back in the day. about two years ago. i was madly in love. with the idea of Black love. it was supposed to be revolutionary. right? marlon riggs and essex hemphill told me so. and i praised it. worshipped the shit. BLACK LOVE IS REVOLUTIONARY. and back in the day. i was madly in love. with the idea. and this certain boy. a revolutionary boy. or so i thought. and the idea was revolutionary. me and him. Black and Black. being in love. but that was way back in the day. im over that.
and here today. im not so much in love. with the idea. or that boy. but i still love being Black. and that’s a fact. (said in my best nina simone voice). but walking down the street with a friend this morning. i saw a white boy. not love. but i said he was cute. to which my friend replied. for someone who is so pro-Black and anti-White, you sure are quick to lie down with a cracka-ass cracka. and damn. there my shit was. lying all over the street this morning.
and some of you wont understand. frankly i dont really either. perhaps a private dialogue with the ghost of eldridge cleaver. and no i’m not calling myself the new james baldwin. just another Black man. gay. and loving. writing and thinking.
these are my initial notes on some writing about diversity.
one. i tend to come out in one of two ways. either my sexuality is thrown on the table. or im compelled to reveal notions of Blackness that extend further.deeper. than the lovely skin i adorn. defining me for me as Black-queer wraps a certain amount of pride onan individually intimate level while still placing (my)self at odds with the vast majority of people surrounding me on a day to day basis.how do i locate this self. my politics. against and through violence so intimate. so mundane. it is unrecognized. misrepresented. routinized? ive spent the last week working a summer camp for recent high school graduates taking the community college route and considering transferring to my recent alma mater.going into the position i knew the mission of the camp would be against my politics. the program sought to reach underserved populations (Black&Brown communities) and provide them with the resources to transfer from a community college into a four year university (*cough*the four year university hosting them*cough*). to be clear. im not against kids going to college. rather the special brand of ideological multiculturalism and mantra of diversity operating/dominating all week makes me nauseas. finding the quite moments to write was the only medicine i could find. and if you are asking why did i even do it in the first place? for the money.
for the past two years i have been engaged, along with my closest comrades, in political education geared specifically and unapologetically at/for Black students in effort of exposing the university and its inherent imbrications with anti-Blackness.a critical analysis of racist/anti-racist discourse, hetero/homonormativity, capitalist desire, and patriarchy shaped about 98% of my interactions, the other two percent i was in one of those few dreamless sleeps, five shots in, or lip-to-lip with The Smile. since i cant sleep my summer away. i need to preserve my liver. and The Smile is some place else. i have to work and it makes for good writing on negro sunshine.
two. the moment of “coming out” is a space of confusion for everyone involved. ive learned to not only study it. but love it. that particular instance whena confirmation of my queer identity is given and my sexuality is on the table and me and everyone else involved are staring at it. sometimes it’s a second of silence, other times its followed by a question or two, and on the rare occasion a conversation of sorts is sparked and im catapulted into “expert” status.
i was giving a tour of campus housing and explaining the benefits to living on campus as opposed to at home or off campus. at this point in the camp i had not revealed my queer sexuality and was actually making a conscious effort to conform to heteornormative notions of “proper” Black masculinity. why? no reason in particular, just having some fun i suppose. when i spoke i kept my hands in my pocket as they tend to flare about in conversation. i spoke from my diaphragm to keep my tone low, and slowed my speech a bit. steered away from topics of dating, sex, and beyonce. and kept my hips squared as i walked around. everything was on the straight and narrow. real hetero. and i even found a few of the female participants flirting with me.
