It remains amazing, amusing, and heart-breaking to me that most of the articles published on colonial intimacy and especially colonial homosexuality focus on white men. With apologies, of course, because the archives don’t really have “native” voices and it would be presumptuous on the part of mostly white historians and theoreticians to imagine what “it must have been like” for a black or brown person. Indeed, Robert Aldrich’s mis-titled book should really be called “white men abroad,” not Colonialism and Homosexuality, a title which presupposes, I had naively assumed, that black and brown names and bodies and desires might feature.
Except, of course, we “know” that black and brown people felt “exploited” and “victimized” and “othered.” Did they/we experience passion and desire? Were they/we overwhelmed with longing? Did they/we have complex inner lives?
*we should put a moratorium on scholars who write about colonialism without substantive discussions of black and brown peoples who were always more than colonized, and who had names and ages and could walk and talk and even think and negotiate; if one wants to write about the trauma of white colonizers, then the subtitle should always be “the trauma of white colonizers,” not “colonialism and x”*
My frustration with such studies—and they are legion—is one reason why the groundbreaking anthology Black Queer Studies, which I am staring at right now (which five books will you carry to Kenya? I’ll take thirty!) frustrates me so much. Even in its pages, the African queer remains a thought to be thought by someone else, by the “African who dares.” And when Africa is invoked by similar works it is as the site of confirmation—look! Even there we were queer!
It is impolitic to be writing this, though I am fairly confident that my 3 readers will not destroy my career. (Will you? Please don’t!)
I will not venture here into how the sites where knowledge about colonialism is produced shape the racial dynamics of such knowledge, its reception and dissemination; its presumed and assumed interlocutors. Others can tackle these still very critical issues. I find myself reading and re-reading the body of work produced in the 1970s and 1980s in the still nascent field of postcolonial studies, and marveling, not at how far we have come, but at the inches we have moved since then, inches, and so I find myself amazed by those who proclaim postcolonial critique moribund.
In part, I am thinking about this because I am reading a bunch of articles that bear such a close resemblance to the ethno-pornography of the 19th and early 20th centuries that I find myself quite amazed. At times it’s difficult to understand whether I’m reading scholarly studies or ads for sexual tourism: Morans Do it Better!
Now, this presents a quandary. I study sexuality. I teach sexuality. I write about sexuality. Why, then, do I feel so uncomfortable reading about Morans’ sexual techniques? One scholarly way to put this is that during such moments I am trying to negotiate what is queer and what is postcolonial.
Even as I attempt to think past the Afro-Victorianism that has plagued African and postcolonial studies, I remain wary of the salacious writers, researchers, editors, and knowledge consumers who read about black and brown sexuality as much for titillation as for knowledge. And titillation IS a problem when the object of knowledge, or presumed subjects, are not considered readers of knowledge or actors about such knowledge. It is a problem when the “lovemaking techniques” or, better yet, the “sexual strategies” of (insert African group) become the object of tender, extended, loving descriptions without any acknowledgment whatsoever about the ethics of such documentation—really, ethics is just a big word for saying without any acknowledgment whatsoever of Africanist and postcolonial critiques about such scholarly endeavors.
I would not censor such studies. I think they are valuable. But if they are to construct their objects of knowledge as subjects in the world, then they have to speak with us and to us, have to consider how we engage the forms of knowledge produced about us, but seemingly never for us.
It seems fundamental and elementary: Africans read knowledge produced about Africa. It might not be a bad thing if non-African scholars writing on African bodies and intimacies acknowledged this.