2008: Year of the Black Queer!

2008 is the year of the Black Queer!

OK. That sounds really cheesy. But I was thinking about what my end of year blog entry would be, and while watching the finale of the Keyshia Cole reality show on BET, that Black Queer folks have been extremely visible in a myriad of ways over the last year.

Reality TV

Black queers have been most visible in the realm of reality TV. While the First Housewives of Atlanta was the third (and most watched) of the series on Bravo, it also had the most recurring Black gay men and transwomen and otherwise gender nonconforming folks of any of the three shows. Dwight Eubanks, ATL Celebrity Hairstylist and “gay husband” to NeNe, was on the show regularly, and seemed most often to be the voice of reason in the midst of all the drama. Similary, On Keyshia Cole’s show, her sister Neffe’s good friend and hairstylist Darrell was on the show regularly. Though their sexuality was never really discussed (though Dwight and NeNe had an interesting exchange about gender on the show), it was interesting to see such Black gay men (especially who were very gender noncomforming) on popular television. Also, Laverne Cox, the Black transwoman was a contestant on P. Diddy’s I Want to Work for Diddy show. She left about halfway through the show, and many things happened that were transphobic in nature, she wasn’t tragic and the show showed some level of growth in some other folks on the show who were clearly originally very uncomfortable with her presence.

Wendy Wiliams

So Wendy is not queer, but the queen of gossip radio’s 5 week pilot-run in several major cities brought Black gay culture to the mainstream in ways that the unsuspecting hetero may not realize. Her signature “How You Doin?” phrase has for years been a a way to signify Black queer culture with her radio listeners, as well as other phrases that she is beginning to popularize that come from Black gay culture like “Alright” and “The Girls Are Sitting” and “What’s the Tea?” Much like Beyonce’s continued use of Black queer culture for inspiration in videos like “Single Ladies” (the choreography is ripped from the pageant scene in Black southern queer bars and clubs), Wendy continues to bring Black gayness to the masses.

Noah’s Arc

Speaking of Tea, Noah’s Arc, the Black gay television series produced by LOGO (MTV Networks), made its way to the silver screen and opened to stunning per-seat sales at the box office in the 5 cities where it screened. This little Black gay movie became the buzz of the industry that never thought a film with Black gay characters not as buffoons (though it is a very soap-opera ish) as the leading characters could ever do well at the box office.

Politics

Not only did Keith Boykin and Jasmyne Cannick both become regularly called-upon pundits on CNN this year, mostly due to Paula Zahn’s now cancelled show, but because several political stories, Black LGBT became very central to of the framing of “gay issues” this year in a way we haven’t been. When Obama choose “ex-gay movement” mega church minister Donnie McClurkin to lead an event in South Carolina ahead of the primary, Black gays were most prominent in voicing our opposition. More recently, when white gays like sex columnist Dan Savage launched into many racist tirades to “Blame the Blacks” for the passage of Prop 8 in California, Black LGBT folk became somewhat prominent in the discussion. Race issues in the LGBT community are not new, but because of a number of popular Bloggers, writers and activists like Herndon Davis, Kai Wright, Jasmyne Cannick, Rod 2.0 and yours truly, there was an immediate and very public backlash from Black LGBT folks about Prop 8, and racism in the LGBT community. In fact when interviewing the back-peddling Savage, Steven Colbert even talked about Black gay people, specifically. In the 1970s-1990s, much of the response to racism in the community was documented by organizations and writers like Barbara Smith and Essex Hemphill, but it would be years before their works would be published and mass distributed. White queers who bought into the hype abot Black voters in California (I think) were quite taken aback by the Black queers who voiced our opposition to their racism in immediate writings, op-eds, blog posts, and TV/radio interviews.

Though there was lots of sad news this year in the murders of several people in our community as well. There were a couple victories– new trials for several of the New Jersey 4, and a recent high court decision in Uganda ruled in favor of lesbian activists that had been arrested and assaulted by police.

See you in 2009!

315 Palestinians Dead: In the Name of What?

Tzipi Livni, Israeli Foreign Minister on Meet The Press: “We are targeting Hamas, we are not looking for civilians to kill more than that. …We are trying to avoid any civil casualty…We are trying to make all the effort in order to target only terrorists and Hamas headquarters and places.  But unfortunately, in war, like any war, sometimes also civilian pays the price.”

gaza

gaza-2A short FAQ on this latest attack, named as one of Israel’s most violent in decades, appears on The Huffington Post.

Video from Al-Jezeera (English):


RIP Eartha Kitt

Most people my age remember Eartha Kitt most fondly for her role as “Lady Eloise” in the early 1990s flick, Boomerang, for which she and Grace Jones, steal the show. I was never a huge Eartha fan, but she’s always been an inspiration to me. I am always fascinated by people who are subjected to various personal hardships–poverty, violence, — politicize those experiences, and re-make themselves, both because of and in spite of the histories that would normally dictate a different kind of life. It’s not to support the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” bullshit, but for people who still understand the larger political circumstances that created the conditions they’d be forced to endure, what is it about them that makes them make very different choices, sometimes the most improbable choices?

