"...the written word of the Academic tends to be exalted as the only ‘sign’ of the Academician’s academic worth. (...) Because of this, alternate means of transferring bodies of knowledge have been rent less-than, and literacy literally means or determines one’s access to particular bodies of knowledge. It’s usually those bodies of knowledge that lay the politics of domination bare."

So I paint in words & speak in pictures. Welcome.
Oh...don't let my sassiness upset you.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Advocate Wants to Know: Is Gay the New Black?

originally appeared in The Black Voice-Syracuse, Spring 2009

“We can’t all marry Liza Minelli.”

That’s what one sign said the night Proposition 8 failed—and the night President Obama won. No better climax, no better nadir, could have been penned to set up the question begging to be asked in the heat of the moment:

Is ‘Gay’ the new ‘Black’?

“Whoever said that, that’s the most ridiculous statement ever,” Chrystine Johnson says.

The Advocate, a notable magazine addressing the concerns of the mainstream LGBT community, would be the publication to pose such a provocative concern.

“I think before someone [makes a statement like that], they need to look at it historically; to see how [the struggles] are similar, but not the same,” Alexander Vessels told me. In an Obama era—where everyone so desperately wants to shut Black people up—such examination seems necessary.

But, first, Liza Minelli. If the name doesn’t click, it’s because the overwhelming perception from many on the outside of queer rights is the lack of Color. Even the fierce man’s sign on election night seems to confirm what mainstreamed representations of gayness suggest: For Whites Mostly.

Indeed, white privilege—as one ‘passes’ or doesn’t—can accrue capital, and while contested, it provides a degree of leverage in funding a movement whose mainstream face doesn’t even have to discuss ‘white privilege.’

In 1980, James Baldwin would say, “The Women’s Liberation Movement is a little like the Gay Movement in that it is essentially a white middle-class phenomenon, which doesn’t have any real organic connection with the Black situation on any level whatever.”

Angry Brown Butch, the Boricua blogger at AngryBrownButch.com expressed a similar sentiment in light of Duanna Johnson’s death. Johnson, a Black transgender woman in Tennessee, had been found “murdered on the streets of Memphis” only weeks after being brutally beaten by local cops in the tradition of Oscar Grant, and Rodney King.

At the fever pitch of much Prop 8 frustration—and in spite of a certain statistic that blamed “70% of Blacks” (2.3% of those voting on the legislation) for damning gay marriage—Angry Brown Butch dared to ask the question: “Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?”

But the Blacker side of mobilization was quiet, too. The repression of intersectional identity within Black communities only serves to justify those fed up with our so-called ironic ‘role’ in sex-gender-phobia.

Bayard Rustin, in fact, would technically agree with such a statement in 1986. Rustin told Open Hands:

“[T]he gay community today has taken over where the Black community left off in ’68 or ’69. (…) At that time if a person was prepared to accept Blacks then it followed that that person was prepared to look at Jews, Catholics, and other persons.”

In another setting, Rustin would note that, despite his being forced to the sidelines by his Civil Rights Movement colleagues, he didn’t try to add sexual orientation to the Movement’s agenda.

“[I]f people do not organize in the name of their interest, the world will not take them as being serious. (…) People will never fight for your freedom if you have not given evidence that you are prepared to fight for it yourself.”

Still, the question of Black accountability to our kin—Duanna Johnson, Sakia Gunn, the New Jersey 4, countless others—remains.

“Maybe (a little over) 100 years ago, you wouldn’t have been able to get married, because of the color of your skin,” Vessels says.

Loving vs. Virginia in 1967 would outlaw ‘miscegenation’ laws in Virginia which prohibited multi-raced marriage.

“I Love Lucy” would never be considered violating the same rules that Mildred Jeter Loving and Richard Perry Loving were wont to break. Funny. Especially considering the U.S. on-again-off-again love affair with a certain island 90 miles from the Florida coastline.

So, if we really must be in the business of ranking oppression, let us take a moment to breathe. We must have forgotten how arbitrary these signifiers are in the first place; how political they are in the first place and how readily they are designed and assigned by the same Oppressive entity that generates all the mess we call ourselves fighting for—in the first place—‘gay’, ‘Black’, ‘Latino’, ‘Muslim’, ‘disabled’, and on and on until we discover: I’m just like you.

No comments:

Post a Comment