“Black Men Loving Black Men Is the Revolutionary Act of the 1980s”
The first time I happened upon the quotation by the great Joseph Beam, it did a work on my spirit. I was just shy of 16 and almost delivered from the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), yet still an occasional, holy rollin’ backslider; the oil was too strong. To my young soul, it illuminated the possibility of a self and communal love that didn’t lead to the burning or gnashing of flesh, but instead to a fire that melted oppression, causing black men to spring forth clean and powerful as an onyx Phoenix. Just shy of 16, I was already grown, but Joey B gave me a new lease on life, I moving from closeted to confident. That was 2005. It’s now 2016.
In the decade since, something in me has changed. I won’t say I’m grown quite yet, but I have grown into a deeper understanding of self, sex and the practice of love. I have come to understand that to revolt, or to inspire revolution, means to act, live, love, think, fuck and die in opposition to an entrenched system while midwifing one of a liberatory nature–with the power to undo all that you think you are–all remaining true and whole to self, eschewing the notion of an “other.” Revolution will undo you. If it does not, you have not yet revolted within or, put simply, unbecome what hegemonic, white supremacist, capitalistic, heteropatriarchal society has branded upon your flesh and psyche. The iron is hot and it’s markings are not easily removed. Therefore, internal revolution is nothing short of psychosocial laser removal treatment–from thought to flesh. For black men, this requires a role-reversal and an expertise in survival jujitsu and imaginative reconstruction.
Black Men Loving Black Men...
This quotation is recited at every black gay/sgl/bi/dl/_______ conference and is generally followed by snaps, smiles and a high/low chorus of YASSSSSS! But what is often heard, understood and practiced is fucking, not loving, or even lusting. If we look closely we can understand the complex relationship between black men as a collective practice of fucking; a rough, quick, thorough, sweaty and primal intercourse that offers short-term relief for a long term desire, repeated over time, in almost any space we enter. The relationship between our sociopolitical bodies, our selves, brother-to-brother become a practice of orientation. More often than not, we measure our masculinities, femininities, wealth, worth, humanity and desirability in opposition to those around us. We do so, acting as if the beauty and bounds of blackness are limited, and our preferred place in the imaginary
white supremacist spectrum of blackened humanities can only be secured by the expulsion or demotion of another black brother. The thinking then goes, that there can only be so many “good” and “worthy” or “real” black men. To think otherwise strikes at intermingled notions of the children of capitalism–the exceptional negro/talented tenth mythology (ex: Barack/Oprah)–and white supremacy–the inherent/imputed deficiency of blackness (ex: controlling images: laziness, violence, hypersexuality).
Anti-Blackness is a convenient, socially constructed covering of white supremacy, white anxiety and white violence.
Black men, like all male-bodied folks, are given situational power and privilege in relation to women and femmes of their racial location. It must be clearly noted that black men–across space, time, class and sexuality–have used this privilege and access to power, to both uplift and more often than not, decimate black women. This has been completed and articulated by the masses as black men accessing and appropriating (white) patriarchy. This is true. However, I posit that it is directly linked to the concept of racial inferiority–a child of white supremacy, a sibling of anti-blackness–that implicitly notes that in order for black men to access
whiteness “humanity,” we must first differentiate ourselves from other black people (read: women, womyn, queers, trans* folk, ect). Differentiating and othering in the United States is marked by power and power is understood through the demonstration of a marked inability to be oppressed and owned; while simultaneously, ruthlessly portraying that power, through the ability, desire and provision of oppression, ownership and propertying of the othered. Through this violent quest for power, and perhaps the illusion of freedom, black men as a group are marked as violent, hyper-sexual, immoral, criminal and in need of state-control/lashing. The prophecy, markings, and controlling images of white supremacy and anti-blackness become proven by the actions of black men, performing these lip synced lyrics and scripts from the master’s tongue.
Violence upon, and violations of/through, the black male body are the preferred redemptive practice of the 21st century.