Earth Kitt was born in 1927 on a cotton farm in South Carolina. She was the product of rape, the daughter of a 14 year old Black/Cherokee teen and the son of the white landowner (he beat the definition slaveowner by a few decades). She was raised by her aunt, but after sufferring from various forms of abuse by a family her aunt sent her to “work” for, or what Kitt described “given away for slavery.” She often described that she got that famous growl from literally having to fight for food as a child. She thought her aunt was her mother, until she was sent to live with her mother in NYC after the aunt’s death.

Besides studying dance with Katherine Dunham, working with Orson Welles, and becoming Catwoman on the first Batman television series, Eartha Kitt was, like many Black artists of her time, blacklisted. In the 1960’s she was doing work to highlight the plight faced by Black youth in Watts (after the infamous Watts riots), and she was asked by then First Lady Ladybird Johnson to a White House event. In a conversation, Kitt told Johnson how against the Vietnam War she was, and the great architect of the modern Civil Rights Movement (according to Senator Hillary Clinton), President Lyndon B. Johnson, personally worked to ensure Kitt would not be able to work for at least 6 years.

But Eartha would resurface, and remain relevant until her very last breath, which unfortunately for us, was on Christmas day this year, at age 81. She will be remembered as a true triple-threat, and for being a Black woman who pushed a very overt and complex sexuality and sexual identity both in her youth and in her old age–a rarity in popular culture, where sexuality is rampant but is often very two-dimensional. Wanna know more? She wrote three (count em!) autobiographiesThursday’s Child (1956), Alone with Me (1976), and I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten (1989).

Here’s a television biography from a decade ago that is pretty interesting:

Here’s a BBC tribute:

New Orleans Violence #2: Two Black Gay Men, 1 Transgender Bodies ID’d

A few weeks ago, a friend in New Orleans, a Black gay man, emailed me about a very dustrubing scene. He was in the French Quarter, and ran into a young boy, no older than the age of 12, hustling on the street. My friend spoke to the boy, and emailed me asking me what he should do. I told him that he probably couldn’t stop the boy from turning tricks if that’s what he had to do for whatever reason, but he should make sure the kid had his number in case of emergency and that he should try to keep tabs on him until some plan of action could be employed. Letting the New Orleans Police Department throw this 12 year old in jail, in a state that’s been sued for abuses inside its juvenile facilities by the US Justice Department was simply not an option either of us wanted to use, which would likely make the situation worse. It’s not a choice anyone wants to have to make.

In any case, the next time my friend saw the boy, he was being punched and slapped around by his mother, on the street somewhere. My friend intervened, and seeing that the mother was high on some substance, it became clear to my friend why the boy, as he told my friend the first night, bursting into tears, he could not stand to be at home.  My friend a few days later ran into the mother, who had sent the boy to live with his father, and broke into tears about the need to clean up from her addiction. She promised for forward along my friend’s info to her son.

Unfortunately, this is not the last bout with violence this child, if he is in fact gay or queer, is likely to face. The threat of violence is omnipresent for us, and is too often manifest in the most gruesome of ways.  Around the same day my friend made a new friend of this mother after her son was sent away, two Black gay men, and another Black queer (maybe transgender, maybe just in drag) were found murdered in the house they were renting in New Orleans. As Rod 2.0 originally reported, apparently the three were originally from Mississippi, and were identified as Felix Pearson, 19; Kenneth Monroe, 27; and Darriel Wilson, 20. According to the news piece in the Times Picayune, the bodies were discovered when someone saw half of a “man’s” body hanging out of one of the windows.

There is speculation as to whether this was a hate crime or not–a distinction that makes little sense to me. But the facts of the case, besides the fact that all three were killed, look like the very ways that most gay men and trans women die:

1. No signs of forced entry. Usually this means it was a person that the victim knew in some way. Often for gay men, it is men who they’ve already had some kind of sexual relationship with.

2. Usually there is extra-violence or desecration done to the bodies, or the victims are killed execution-style.

One of my mother’s best friends, a Black gay man, was murdered similarly in 1986, and I’ve seen this pattern way too many times over the years.

Speaking of things I am tired of living through and writing about, few days before the New Orleans murders, a lesbian in Richmond, California was raped by four men, and seems to have been specifically targeted because of the rainbow flag on her car.

Incognegro Wins American Book Award!!!