during the tour, i was explaining that the campus had a LGBT themed house, and i had supported the creation of it and specifically helped a few trans-activist on campus push for gender neutral bathrooms in the house.one of the participants asked me what “LGBT” meantand i explained Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender. before i could finish the “-bian” in lesbian i saw many eyes roll and heteronormative grumbles overtake the group. the looks i received called into question the authenticity of heterosexual masculinity i had been portraying up until this point. and more specifically the validity of anything i was saying as the leader of this group. a few homophobic statements were strewn together by some of the more vocal participants and a distraction was formed. a housing tour was shadowed by a search for sexuality. my usual reaction in situations like this is to confirm my queer identity by stating with a certain amount of ease that my primary affirmation of love and sex comes from men, and challenging homophobic comments. but this time, i thought id let it ride out and hold onto my pseudo-heterosexual validity. i changed the topic and continued the tour. leaving a healthy number of the participants questioning my sexuality. particularly with the female participants. i felt in the interactions with them the searching for signals of deviation from proper Black masculinity. i kept my hands in my pocket, hips squared, and conversations short, knowing it was just a matter a time before a beyonce song came on and i was compelled to make a dance floor.
three. Black authenticity was a theme running throughout the camp. of the staff. our director. keri. was Black. and of the seven counselors myself and one other female counselor (hilson) were Black. the problem of the week that caught the entire staff off guard. myself included was the authenticity politics running mainstream and the attacks leveled at the three Black staff members from the participants and a few reverse attacks from staff toward participants. i sat in staff meeting after staff meeting listening to hilson vent about how a couple of our Black participants from compton and long beach were calling her white-washed and asking her questions about her life that searched for evidence of her “traitor” status, “where did you grow up?” “is your boyfriend Black?” “why do you talk like that?” “you think you’re better than us?”
of course all of these questions were irrelevant concerning anything to do with the camp. and while the ease in which they were spoken was surprising. i was more concerned with the shock and reaction the staff had to them. the product of certain class privilege. and a student of top-tier elementary, middle, and high schools, and now a graduate of a top-tier research university. all these questions and more have been leveled at me at some point in time and i have not escaped the charge of being called “bougie.”i stayed silent during most of the meetings. listening to hilson’s complaints and the staffs repulsion at authenticity/identity politics. instead of finding a way of addressing the issue. the staff wrote it off as ignorance and relied on the diversity workshop scheduled halfway through the week to take care of that business. knowing good and well an hour and half of multicultural diversity training would not address intracommunity issues and would crowd out class analysis. i still remained silent. i wanted to maintain a civil working relationship with my colleagues and i knew any effective effort at addressing the problem would need to question what assumptions we as a staff were making in writing the problem off as ignorance and passing the buck to diversity training? how was our own education and class status haunting our interactions with these ‘underserved communities?’ and specifically to hilson, what notions did she have of “proper” Black identity that was shaping her reaction and disgust? what analysis was the staff crowding out by placing blame on the individual students speaking a prevalent ideology?
four. diversity training came and it went as expected. tears were shed. keri was happy the group was exposed to difference. and the staff had hopes the rest of the program would be filled with multicultural hand holding. all but myself and one other counselor, ala (the former chair of MEChA). held such high hopes.
the workshop was led by the director of the university’s cross-cultural center. as a board member of the Black student union, i spent a great deal of my time working in the center, which proved to be working at odds with the director. ala had spent her time in the cross working against the director as well. both the BSU and MEChA had publicly stated that the mission of cross and the director were in fact against the missions of the two organizations and we spent a tenuous yearentrenched in the unique and specific issues pertaining to our respective communities. this is not to say ala and I were eye-to-eye by any means, the way i see it, the cross was your standard liberal multicultural bullshit, ala and MEChA were slightly Left of that. and myself (along with the more radical voice on the BSU board) were pushing a stance informed by something left of Left (see Wilderson’s “Gramsci’s Black Marx: Whither the Slave in Civil Society?” for insight).but ala and i both shared a disgust for the special brand of diversity proffered by the cross and its director.
