“in high school i used to date a white girl. she was obsessed with justin timberlake. she had a poster of him above her bed. i was real jealous. or insecure. and since then, i’ve hated justin timberlake. and everything he’s about. and yes, i believe its because he’s white. or she was white and he was white. and we had sex under him. and i think she thought he was a better dancer than me. fuck that shit. but, i listen and nod my head to his music in secret.”
Is it sexy, or the slightest bit romantic, to wrap a copy of the Combahee River Collective Statement and gift it to someone? And as I write these words I realize a small few will snap their fingers and wave their hands in a sign of support while a smile wraps my face at the thought of someone giving me the foundational document in radical Black feminism.A conscious present toward a showing of political orientations, a revealing move to/for a person I claim to love, but have never really allowed a knowing (or perhaps a learning) of myself, the kind I treasured greatly in past relationships. And now, far from the frontlines of police handcuffs, radical academic theories, and Ella Baker styled political training, I find it hard to speak. In much the same way silence cloaks the air when I’m around family—in settings I call “home,” those spaces where love flows in abundance yet conversation wanes like my interest in middle-classed liberal queer politics (also read white). But here I wax about flows of energies and complex life altering conversations I seem not to be able to have, the sharing of spirits, knowledges, experiences, and love that kept me afloat for so many years, the stuff I desperately seek now, and ironically the stuff I write about most often. What is it that keeps me unable to carry political conversations with those I deem outside my immediate political circle? A straddle on the line Audre Lorde challenged when she meditated on the feminist battle cry, “the personal is the political,” I again and again find myself questioning the value of relations, be it friendly, romantic, or familial against an understanding of the world and power relations (perhaps what truly matters) that speaks to revolutionary ambitions. How do I settle an epistemology in a certain mundaneness of sorts?
I wrote briefly in, “On ‘Coming Out’ as a Black-queer Activist: Papa and ‘The AIDS’, an intro,” on the complications of making plain Black radical desires and intangible revolutionary dreams. Which perhaps speaks more to the complexities of theoretical frameworks that centralize Black Death as the basis of social order. How does one go about such praxis, the merging of theory and practice? While of course never straying toward the detrimental need for answer, the debilitating leaps to closure, or the “what can we do?” The world is a classroom, a case study, a sample, the subject matter, the canvass, the battlefield, and in ironic humor I ponder, what do I do?
i find it hard to say. Slavery.
I loved this boy because he was different. And he loved me because I was different. He isn’t a revolutionary, not even a boring liberal activist, but there I was, doing things outside of books, articles, and conversations on Black queerness. And there he was learning me and inspired to get (a little bit) political and pick up some new things concerning Black political consciousness. But I lost my patience somewhere back in California which I never told him. I treated 1st year undergrads speaking ignorance in one of my political education workshops better than I treated him—a boy I claim to love. When language like “ghetto,” “respectability,” and“fair skin/straight-hair” flowed from his mouth signaling a certain commonsense logic I learned to detest, I fell silent, partly out of fatigue, but partially due to fear. How does one speak a radical non/sensibility against the rhetorical violence contained within polite and civil conversation? I find it quite pretentious to gun-sling Douglas Massey, Roderick Ferguson, and Adrian Piper in mundane, sociable, commonly pleasurable dialog. And I feared being the angry Black man, with a chip on his shoulder reckoning the world. When presented with desire to view films like “Cloud Atlas,” “Lincoln,” “Django Unchained,” etc., why couldn’t I assert my pause and offer my researched and firm positions against liberal depictions of slavery, history, and Blackness? I treated my readers and the strangers I engage in political battle/psychological warfare better than the boy I considered my closest friend, perhaps a potential ally. This in fashion with the way I rest assured of the material shelter offered by my family; I came to rely on him as a much-needed resource in this cold city of Chicago.
We sat in a coffee shop last night (Starbucks, forgive me) and talked about the demise of our romantic relationship, which was a twisted bout in attempt to progress a “friendship.” He challenged me to communicate; something I found hard to do over a ten-month period, and yes, I call myself a writer. But how does one convey a critique that implicates society as a violent anti-Black structure? The paradigm. Those conversations don’t come easy over wine and dinner, or lightly in pillow talk. But I call myself a political activist and writer. And there I was, finally finding my voice, teaching and speaking, learning, giving, feeding my soul while opening up to him, perhaps too late.
