The basic idea of a love ethic, or rather, a redefining of the concept of love to exclude situations in which there is a power imbalance, seems undeniably positive. hooks argues for a denouncement of violence and dominance as a language for love, a powerful argument in an age where domestic violence, or at the very least patriarchal gender roles, are present in most representations of love. Even in queer relationships, heteronormative society still tries to determine who is in power, standing in for the male female dichotomy. hooks takes the concept of “love” and argues that love itself cannot exist in situations of structural imbalance. This includes friend, neighbor, societal, romantic, familial, and any other type of relationship.
The issue with using love as a centerpiece for conversations of social change/inequality is that it is TOO uncontroversial. If everyone is arguing for love, despite extremely different values, it is hard to determine who is offering constructive vs destructive input. Though hooks politicizes love, it is already so layered with societal meaning that it is hard to totally reclaim the term. The issue with love as a call to action is apparent in Macklemore’s “Same Love.” He essentially preaches a love ethic, rapping about how all people are equal, but makes a slew of problematic statements at the same time. The first, in the opening of the song, is a “no homo” disclaimer. By clarifying his straightness, Macklemore reinforces the structural inequality of straight supremacy. It also reinforces that straightness is stable and complete, working against the theorizing of most queer scholarship. Throughout the video he argues that all types of oppression, racial, sexual (neither of which he faces) are equally wrong or bad or the same. In this generalizing, “hate of all types is bad,” a theory most non-overtly bigoted people can get behind, a love ethic, Macklemore fails to address the specific struggles of homophobia, an experience he has not had. The whole video centers on gay marriage, and important win for the queer community, but not the most pressing issue. Especially for intersectionally oppressed queer people, a more immediate violence threatens them. In a “same love” rhetoric, one thinks that the argument is all about love, not safety, or survival.
Love, to me, is too broad a term to claim. It’s a word shared across political boundaries, to justify both kindness and hate. In a linguistics class I once took, the professor once said that, “When you say, ‘I love you,’ you’re really just quoting someone else,” it rang true. The phrase, “I love you,” Is so mythologized that it is hard to ascribe any concrete, specific meaning to it. People can mistreat each other while still expressing love, as well as attempt to express commitment too big for words, settling for the three word phrase. Overall, I believe that basic human rights are not about love. True, my definition of love cannot exist without respect and equality, but others may not draw this line, and I don’t want to peg my social revolutions on their semantics.