Aside from black women―often learned through black/white male cisheteropatriarchy―black men are the primary target of black male patriarchy and power-lust. Sexism is well embedded in society, therefore, the greatest actual threat to a black man’s access to (white supremacist) power in the black community is another black man. This conversation and theory is well fleshed out in bell hook’s “We Be Real Cool” and Richard Majors and Janet Mancini Billson’s “Cool Pose : The Dilemmas of Black Manhood in America.” Both speak to the ways in which black men across age protect themselves–through violence, silence and other performances–against the indignities of white supremacy, anti-blackness, poverty, masculine anxiety and discrimination in their communities. We are taught to prove our worth through the devaluation and violation of other black men. In these practices of violence, distancing and differentiation we are positioned as distinct, if not circumcised, from the collective “bad” black body. We are the strong, the smart, the responsible, the tolerant, the feminist, the queer, the anti-racist, the well-read, the masculine, the christian…the last buffer against the highly contagious other. We are given purpose, we are given worth, we are given pseudo-whiteness, through our performance, perfection and articulation of anti-blackness and internalized white supremacies. To do otherwise–articulating or demonstrating a “soft” pose, or denunciation of this parasitic cycle–can leave a brother isolated, ostracized, bloodied and/or dead.
...Is The Revolutionary...
Flipping the script is both revolutionary and radical. It is a revolt against all that has been designated as “blackness” and radical–or grasping at the root–of the tenants of white supremacy and anti-blackness. Transgressing this ideology and ethic, with a practice of love is not only unheard of, but an unnatural practice in a white supremacist state. This is certainly true if we begin to use my dynamic conception of a critical love ethic: “a practice of universal liberation from cyclical and systemic violence and oppression…we must look deeply and examine the oppressor within, dare to love those who we see as threats or “other” and question whether the threat is real, imagined or internal. This is a call for a human solidarity across and beyond racialized differences and an ethic of love that first acknowledges our shared humanity and endeavors to reify that shared notion.” As I stated in earlier piece on love among black men, we must begin to reconstruct our notions of self, our relationship to others, brothers and sisters.
“The reactionary suicide is ‘wise,’ and the revolutionary suicide is a ‘fool,’ a fool for the revolution in the way Paul meant when he spoke of being a ‘fool for Christ,’ That foolishness can move mountains of oppression; it is our great leap and our commitment to the dead and the unborn.”
– Huey P. Newton, I Am We, or Revolutionary Suicide
We must engage in communal euthanasia of blackness as we’ve accepted it and come to practice and believe that:
“The tea is, blackness is the essence of creation, a potpourri of the creative ingredients of existence. Blackness, unbought, unbossed and unrestrained is the building block of color and from its presence, our presence, your presence, derives all things. …
….Flesh deep, varied and enduring as that of the earth on which we stand. Arms strong and versatile enough to hold masculinities, femininities and the journey of ancestors close. You are rhythmic, moving through the compounded obstacles of society step-by-step, death-dropping over stigma, tossing shade to the bright lights of white supremacy and sashaying truths of our over-comings through your very existences…
You are a soul ballad; stitching together the complex realities of our fraught existences with an in-articulable presence that commands and requires respect, resolve and r/evolution. You are a Cosmos; within you exists a constellation of brilliant expressions of perfect imperfections.
You are queer,str8, trans, gay, bi, same-gender-loving, undefined: simply you. You are father, son, brother, uncle, cousin, and homie. You are truth-seeker, griot, artist, scholar, activist, organizer, writer, singer, designer, athlete, lawyer, educator, trend-setter, and him. You are him. He who is sensitive yet indestructible, authentic yet ever-evolving, sexually breathtaking and intellectually stupefying.
Simultaneously existing within and outside imputed markers and communities of race, gender, and sexuality, we trek on the path of our forefathers. We are called to speak with the urgency of Malcolm, the insight of Baldwin and the truth Essex. We must live with the fearlessness, strategic, acuity of Joseph Beam and Bayard Rustin; navigating the world with our eyes on holistic, comprehensive justice. We must create and we must love, with the fire and passion of Ru, Langston and Rotimi Fani-Kayode. From their shoulders and their pathways we are called and empowered to be all that we are; realizing and releasing the divine nature of our Blackness, Queerness & Flows of Survivance in honor of the crowns of our lineage, the proof of the present and the hope of our progeny. From transmisogyny to police violence, from femme-phobia to HIV criminalization, from poverty to sex-shaming, from heterosexisms to anti-black capitalism.. we are all we need to thrive. Indeed, we are all we’ve ever had.”
―”A Love Letter To My BlaQueer Brothers,” in Godless Circumcisions: A Recollecting & Remembering of Blackness, Queerness & Flows of Survivance.
Our ancestors have done their work, gifting us with a bloody and loving legacy of overcoming and carrying-on, together. It is now our duty to continue to expand these notions of “love”, “Blackness” and “togetherness.”
This essay is an excerpt from my new book Godless Circumcisions: A Recollecting & Remembering of Blackness, Queerness & Flows of Survivance. The book is available via Amazon and Kindle. You can also purchase signed copies of this collection of poetry, essays and cultural critiques here.