Racialized Love

“Hope? That is expensive. Life cost me more than what it was worth.”

Juan Rulfo in Pedro Páramo.



Silvia Álvarez- Verde Esperanza

You have heard the stories… you know the people… You read about those who have been targeted on planes, airports, malls, beaches, and God knows what else, and presumed to be “terrorists.” You have seen how black children and youth are followed around malls because “they may steal something.” You also witness them getting killed by the dozen under the banners of security and development all the time.

You have walked past people’s expression of disgust upon seeing Indigenous people, who are assumed to be “homeless,” and you see these same people call them “drunks” and “addicts” on a daily basis. You witness policemen harassing Indigenous women on the streets while everyone remains silent, and even oblivious, to the violence that Indigenous bodies endure since more than 500 years ago. And then you hear the silent bystanders justify those acts while proudly displaying maple leafs in their clothing and faces every July.

You notice people cringing in public spaces after seeing a woman in niqab. You worry about those friends of yours who veil because you know, very well, that white supremacists, racists, bigots, and the alike, roam the streets every evening looking to harass women who cover. You also have seen enough cases to know that if something happens, a hate crime, a threatening note in a mailbox or an attack, you cannot go to the police without them telling you, “we are doing everything we can,” even when you know it is not true. You are also very familiar with the dooming institutional silence that follows.

Yet, it does not always sink in.

It does not become real until one day you walk around and a policeman randomly stops you in the middle of the street to ask you for your identification. For some of us that ends in criminal charges, for some others it ends  with coffins. Or it does not hit you until one day you are pulled aside at airport security, and you are held against your will for hours and hours without the right to call your family or friends to let them know what is happening. And again… the institutional silence.

It does not become your truth, until you start job-hunting and realize that a foreign name does not get you very far, but that something like “Erin,” does. Or, when upon arriving to an interview, you know that the all-white hiring panel has already being charmed by a white male in an expensive suit. And that, if you are a woman, you will rarely be number one in the ranking scheme unless you are competing for a job against other women. It does not become your problem until you are at the verge of racialized poverty and suddenly become one in five people of color living below the poverty line or part of the 59% of immigrant families that somehow manage to live on nothing.

It does not become personal until one day you are holding hands with another “other” and can feel the social tension forming around. Or when you really need to think if it is wise to travel with your significant other because you do not want the border officers to “joke” again about how Al-Qaeda has joined forces with Mexican cartels. It does not become heart-aching until you know that the person you love, just like yourself, will have to fight twice as hard to merely be recognized for their talent and skills rather than being seen as the “other” wherever they go. And it does not become any easier, when you realize that being together will always be marked by the experience of racialized love, which in essence means a whole lot of powerlessness and hopelessness and little access to the resources and opportunities you need and yearn for.


Why is this so hard? Why is it a constant struggle?

For months we talked about “having our shit together,” you know, the average education+job+goals+partner=happylife. Despite my experiences of racialized violence, sexual harassment and such, I was sure that this was the “right” formula. Googled seemed to confirm it… those articles featuring best practices for “highly effective couples” and those that preach about a guy’s real intentions when it comes to love and relationships. But none of these account for the fact that racialized love, our type, is never mainstream, “highly effective” or “normal” in any way, shape or form.

Nothing really explains the stress and the sense of defeat that you face when you are out of options… no one really tells you how to cope when all the education in the world will neither relief debt nor grant you access to secure and sufficiently paid employment. No one shows you how to love in poverty; in fact… very few people think you “deserve” to love while poor.

No one teaches you to love either, in mainstream ways, when you come from an immigrant family. No one ever tells you that those messed up experiences that we go through with our parents and family friends are the result of racialized love and crushed dreams under colonial borders. And no one, not for a second, thinks that those of us who are immigrants or children of immigrants and refugees, navigate love in multiple spaces that are often contradictory.

Anglophone lovers are also quick to erase our own expressions of “love,” the ways in which Hispanics, for instance, distinguish between “querer,” “amar” and “adorar.” Love, in their language, is equated with neoliberal ideas of success, efficiency, performance and quality. We are deemed labour in our own personal relationships. Our racialized love becomes, then, a brutal task, a violent process and a dangerous endeavour…

And God forbid we struggle with the demons of mental illness… then, we are considered to be unworthy not only of love, but of treatment, options and any kind of accommodation. An “other” who lives with mental illness is portrayed as the pure image of failure… someone who is “useless” to mainstream neoliberal society.

Thus, there is little room for us outside the tiny cocoons of hope that we eventually learn to navigate, but that remain scarce. And very few talk about the cost of hope. For a racialized “other” to have hope, to be “optimistic” and to be “positive,” often requires the erasure of who we are and where we come from. Further, we fail to acknowledge that hope does not feed us, pay the bills or keep us violence-free.

So the struggle is not an illusion. It is tangible and visible. It is expressed in our everyday lack of control over our conditions and experiences. And it translates in the ultimate loopy-fear of losing those who you love to circumstances that are all too common, but over which we have no say.

And as I try to hold on to the love I feel for you, that awkward attempt to give you the best I have to offer even when I do not know how, I cannot help but feeling like I am swimming against the current. I fear to lose us to all the forces around us, those who deem us a “lost cause.” And while I also fear the hope and the price I will have to pay to keep it close, I fear more the silence and the emptiness that comes with losing the “other” you love.