Early on in our relationship I lent him a copy of Saidiya Hartman’s Lose Your Mother, naïve in my thinking, I thought Hartman would be an easy and fun text to venture—this to a boy who had no reference of the Black radical tradition, nor any account of Black history outside of the common diluted US narrative: slavery happened (1619), slavery ended due to the Civil War, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, buses and bathrooms, how far they’ve come, Barack Obama,” and he was non-Black, non-white! Then I had the nerve to be offended when three months had passed and he hadn’t made it out of the first chapter. I could fall back on an easy (and perhaps correct) analysis that we just had different interest. I could even launch into a meditation on the complexities of interracial relationships (the power dynamics), and I could even turn inward and ponder my revolutionary dreams in the face of desires to just be with someone with no revolutionary ambitions. But there we sat in that coffee shop and I began to realize I treated him much the same way I treat my family, at a distance.
Why do I find it so hard to speak in some of my most intimate spaces? Is it a preservation of self? A preservation of the shelter built and maintained for me? Or is it simply fear? For if my partner and I never meet again on a plane of romantic intimacy, I can at least take away a realization I have some growing to do. There was a time where I would have said “re/strategizing,” but from this, I am beginning to realize how the strategies in which I deal with the world, can greatly hinder the intimate relationships I so desperately seek. For if my theories aren’t strong enough to stand the occasional bruises from the people I love, perhaps I need to reevaluate the theories and my commitment to them; a certain praxis.
i find it hard to say. Slavery.
He asked me if I could just “turn it off sometime, and just be….” My politics I asked? And laughed. While I’ll admit Lose Your Mother may have been a bit much, and here I sit contemplating wrapping the Combahee River Collective Statement and gifting it as peace offering and maybe a gesture toward romance (am I the only person that finds this romantic?). I can’t turn it off, but I can explain better, I can teach, I can listen, and I can be open and honest. Everything I do is for the Revolution (well, almost everything, I watch Frasier and enjoy a good trap beat with some ignorance rapped over it), all I can say is come get free with me.
*I have decided to post the following article for multiple reasons. It’s my own; taken from Umoja (the Black newsmagazine on my college campus). Too often as activist, particularly student activist, we lose our battles to the forceful arm of history. Archiving, or record keeping, is never deemed the sexy duty of political work and achievements and failures are lost in the murky waters of memory. How do we learn, carry on tradition, and avoid routine mistakes? Or something on how Lorde reminds us to not ‘reinvent the wheel each time we want bread’ (loosely paraphrased).
I engaged psychological warfare. Intimate conversations, small events, and a political swagger that sought to radicalize a somewhat passive/disengaged community. And from just now re-reading this article from two years ago, I was certainly feeling myself. But I treasure this document as a mapping of the work I did, a reminder of things still to be done, and an offering to other Black queer folks out there far beyond the individuals or groups I will actually come in contact with.
And finally, with the recent surge of criticism and/or analysis of Azealia Banks and her use of the word faggot, revisiting this article (and in a way revisiting this community of Black queers), I am reminded of the complexity of Blackness and Black sexuality and the diversity of queer “lives” Black people lead. Some of us exist in spaces of silence, not because we are shamed and frightened into those places, rather because we have no tools, no proper arsenal in dealing with the complexity of the problems that really affect our “lives.” For some of us, faggot is not our primary concern, but we breathe as queerly as those who have picked up that battle.
*warning: the following is not about Azealia Banks or the word “faggot”
Week four of Afrikan Consciousness Quarter was marked by the Black Student Union’s interrogation into the intersection of race and sexuality. In conjunction with the Black Queer Collective (BQC), the BSU board hosted three events and a passive display that traced a Black queer history, mapped a Black queer presence on our campus, and addressed an antagonism between Blacks and the modern Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community/movement. As a BSU executive board member and founding member of BQC, planning this week presented multiple challenges as well as sites of elation. Organizing and participating in these events highlighted some of my vulnerabilities while also pushing me to the limits of my theoretical conceptions of race, sexuality, and gender. On Friday of week four, my comrades and I (Ashley, Indar, and Samiyyah—members of BQC and the BSU board) sat at the campus pub in a sort of celebratory ending to a week that proved to be a success for both the Black community and those of us that identify as LGBT. As we sat at the bar I could could not help but reflect on what we had done: the boundaries we had pushed and the possibilities of the work still to be done. Within our success was a week which provided space for the gender-oppressed, gender non-confirming, sexually questioning, and a certain political Left to exercise a freedom in exploration, definition, organizing, and resistance. However, radical questions of Black sexuality, Black desire, and Black intimacy were elided—even though they had been on the forefront of our minds for quite sometime.