the workshop asked participants to think through ways they “felt” “oppressed.” throwing identity markers on the table such as race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, age, religion, citizenship, and physical ability. participants and staff were asked to express which identity they were most conscious of by standing under the sign with the designated marker. in another move we were made to stand by the marker in which we felt most oppressed by. in my conflicting work for/with the university, i had gone through this workshop many times before. its always a surprise that people of color overwhelming choose race or ethnicity for the identity they are most conscious of. but when the question of oppression comes up race and ethnicity are retreated from and all the categories get a fairly equal representation.
i maintained my position under race for both movements of the workshop and listened as people shared their experiences dealing with the issues posed by their identity markers. every story nothing new and a testament to just how unjust our society continues to be.
two things caught my eye/ear most. (1)hilson and keri, two Black women retreated from race and gender completely. Particularly concerning the question of oppression: our director chose ability status due to her recent injuries and hilson chose nothing, which she later revealed she does not experience oppression because “despite stereotypes and all that, [she] does not allow anyone to oppress her.” i laughed a little bit to myself (which im sure was exhibited as a stank face); in a program that proffers a mission of serving underserved communities (due to race and class) the program director and one of its counselors retreated from any discussion of those social determinants. and the director of the cross-cultural center (a space in its essence admits the university/society lacks the capacity to deal with “issues of color”) allows/calls for a retreat from critical dialogue concerning race and the issues most affecting communities of color. all of its really quite funny/sad.
the previous issue garnered a laugh from me. what made me feel like throwing up and/or reaching for a torch was (2) the issue of whiteness. which is why I HATE MULTICULTURALISM. in room of forty people predominately from low-income Black&Brown communities. a white body in the room became the center of sympathy and somehow assumed the throne of most oppressed. the goal undergirding the workshop is an attempt to make people aware of oppression and how they are oppressed due to certain identity markers. the fact that it is a “safe space” to share everyone’s experience always proves to be story time of who is oppressed either most or just like thy neighbor. ignoring any specificity of positionality; toward a holding of hands around a common bond we are all human. we all suffer. it is always a twisted pleasure i find in watching how the oppressor somehow always seems to miss these meetings.
the only white participant (a white male) stood alone under religion concerning the question of oppression. he told a few stories of how he has been rejected by friends. family. and a few love interest upon revealing that he is an atheist. i do not want anyone to think that i am about to say that because he is a white male he does not experience hardship. i just find it disgusting that his experience of unjust treatment is likened to one in the same as students sharing their stories of undocumented status (assumed/actual). police brutality. or access to healthcare. even further the only white participant spoke the longest and garnered the biggest reaction from the group on whole. cheers. hugs. and “we love you” surrounded the room after his speech. the amazement that white people suffer too captivated the room and shifted focus away from the students of color who made the overwhelming majority of the room. all in the name of diversity!
In this issue we are interested in exploring, expanding upon and exploding current conceptions of Queer Utopia (see a & b) and Nihilism.
Both concepts suggest a relationship to time, distance, desire, form, duration and trajectory. 3rd language is currently seeking participants in this submission-based conversation.
Points of interest include but are not limited to:
Queer temporality and survival
Romanticization of domesticity and Western ideals
Economic optimism and pessimism
Geographies of hopelessness
Ideals, morality and beauty
Manifestation of a Queer world
Lineage and artifacts of the past and future
(Re)production and fertility
Feel free to submit anything that you think may apply. Please don’t feel at all limited by the above points of interest or the overall theme, they are meant to serve as inspiration and points of departure. There is no limitation in length, size or media. Submit works to email@example.com in PDF. format by Feb 2013.
A central tenant of modern feminist thought has been the assertion that “all women are oppressed.” This assertion implies that women share a common lot, that factors like class, race, religion, sexual preference, etc. do not create a diversity of experience that determines the extent to which sexism will be an oppressive force in the lives of individual women. Sexism as a system of domination is institutionalized, but it has never determined in an absolute way the fate of all women in this society. Being oppressed means the absence of choices. It is the primary point of contact between the oppressed and the oppressor. Many women in this society do have choices (as inadequate as they are), therefore exploitation and discrimination are words that more accurately describes the lot of women collectively in the United States.
