‘’Might there be another way to kiss that we haven’t explored because we learned 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 that we might have forgotten how to use them according to their design? I continued. ‘’Is it possible to forget something so fundamental to human sexuality?’’ ‘’We need to decolonize sex!’’ I declared, dampening the mood but piquing his interest.
A lot of black middle class South Africans watch shows like Our Perfect Wedding and Khumbulekhaya where our working class compatriots are the central characters to an all too pervasive black narrative. Unfortunately, for many middle class people, watching Our Perfect Wedding is not about celebrating black people in love, but gauging how good the couple is, or working class black people are at mimicking the ideal white wedding or the white wedding ideal. The entertainment value is in watching them mess it up. Nowhere is this hypothesis more evident than in the 30-second peak of the show when the couple kisses after saying their vows. I don’t watch the show but have seen the infamous kiss video clips being passed around people’s social media timelines as if they were smelly lost socks in a primary school classroom, attached with adjectives like ‘’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 mimicry? Is it because their white weddings are closer to the white ideal? By these standards, there is nothing funny or inappropriate when a rich black couple gushes over the beauty of their wedding venue, a 300-year-old wine estate in the Western Cape. But a passionate kiss between two average black people in love is judged as the lascivious speck of black sexuality, a seasoned archetype of the colonially condemned. There’s a deeply set coat of self-loathing in looking at an expression of love as a spectacle and a joke or equating it to evil or looking away when it is happening because black people are doing it.
Why do black people find it gross to watch black people kissing? Is it a physical thing? It’s almost impossible to orbit this part of the subject without teetering on the edges of scientific racism and how it was used to invest or divest physical attributes with particular values and principles, so I shall 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 that it doesn’t make the news when their tongues reach for each other? 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 of the French kiss look sexy and desirable?
Or, dear black people, is it a conditional thing? Do we laugh at visual representations of ourselves kissing because of decades of conditioning through various media, conditioning that showed white people kissing as the ‘’ideal’’ type of kissing, conditioning that we bought into and brought into our bedrooms without questioning? In the same ways 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, the result of our wretched state of Stockholm syndrome? Or do we laugh to subconsciously cope because we do not 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, to the vows, right down to the ‘tradition’ of throwing the bouquet and catching the garter – it’s difficult to isolate the practice of kissing from the lager colonial project of appropriation, assimilation and our contract with heteronormative notions of being.
Fanon says that 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 to and dedication to colonial and settler ideals. I caught myself being nostalgic about memories that do not belong to me recently 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 one hand I am hypnotized by the pageantry and the glamour of power. I am placated by the familiarity of that style of architecture and the normalized paraphernalia of, for lack of a hard working term, white culture. But on the other, what chance does the black person have at decolonizing if as an unconscious act of self-examination, he or she uses pejoratives as the lenses through which to look at himself or herself? The need to hide behind laughter, the need to laugh at one’s self is a nourishing coping mechanism. I appreciate black television narratives for that. But, judging by how history went down, who really benefits from the ridicule of black people?
This article was first appeared in City Press on Sunday 16 August, 2015.
Image: Fana The Purp