Black Queerness/Queer Blackness

The following is an excerpt from my research on "Black Queerness/Queer Blackness and the Queer Black Identity and Voice in African-American Literature, Arts, and Culture."

"Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made." -- Immanual Kant

"Are you black first, or are you queer?" -- Gregory Connerly

"For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." -- Audre Lorde

My thesis is that homophobia -- or heterosexism -- exits in the African-American community because of its strict adherence to religious traditions and norms. Consequently, such homophobia appears in the community's literature, arts and culture. In an effort to combat the ritualized homophobia, the Queer Black identity sometimes struggles -- and sometimes succeeds -- in having its voice heard. Ironically, it is the slave master's religion that is being obeyed (as Audre Lorde has analyzed). The homophobia is also a result of colonization: the colonizer leaves the colonized scarred with destructive customs that are difficult to dissolve (as Jamaica Kincaid has analyzed). Finally, homophobia is also the result of racism: "Since a strong and enabling sense of racial self is necessary to cope with the psychological assaults of white racism, the [queer] black protagonist can rarely afford to disconnect himself/herself/itself completely from the black community and seek total assimilation into the predominantly white gay community." (GLBTQ Encyclopedia).

In her essay, Tracy Morgan asserts that some Black religious leaders view homosexuality as yet another genocidal white import into the Black community (280). Their message is "loud and clear: to be gay is to be white," (280). She finds their logic odd because throughout the history of the United States, Blackness has been identified with sexual perversion.

While researching, I discovered and learned the following:

I. The Queer Black identity exists in rap and hip-hop music:

1. "Same Love" song and video by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
2. Deep Dickollective's "For Colored Boys" is an example of a rap song that gives a voice to gay rappers and the gay rap audience and community.
3. Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois acknowledge the homosexual identity in rap music: "Similarly, hip-hop culture is often hostile to the very idea of homosexuality."
4. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. chooses not to ignore the homophobia that exists in rap music: "Misogyny and homophobia, which we must critique, often mar the effectiveness of the music."

II. The Queer Black identity exists in literature:

1. Christa Schwarz explains that analyses of the Harlem Renaissance were simply homophobic; therefore, they disregarded any queer aspects of the artists and artistic period. In order to show important queer identities of the Harlem Renaissance, Schwarz focus on four major figures: Countee Cullen, Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, and Richard Bruce Nugent.

2. Keith Boykin explains that "there was no real organized effort to protect young black men from harm or sexual abuse." Thus, his book is a response to such, as it gives a voice to all those gay men of color, who have been abused, ignored, silenced, contemplated suicide, or committed suicide. They must share their stories because they have "endured and sometimes overcome experiences with racism, homophobia, abuse, molestation, violence, and disease" and have "struggled with religion, self-acceptance, gender identity, love, relationships, and intimacy."

III. The Queer Black identity exists in the arts and culture:

1. David Gerstner illuminates the complexities in expressing queer black desire in such art forms as painting, poetry, prose, and film. He "argues that Nugent, Baldwin, and Riggs embrace, yet rewrite, the experience of white seduction as it filters through their work and personal lives." He explains that unlike the Lesbians of color who "urgently called for a rewriting of language and the ideological structures that informed it under the rubric of white patriarchy," queer black men did no such thing. However, Nugent, Baldwin, and Riggs knew that such a new language was also necessary for the survival of queer black men. And what fascinates Gerstner is that all three men used cinematic aspects, in order to emphasize the need for the new language between their brothers of queer black men. They were galvanized by their Lesbian sisters.

IV. Theorizing Black Queerness/Queer Blackness:

1. "Are you black first, or are you queer?" Gregory Conerly analyzes the politics of this question: "the central conflict many African-American lesbians, bisexuals, and gays experience in dealing with two identities that are often at odds with each other."

2. Julius Johnson's research identifies two groups of black gay men:
A) Black-identified gays: men who chose a predominantly heterosexual black culture as their primary communal affiliation; their black identity was more important because the color of their skin was more visible than their sexual orientation.
B) Gay-identified blacks: men who chose a predominantly white gay culture as their primary communal affiliation; their gay identity was more important because they were more oppressed by their sexual orientation and sexuality than their race and skin color.

3. Tracy Morgan explains that the queer identity of a black woman or man was "subsumed within the more dominant concept of 'the Black community'" and black queers were more "fully integrated into the social fabric of the Black neighborhoods." Also, in her analysis of the physique magazines, Morgan also observes that black men could not be queered because of their "hypermasculinity." The magazines only perpetuated the stereotypes of black masculinity as dangerous, hypermasculine, hypersexual, and savage.

V. Inspiration for my future work:
1. My current work has given me an idea for future work on the influence of African American vernacular on the Drag Queen vernacular and culture. I hope to work with Joe E. Jeffreys, Drag Scholar and Historian at New York University.


Selected Bibliography

Bradley, Adam and Andrew DuBois, eds. The Anthology of Rap. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. Print.
Boykin, Keith, ed. For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the rainbow Is Still Not Enough. New York: Magnus Books, 2012. Print.
Conerly, Gregory. "The Politics of Black Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identity." Queer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Anthology. Eds. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason. New York: New York UP, 1996. 133-145. Print.
Gerstner, David A. Queer Pollen: White Seduction, Black Male Homosexuality, and the Cinematic. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2011. Print.
Johnson, E. Patrick and Mae G. Henderson, eds. Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology.
Durham: Duke UP, 2005. Print.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1984. Print.
_____. Zami: A New Spelling of My Name. Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1982. Print.
Morgan, Tracy D. "Pages of Whiteness: Race, Physique Magazines, and the Emergence of Public Gay Culture." Queer Studies: A Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Anthology. Eds. Brett Beemyn and Mickey Eliason. New York: New York UP, 1996. 280-297. Print.
Schwarz, A. B. Christa. Gay Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003. Print.