- bell hooks, “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory”
Derogatory terms do not mean; they assault. Their intention is not to communicate but to harm. Thus they are not discursive signs or linguistic statements but modes of aggression. They express a structure of power and domination, a hierarchy that contextualizes them and gives them their force.
- Steve Martinot and Jared Sexton, “The Avant-Garde of White Supremacy”
I have long contemplated my relationship with Black feminism. My understanding of it, my hostility toward the way it reorients things, my reliance on its strong explanatory power, my exploitation of its unique ability to ground arguments in radical shifts toward acknowledgement of the anti-Black world, and my tenuous inabilities to actually capture, sit-in, or experience the Black feminist perspective.Which is to say, or perhaps attempt to address, a certain tension between theorizing and progressing Revolution and being situated at or embodying the locus of complete abjection. Where ontology meets a particular lived experience, and the two dance a two-step of death, only to be broken by a kick-ball-change of rape, violence, and silence. I choose my words carefully, for at this moment, it is only these words I have to get my point across, to reach my reader (if only myself) and we meditate on an understanding of our condition. Too often I’ve been at odds with people surrounding choices in language, trying to understand exactly what is meant when things are said to or at me, as well as defending my own positions because of lazy attempts at humor or colloquialism or at my best moments: unflinching stances against racist heteropatriarchy. But what I always fall back on is an interrogation of conversations (and I do not escape my own investigations), trying to capture or document the intricacies of power—where the discursive reveals, conjures, and rest upon my own or others relations to power. This has been made possible through the opening sentence of this statement: I have long contemplated my relationship with Black feminism.
At this point, I don’t recall whether it was by happenstance or if someone pointed me in the direction, but when I was beginning a development of consciousness surrounding sexual identity and sexual politics, Audre was there. I remember long days spent with the Sister Outsider collection and thinking through notions of “difference” and theorizing and acting from the margins. Trying to understand and deal with my own position in activist spaces, classrooms, work environments, and personal relationships. I look back on that time as a great moment in my political development, personal growth, and academic grounding, but also as a dark time of misreadings, abuses, and bad-faith advancements of self (and a particular position) founded upon a specific relationship to power left unexamined. Held as one of the founding documents of radical Black feminism, the “Combahee River Collective Statement” (1977) purports Black feminism emerging in response to the failures of racist white feminism and sexist Black Nationalism. The Statement demands an intersectional analysis that accounts for the ways in which race, gender, class, and sexuality intersect in the lives of Black women.In its view Black feminism was the logical conclusion for those who sought a framework that was inclusive of all women. And many critics have pointed to the “problems” of the Statement; taking issue at points in the document that imply only Black women could be Black feminist. And in that tension I situated myself at odds with its purpose and in need of its analysis. At that particular point in my consciousness raising, there was no voice quite as pronounced as that of radical Black feminist scholar-activists. They resonated with me as I had grown up with the teachings and love of my mother, grandmother, aunties, cousins, and a few family friends I claimed as my sister. And my experience of growing up as a feminine queer boy put myself at odds a lot with my father, grandfather, uncles, cousins, and a few family friends I claimed as brothers. Which is not to say I found my place with women and not men. Rather, my relationship to maleness was complex and upon reading Lorde and her company of Black feminist it became easy to conflate their relationship to patriarchal power with my relationship to the feminine and sexual identity. And their plight against racist White feminism and sexist Black Nationalism was misread as a universalizing battle for the Black sexual deviant. Putting stock in the critique of the Combahee River Collective Statement, but also understanding the valiance of a vertical understanding of oppression, I made Coltrane-styled ‘giant steps’ toward applying myself as a “Black feminist” and acting in manner as if I suffer just like them, all the while quoting Black feminist for their unique perspective from the bottom of the hierarchy. Which was a struggle on a political level, how does one organize a bottom-up strategy without knowing what it means to be on the bottom?
