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What are the Politics of Desirability?

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April 8, 2015

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.”  — Audre Lorde

Narratives about beauty, intelligence, and kindness have mostly been centralized on white people. Psychological experiments like The Doll Test have shown that from a young age, the majority of people of all races are programmed to favor light skin. People of color, people with disabilities, fat people, people who are low income, and people with a myriad of other culturally oppressed identities have all been historically underrepresented in the media, which has worked to construct these identities as inferior. These are the politics of desirability.

The politics of desirability function in everyone’s daily life, so it is important to recognize when you are participating in these harmful stereotypes about who deserves to be loved. Peoples multiple forms of identity can have different levels of privilege and acknowledging this is essential to breaking down false notions that the media supports. It is also important to acknowledge the variant desirability that comes with different races of people in different spaces.

While many may think of who we are attracted to as personal preference, those preferences are not developed in a vacuum. It’s impossible to separate one’s desires from the culture and society in which they were formed, so it’s important to think critically about it.

White supremacy, masculinity, ability, and class must be decentralized. People of all identities are worthy of love, especially those who face hate in systems that are not built for them to be desired. To quote Junot Diaz: “Decolonize your love!”

Here are some links that Oberlin’s Sexual Information Center discussed during their workshop this week on the subject of desirability politics:

Now that you know some basics about desirability politics, it’s time to do some critical thinking about how you express your love and to whom! Please feel free to expand upon or amend my definitions of desirability politics in the comments section. This is an issue that definitely needs to be discussed, especially openly, in the media. LOVE! LOVE! LOVE!

 

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