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