I remember Audre. She spoke unapolegtically Black, feminist, and queer. And perhaps gave me a glimpse of the location I should be organizing from, but somewhere along that consciousness raising, experiences became intertwined in such a way that I lost her, and I lost myself as well. I have chosen not to reproduce any Audre Lorde quotes here because of the way I see her overly used, often taken out of context, and the weight of her words often ignored toward a preservation of the one who wields her words. All mistakes I made myself: when I needed to point attention to race inside of queer spaces I spoke Lorde; when I needed to make a queer point in Black spaces, I spoke Lorde. Largely ignoring the unique specificity she was speaking to and from as that of the Black queer female position, thereby casting myself at the locus of racist, sexual oppression: an authority I assumed through speaking from my own experience which was validated on the back of Black feminism. Of course this (I hope) unforgiving meditation on my relationship with Black feminism is an attempt at an apology, but not a call to put down the tenants of Black feminism(s), particularly radical Black feminism if one is not centrally located in that two-step of death, only to be broken by a kick ball change of rape, violence, and silence. Instead, I hope this becomes a moment to (continue to) reflect on the radical potential within Black feminist analysis and reevaluate the ways in which certain discursive moves fleet away from Black women, while claiming the tenants of Black feminism.
Toward a radical queer critique, spoken by Black males, that doesn’t displace Black women.
A good friend sent me the video link I post here now on negrosunshine. I watched it the other night and was excited to see the three men featured in the short documentary were here in the Chicago area at DePaul University AND talking a good game around issues of gender and sexuality (if anyone knows these guys, hit me up! I would love to sit down with them and talk more). And overall I thought the video was an interesting look at the word “faggot” and the gay-male relationship with the feminine. And while I will take the risk of sounding overly critical, I want to point to a few discursive strategies in the production and the responses of the participants that inspired me to write.
The first instance that revealed contradictions in the intent of the film and the way it was laboring came at 1:14. Zach explains that he is often the target of hate due to his sexuality and the camera pans down to his shoes. The quick glimpse of his boots can be misunderstood as displaying “girl shoes,” which links the hate Zach receives to his performance of femaleness, or a transgression against gender norms. An interesting shot, which I thought/hoped would open the discussion into the complex relationship between gender and queer identity. However, the conversation is cut to Kylon who announces he does not experience the same treatment as Zach, despite wearing his “lady Uggs” around campus. The three men discuss fashion, and the screen goes black with a title shot reading “5 minutes later,” implicating the three gay men with accepted stereotypes of women and fashion, women and shopping, women and shoes. Which one could read as a now accepted gay male stereotype, but we must keep in mind the ways in which gay male stereotypes are often used to effeminize gay males, thereby linking them with something innately female (inferior)—the inner workings of heteropatriarchy.While the film’s overall intent was giving voice to gay males, it rested on a power tied to patriarchy that largely went uninterrogated.
The title of the film is “The Power of Faggot,” which in and of itself leaves the reader/viewer (pre-screening) largely open to interpretation. A ‘reclamation versus abandonment’ argument immediately comes to mind, and one is left to ponder, what is the power of “faggot?” I tend to leave these conversations alone because I myself can’t even commit to one side of the debate and speaking on the intersection of race, gender, and sexuality I am guilty of using nigger, bitch, and faggot…often. However, what always shakes me to my core and causes me to reflect on my uses of language is the second epigraph of this post. Sexton and Martinot aptly point us to the power inscribed inside of language, specifically derogatory terms. When the terms enter conversation, whether or not they have insulted someone, they always assault certain positions, because they reveal, conjure, and rest upon ‘a structure of power and domination.’ And while this film attempts to dance with this argument, it falls secondary to its labor of linking sexual identity with gender-bending, and a conflation of the feminine with gay male transgression. In a nine minute video about the word “faggot” a discussion of the word does not commence until two minutes in, on the foundation of “lady Uggs” and “switching of the hips.”
