I feel exactly like I felt after my first heartbreak. I thought I would never heal. I did. #smallconsolation— chika unigwe (@chikaunigwe) November 9, 2016
Many of us, people on the outside of what's inside, are feeling today like we've been let down. Like we've been told (again) that we are collectively unwelcome in a nation that consistently demands our labor. On more than one occasion I've heard it said that election disappointment felt like the heartbreak of a first love lost. Thankfully, hearing it from others validated and gave expression to exactly how I felt on Wednesday morning, leaving my home to face a seemingly different America. My chest was constricted, my psyche excessively sober, and somewhere, elsewhere within me, I felt torn, returned to the irreparable fracture of an inherited nullity. The loneliness, I'm ashamed to say, felt familiar. Heartbreak—and in that way specific to romantic heartbreak. I perceived my own feeling as selfish, even detestable. Why? Why should I feel this heartbreak when, cognitively, I recognize there is much political work to do in the wake of a devastating verdict?
In an unfortunately insidious way, nothing had changed between Tuesday and Wednesday. What an electorate expects and desires in their candidate is a representative of its best interest. It's part of democracy. And though our Democrat (who ironically resembles a republican elite) won the popular vote, the electorate decided on the Republican (who's ironically run, in my opinion, a campaign built on democratic rhetoric). Republican voters had already decided they were tired of the otherness parading itself in the halls of governmental authority, in media, in all channels of power—buying into the notion that a black President meant the end of American racism. These voters felt their tax dollars no longer served their best interest and found clarity in a figure who voiced the worst of their frustrations (despite himself not having to deal with any of these frustrations on a daily basis). Racism, sexism/misogyny, chauvinism—all of these things, despite their never having disappeared, have reared new ugliness into the American socio-political landscape. This election was certainly a reminder of what skeletons remain trapped in the closet of American democracy.
But why this heartbreak? And why my negative self-perception of this feeling? Well, I think this has to do with the erotics of national identity. As Audre Lorde reminds us, the erotic is a form of power.
THERE ARE MANY kinds of power, used and unused, acknowledged or otherwise. The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.
The erotic, as you likely already know, is a term derived from the Greek embodiment of desire, eros—it is a term specific to sexual/romantic love (as opposed to other expressions of ancient Greek love: agape, storge, and philia). More broadly, eros is desire writ large. It is to want. That we feminize the erotic is a truth often unacknowledged. And as a man (conditioned to reject the feminine within me), I was rejecting what came from my proper spirit.
We all live in this country in hope that we might be invested in the poetic project of inalienable rights and the pursuit of happiness. And for many of us this translates to a desire (an erotic) to be American, to be received as American, embraced as American. This heartbreak is the feeling that one is helpless in the face of patriarchal oppression, that no amount of sweet talk or apologizing can seem to fix, that the sincerest desire of the heart is ignored, unrequited, disparaged—left to fester in what Lorde (and later Spillers) refers to as the pornographic. I return regularly to this passage by Lorde:
When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences. To refuse to be conscious of what we are feeling at any time, however comfortable that might seem, is to deny a large part of the experience, and to allow ourselves to be reduced to the pornographic, the abused, and the absurd.
We are not without power in this. It has everything to do with a desire for fulfillment in the face of structures and continuums designed to rob us of that well-spring of power. This election was no accident. Things may get worse before they get better. In fact, some of us may never be American, may never receive or be received by America (as it so happens, some of us were never constitutionally considered human). But one thing is certain, we are not without power and we should not be made to feel anything less than divinely constituted and whole. We will not be moved.