Monday’s meeting was a brave affirmation of Black identity against the whiteness inscribed upon the LGBT community and political movement. The myth of gay marriage, gay adoption, and gay military service were all debunked as being pillars of equality sought after by all members of the queer community. How do we question these institutions from a Black perspective? How do we take a position that questions the states involvement in our intimate relationships, or the destruction of Black families at the hand of the state, or our willingness to aid the state in imperialism and global terrorism? Even further, BSU constituents were forced to look at prison abolition as one site of Black liberation, while also reckoning the gender binary as a system of domination that should be unpacked in any liberation project. If you are shocked and/or confused, you should be; this meeting proved to be a starting point in a much needed conversation on the role of race, gender, and sexuality in political organizing.
The Rosa Parks house hosted “Real Talk with the Black Queer Collective” on Tuesday. In an intimate setting of about a dozen community members, seven self-identified Black LGBT members had a conversation amongst themselves for the most part while the community watched and listened in. The conversation ranged in topics from coming-out, bisexuality, homophobia within the Black community, and racism in the LGBT community. What was hoped to be a question and answer period between Black queers and our Black brothers and sisters, became a different but much needed conversation of the older queers in the room giving advice to the younger queers. The mood was unique in that a voice which often exist in silence and topics that get avoided were hashed out among the community by the voices most intimately affected by the silence and avoidance. Indar told the story his mother settling into the existence of his queer identity, Jerome followed with the story of his mother doing everything possible to avoid recognition of his queerness. Kala asked if bisexuality was queer enough, Samiyyah spoke of her love for life and deep connections with whatever soul may come her way. Ashley thought through her frustrations working with the Irvine Queers (a predominately white and asian student group) and the LGBT Resource Center around issues of race. And finally, the room fell strangely silent when Aisha asked if anyone had experienced homophobia in the Black community. My comrades and I looked at each other. In Samiyyah’s eyes questions of Black desire sparked, Ashley’s interrogations into heterosexism rose, Indar’s queries of Black intimacy formed, and I pondered Black sexuality as we all looked at each other. We looked back onto our community and perhaps in protection or simply uncertainty we avoided what we thought, and answered, “I dare someone to say something crazy to us!”
Thursday’s event proved a bit uncomfortable. With the help of Marlon Riggs, Black male sexuality and desire, and all the complications that come with that were brought to light in his film, “Tongues Untied.” As a Black queer male, this film holds a special meaning to me as a source of empowerment as well as a source of frustration and despair. I watched the uncomfortableness and disinterest some of the packed audience had during the viewing. Ashley sent a text to me halfway through asking, “Should we end it early?” We chose to show the whole thing! The conversation that followed was light and short, Ashley questioned the audience with little response. The awkwardness of that moment was the stuff my comrades and I dared not to speak on Tuesday evening and chose to avoid in Monday’s meeting. How does we begin to have conversations about, let alone begin to answer questions of Black intimacy, Black desire, and Black sexuality? Which is to begin to question, how are Black intimacy, desire, and sexuality under attack? And where can we develop our most liberatory understandings? The question then shifts from instances of homophobia in the Black community, to who is residing inside of silence and coping with a uniquely silent violence?
It is not my intention to describe or highlight a uniquely homophobic or heterosexist domination with the Black community. Rather it is to begin radical conversations on sexuality amongst Black LGBT people and the rest of our community toward a uniquely queer, Black political analysis, theorization, and movement building. Even further, there must be conversations among Black queers about how we view our sex and begin the mental/spirit work of making our sexuality comfortable and intimacy desired, respected, and cherished. In a world where Black love has been denied, intimacies intruded upon, and desire misrepresented and feared, in a world that hates us, someone special has reminded me that our love has the power to repudiate dominance. Let us take that challenge seriously, let us begin to refine and sharpen our tools.
- im flattered by the number of questions in my inbox that seem to be posed to a Black woman (even more flattering, a Black lesbian). i do struggle daily with the socialization of maleness, but i do identify as a Black-queer man (queer to shake up some of those binaries, but signify my primary love interest is in other “men,” but there is always room to grow). Some of your questions, i just don’t think i can answer.
