Or do we laugh to sub­con­sciously cope be­cause we don’t know how to nav­i­gate our way to an an­chored state of up­right self-knowl­edge, self-ac­cep­tance and self-love from which we can con­fi­dently en­gage with the world and its evo­lu­tion­ary de­lights?

Look­ing at the premise of Our Per­fect Wed­ding, a show that re­flects black peo­ple’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with white wed­dings – from the dress to the cake, the vows and the “tra­di­tion” of throw­ing the bou­quet and catch­ing the garter – it’s dif­fi­cult to iso­late the prac­tice of kiss­ing from the larger colo­nial pro­ject of ap­pro­pri­a­tion, as­sim­i­la­tion and our con­tract with het­eronor­ma­tive no­tions of be­ing.

Writer Frantz Fanon says some of us – the black, na­tion­al­ist, mid­dle class sum of us, are not to be trusted to di­rect any pro­ject of na­tional re­con­struc­tion be­cause of our al­le­giance and ded­i­ca­tion to colo­nial and set­tler ideals.

I re­cently caught my­self rem­i­nisc­ing about mem­o­ries that did not be­long to me when I walked into a space and fell in un­re­quited love with the pressed ceil­ings, wooden floors and bay win­dows – beau­ti­ful sym­bols of colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture.

On the one hand, I am hyp­no­tised by the pageantry and glam­our of power, pla­cated by the nor­malised para­pher­na­lia of – for lack of a bet­ter term – white cul­ture.

But on the other hand, what chance does the black per­son have of de­colonis­ing him- or her­self if, as an un­con­scious act of self-ex­am­i­na­tion, we use con­tempt as the lens through which to look at our­selves? The need to hide be­hind laugh­ter, to laugh at one’s self, is a nour­ish­ing, cop­ing mech­a­nism.

But who ben­e­fits from the ridicule of black life?

BLACK KISS The kiss shared by a cou­ple on Our Per­fect Wed­ding

WHITE KISS Brooke and Bill lock lips in The Bold and the Beau­ti­ful

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