Politics of Melancholia



Article published in The Funambulist 11 (May-June 2017) Designed Destructions. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

Sitting with friends at the Dominion bar in Montreal, we began talking about the question of identification, in relationship to melancholia. I came to the conclusion that I can identify as a “man,” a bookseller, an artist, a French Moroccan, a North African, a Sahraoui from my father’s side, and someone who grew up in a working-class banlieue. However, on this evening I felt that my affects and my identities were primarily melancholic. So I instead confessed to my friends that I identify as a melancholic person. Something was weird because this wasn’t “real” identity politics. By default, people will assign me as something else, a privation or a threat, because of my masculine and Brown body.

I realised that I am fighting for freedom of identity on my own terms; for an ability to negotiate my own self and paradoxes, to set my own self-determination, and take power of the words I formulate. And thus, to avoid becoming an Arab depicted as a model minority, exhausted from convincing himself of effective assimilation systems or from satisfying his self-determination with a simplification of the multiple “identitIES” that constitute us.

I understand that there is a problem, primarily linked with this irrational accusation projected towards Arabs, Blacks and people of color in France. It’s as if we became, by default, spokespeople for our supposed communities, becoming knights of a new kind of virtue. A pure virtue, white and republican, fulfilling an omnipresent colonial guilt, or a contrario, an insane “rebel” virtue claiming an anti-assimilation, that only works through respectability politics.

To dare being in the public sphere as a person of color means having to choose exactly the right terms, to avoid speech that is perceived as threatening in order not to disqualify our voices. We constantly have to negotiate the positions we take, make sure we act wisely as excellent human beings, and make ourselves up every morning. Everything becomes a “litmus test,” through every sphere in which we live, and all these components affect who we are socially, politically, intimately and professionally. This leads to a self-censorship that blinds and prevents us from speaking up or embracing our positions. And finally, we are hardly considering self-care for our weakened bodies. Our languages become trapped and betray us so we are forced to look elsewhere for new possibilities to be.