- love will make you do some crazy things.
- it has come to my attention there are some Black men out there calling themselves radical Black feminist. this should stop. especially when these men are practicing some strangely misogynistic routines in their intimate relationships with women. and labeling yourself polyamorous is not a ready-made get out of commitment card, nor is calling yourself queer. while yes the term queer has a certain fluidity in its meaning, if you identify as male and you’re not dabbling in asexuality and scared to handle a dick, just call the patriarchal spade a patriarchal spade and begin to deal with it. stop relying on liberal jargon to mask your tired and late politics.
- when i write, my audience is Black (in my head).
- i dream california dreams. southern california dreams.
- i worry greatly about Audre Lorde. i fear her words get misread and misused for boring liberal sensibilities.
“…Usually when Black communities discuss relationships between cisgender Black women and men, it is within a heterosexual framework. Black love is not often viewed as queer and/or non-sexual. Simultaneously, there aren’t enough dialogues between Black queer people, across the sexuality spectrum. Bumming Cigarettes (by tiona.m.) gives viewers an opportunity to experience a non-sexual, brief and yet, very intimate intergenerational connection between a Black lesbian and a Black gay man…”
Aishah Shahidah Simmons “HIV and Bumming Cigarettes: A Conversation With tiona.m”
“…I started reading Baldwin when I was 12, and found so much inJust Above My Head. Then as a teenager I became obsessed with the Harlem Renaissance. E. Lynn Harris was pervasive at the time. Everyone seemed to be reading him or at least had an opinion about his work. But the type of black gay experience Harris put forth, though entertaining and affirming in some ways, and definitely significant, was far from the way I hoped to exist in the world. Then, when I was about 18, and started being more politicized around my sexual identity. I also became very lonely. I had friends certainly, and there were people around me, other gay men, but there was not the kind of intimacy I longed for, the kind of intimacy you can only experience with those who share your ideas and worldview. In the midst of all of this, I discovered this great interview Barbara Smith gave. I want to say it was inVenusmagazine. Smith pointed me, not just to Joseph Beam, but to Audre Lorde, and Marlon Riggs, and Essex Hemphill. As these things happen, as I read, I also came across Pat Parker, June Jordan and Isaac Julien. Then others. These figures would serve as inspirations for me, even to this day. They were giants. Still are.
I lacked the language to describe what I was longing for, and perhaps in a sense Beam, and his stunning vision of community, provided that language for me. I absorbed his words, and found a home in them. In the Life became a compass for me, to first locate myself, and then others that shared my commitments.”
“What can make a mighty man run?
Make him drop his pride and hide?
Too black, too strong…WRONG!
Spook, Sambo, Nigger, Jig
You ain’t so bad nor big
White sheets makes you sang
‘Fraid you’re gonna hang, ahh
Now that’s a black thang
Boy, you scared of me
Hide, nigger, hide
Flee, nigger, flee
Run, nigger, run
If I got my hood, my cross, my tree, my gun
My rope and it’s a long one”
— Lauryn Hill, from “Introduction,” Fugees, Blunted on Reality (1994)
Anonymous asked: Can't help noticing from the sultry toned pic that you have/or at some point had big hair. I've been growing out my own for a little while, and as a black male there isn't much in the way of resources on the subject. Wondering if you could suggest any tips for taking care of afro textured hair?
*side note: i remember back in college when i had my big hair, there was this wonderful collective of Black women who would gather to talk about hair care, and once one of the ladies asked me if i was going to come, and i said “no, its a Black woman’s space, i don’t want to intrude” and she responded, ‘we just talkin’ bout hair, and you got a ‘fro, and its been looking a little dry, come on by on sunday, we’ll help you out’
anyway! thanks for asking, and yes, as a male it can be difficult sometime. but as usual in life, listen to Black women as much as possible. to a certain extent, natural hair care is a genderless art form, so use the growing abundance of resources out there. my hair isn’t as big now as it was from the photo on my blog, but its still grown out. i’ve found the best strategy, is finding a proper leave-in conditioner. i wash my hair out once a week with a two-in-one, and use my leave-in three to four times a week. for a nice finish and to make the hair soft, i really massage an oil in daily. lately i’ve been using the Moroccan Argan Oil, its been nice. when my hair was much longer, shea butter was fantastic!
hope that helps! hit up my friend Ashley, she helped me a lot, and she has a routine that you may be able to work.