Just wanted to send Author Frank Wilderson, III a huge congratulations for winning the 2008 American Book Award for his book, Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid (South End Press). I wrote an article on the book and a reading Wilderson gave in NYC in October for The Indypendent:

Wilderson, author of the newly published and highly controversial memoir “Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile & Apartheid,” offers an incisive view of how a liberation movement becomes a political party. He also reckons with what happens to a revolutionary who returns to a U.S. Left, mired in the politics of gaining access to the “rights” of civil society in multi-culti California.

I met Wilderson this past Sunday at a small reading at the Salon D’Afrique, a longstanding Harlem salon hosted by writer and scholar, Dr. Rashida Ismaili Abu-bakr, who gave a reading to about 15 invited guests. We engaged in a political dialogue with the author about the book, which intentionally does not offer a “what to do next” proscription for progressive movements in the U.S. or abroad.

“The Black demand is for subjectivity,” stated Wilderson. ‘But progressive political movements must have a coherent goal, but the reality is that the demand cannot be met by a coherent demand, like a civil rights policy for access into civil society.’

He modeled Incognegro after the 1987 autobiography of Black revolutionary Assata Shakur (currently in exile in Cuba), with chapters alternating between South Africa and the U.S. ‘The organizational structure comes from Assata Shakur—how do you write about a revolutionary underground movement, anti-black racism in liberal and progressive California, and also the use of poetry,’ Wilderson remarked.”

If you’ve allowed yourself to sleep on this book, STOP. Go get it.

New Orleans Violence #1: White Vigilantes Murder 11 Post Katrina

If anyone believes that because of Obama’s election, we are in some moment of “post-racial” America, needs to…well I am not exactly sure what they need to do. The truth is, the evidence that we are any further along in terms of racial justice, belies the facts that lay before us in prison sentences, health disparities, etc. But for those people who still think racism is something that stopped occuring in 1968, or that only exist when the N word is used, or when nooses are hung on high school trees or the doors of Black college professors.

Well that ole time racism didn’t go anywhere. And a new story published in print and video by The Nation called Katrina’s Hidden Race War proves it. The story details how at least 11 Black Hurricane Katrina survivors were shot and killed by vigilante white residents of Algiers, Lousisiana in the days following the hurricane. And if you think this type of racism only resides in the hearts andd minds of white Southerners, check out the two people in the video bragging about murdering black people (man and woman, I might add), are originally from Chicago, IL.

Cadillac Records: What LIES Beneath

I grew up on blues music. My grandmother who just passed was a lover of BB King, Albert King, Bobby Blue Bland, and a number of other musicians. I have a subscription to eMusic.com, really for the sole purpose of having access to their amazing Blues and Jazz catalog–I can download 65 songs for about $15 bucks a month. I have read the auto/biographies of music legends Patti Labelle, Lena Horne, Ethel Waters, Billy Strayhorn, Chaka Khan, Nina Simone and Billie Holiday. And of course, Etta James’ Rage To Survive . Needless to say I knew a little something about James, and Chess Records before going to see Cadillac Records this weekend, and Beyonce’s performance of the living Blues and Rock legend.

The distortions and out-right lies that I detected in Cadillac Records from a book I read at least 5 years ago, has made me promise to go back and read books about the other musicians at Chess records also featured in the film, Howlin’ Wolf (Eamonn Walker), Little Walter (Columbus Short), Chuck Berry (Mos Def), Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer) and Muddy Waters (Jeffrey Wright). But here’s what I know, that you need to know before seeing this film and you get fooled into thinking this represents history in some way:

  1. ETTA JAMES AND LEONARD CHESS NEVER HAD A SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP. PERIOD. Etta James and Leonard Chess’ surviving son have both come forward and denied that aspect of the movie.
  2. Leonard Chess did not set up the meeting between Etta and the man she thinks is her father, Minnesota Fats. That meeting happened in the 1980 (if not 1990s) at a seniors home fats was residing (not in a restaurant). Leonard Chess died in 1959, a good 30 years before the film sets this up.

The effect of these two lies? To portray Etta’s character in the film, as a tragic mulatto. The way the character is written for the movie, Etta’s abandonment by her real father (who I don’t think she even knew was her father until AFTER her years at Chess) leads her to searching for a white father figure she thinks she finds in Chess. This also supposed to be the cause of her drug addiction and the primary motivation for her “tough girl” act. But I guess Beyonce as Executive Producer (or the studio or screenwriters or whomever) couldn’t stand to be in a movie and not be seen as the object of attraction, or that a white man was not the focus of the film and everyone in it.

The other performances I think are really great– Gabrielle Union in particular is a pleasant surprise. She actually shows that she has more acting range than the roles she’s usually given. And I also like the idea of a film that focuses not on a sole celebrity’s story, but on the significance of a group of musicians related through a label, and the work that they created together, but this film doesn’t accomplish that.

Want some real Etta? Check out my favorite Etta recording, a live version of her song I’d Rather Go Blind, with BB King on guitar and New Orleans legend Dr. John on joining on vocals.