The second major issue I found was the respondents’ use of certain language that signaled a homogenization of sexual deviants despite the intent of their message of intersectionality. Kylon and Zach’s use of the term “sisters” and John’s use of the word “oppression” revealed an understanding of Black feminism while also displacing a reference point that could adequately speak to/from a site of oppression. And this critique is by no means made to disregard the intent of their message, but rather made in a ‘spirit of solidarity’ as an analysis of the discursive toward an articulation of a radical queer position. How do queers, particularly Black queer men, think through relationships to the feminine in the face of Black female subjectivity? What reveals itself in our notions of gender and sexuality when solidarity rest upon uses of “sisterly” bonds? Perhaps our difficulty in answering further reveals itself in our thoughts on the word “oppression.” In the leading epigraph of this post, bell hooks points us to the uses of language, much like Sexton and Martinot, but explicitly takes a bold step in highlighting certain positions that are conjured when we rely on generally accepted terms. The ‘absence of choices’ hooks speaks of is quite the position to be in, and my experiences in activist spaces, the classroom, and personal relationships reveal I may not know what it means to be without choices. But conversations on oppression, at their best, point to differences in experiences, “your oppression is not like mine,” but rarely take that radical leap toward, “you are my oppressor.” And if we accept hooks logic, can there be a position void of choices, yet wrapped with the ability to oppress? Perhaps here I open myself up to the same critique made of the Combahee River Collective Statement: “only Black women can be Black feminist?” An answer to that question I do not possess, and maybe it’s not even my place to attempt a solution. Rather I want to point to the ways in which discursive strategies work to do harm, and how we desperately need a language of Revolution.
As I said earlier, I hope this article sparks a moment of reflection and further conversation, because holes in our tactics won’t bring about the liberation many of us are searching for. And I’m not the first to make this call. I remember Audre (and many before and after her). To harken: what is the theory behind racist liberalism? Or essentializing queerness?Or perhaps more aptly, what is the benefit of radical thought with blind-spots in its analysis of power?
i was shakinnnnnnn and grinnnnnnndin and groo00o0ooovin down at The Shrine.
Fela, the musical was in town and it was the opening party. drummers were drummin, tambourine man was workin his tambourine, getting dance circles started the way he does. house beats were thumpin across the room… you know that chicago house bass line when it drops. and there was free food! the jerk chicken was spicy, the cabbage was melting in my mouth, and those goddamn plantains—had me feening.
anyway, i made eye contact with a boy. he was in show and he was looking real cute swagged out with his beanie and cute frames. you know that game when you stare from the across the room, quick glances to make sure the other person is looking at you. or you shuffle your way into their direct line of sight and stand there staring at your phone. you go to the bathroom, not because you have to, but you know you can put that walk on that holds attention. enticing not so subtle looks as you cross and exit the room. yeah, all that was going down.
but i never talked to him. laziness. or comfort in the fact i know he was staring at me, and he knows i was staring at him. and i know the show was only in chicago till saturday, and i know he’s from new york, so what’s the point of walking through a room of perfectly fine ass chicago prospects to engage a fleeting hello and goodbye?
or maybe i just got scared. brother was pretty fly.
so i went home that night. alone and feeling sanctified, the music had been right, the food was nice, and dancing always feeds my soul. woke up the next morning, got my shit together for work and headed on the train, redline going north.
a few stops in to my commute, in steps that fly ass boy, cute frames, same beanie, looking dapper in the morning light. AND THE NIGGA WALKS STRAIGHT UP TO ME!!! oh my oh my. “weren’t you at the party last night?” he asks. i smile and say yes, and we begin to kick it. quick words on how he’s headed to check out Luna Negra Dance Company, and i’m off to my boring ass job slaving away for capital (not that i said that, it was just what i was thinking when i said “im headed to work”). we rapped until he had to exit the train. he grabbed my hand, shook it, and let it linger just enough to exchange our vibes. i smiled, and said goodbye.
and thats it. i didn’t even catch his name. but i bet it was something sweet.