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!

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.

Reading Gay Pride: Queer Book Review

This year’s NYC PRIDE is filled with not so mixed emotions, and we approach the big parade here this Sunday. Yep. I am pretty much bitter all around. First, two of my favorite queer spaces are closing. 275 Grand, the best (mostly) Black, bohemian, grown and sexy, queer lounge in Clinton Hill (and the only space like it in the city) is closing its doors Friday night. And I JUST found out that Meshell Ndegeocello is playing there tonight! So I’ll be there twice before they close.

My other favorite place in the meatpacking district in Manhattan is Florent, the 24 hour eaterie, is closing this weekend as well. Florent was one of my favorite places to eat, and Florent, the man himself, was always very sweet to the customers. It will sorely be missed as well.

If you’re a grumpy, anti-capitalist, nearing middle-aged queer like myself, the June Gay Pride festivities can be really annoying — especially in New York. Because there are five boroughs, the events seem to go on forever. Rainbow striped flags, key chains and booty shorts sprout all over the city, defying the drab earth tones of your camouflage shorts and black tank top. Cheesy dance remixes of even cheesier top 40 songs drown out your reflective folk tunes. Yep, June is no bowl of organic free-trade cherries for the political queers.

What I do in these tough times, as the happy-go-lucky gays parade up and down Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue this last week of June, is curl up with some good queer (non-fiction!) reading. Reading helps me get in touch with my inner, bitter queer, and I want to share some of the latest books I’m reading with my queer comrades out there who are throwing anti-Pride pity parties in our miserable little hovels across the tri-state this season. READ THE REST OF MY “READING GAY PRIDE ARTICLE” IN THIS ISSUE OF THE INDYPENDENT!!!

Alice Walker On the 2008 Primary

LEST WE FORGET, An Open Letter To My Sisters Who Are Brave

From Alice Walker

I have come home from a long stay in Mexico to find – because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination – a new country existing alongside the old. On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future. It is a space with which I am familiar. When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative, Miss* May Montgomery. She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it. Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that Of course they would not. No Montgomerys would. My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May. They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night. She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn: not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style. We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain. Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming. During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve. Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn’t pay it to a nigger. That before she’d pay a nigger that much money she’d milk the dairy cows herself.

When I look back, this is part of what I see. I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school. Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick. We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that “Jane” and “Dick” had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter. The year I turned fifty, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my home town. I had had no idea – so kept from black people it had been – that such a place existed. To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.

*During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as “Miss” when they reached the age of twelve.

When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they’d always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their “democratic” right to vote. I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot. It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free. I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered. That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo. Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means. I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not… Read the rest at The Root.com

Interview with Writer/Director Stanley Bennett Clay

I don’t read a lot of novels, but when I read a good one, I definitely have to pass it on. Recently I read Looker, written by Stanley Bennett Clay. The novel’s basic story is of two black gay men, best friends, living in Los Angeles who struggle to find love—or to run and hide from it. But the novel is so much more than that. It’s a complex read of how Black people negotiate their own sexuality and inner desires through a lens that is often distorted by all the isms and phobias—class, race, age, (trans) gender. Some of the characters find sexual liberation. Some do not.I had a chance to talk to the author, Stanley Bennett Clay, a couple weeks ago. Clay has received three NAACP Image Awards for writing, directing and producing the critically acclaimed play Ritual, as well as the Pan African Film Festival Award for the film adaptation. He is the author of three novels, Diva, In Search of Pretty Young Black Men, and of course, Looker.

KF: I just finished Looker, and thought it was a really amazing novel. Can you tell me what inspired it?

SBC: I guess it was a part of my whole process of writing stories about the gay scene in Los Angeles and gay people in Los Angeles. I found oftentimes in reading a lot of black gay stories, there were few times when there was a discussion of the Los Angeles scene, and most of the stories were set back east. And being a really fanatical Los Angeles kind of person, I really wanted to put a spin on it and show the differences as well as the uniqueness of black gay life in Los Angeles, especially middle class black gay life. And just getting the landscape out there and introducing it to the readers.

KF: One of the things I really liked about Looker was that it explored people’s inner desires, particularly their desires around sex and sexuality, in a way that’s really complicated. Why did you decide to take on sex and sexuality in such an explicit way as you did in this novel?

SBC: I think that’s probably a trademark one would find in all my writing…I’ve always had a sort of a problem with America’s timid-ness and immaturity in regards to sex. I find it interesting that we live in a world were a movie can be shown and we can see dozens of people killed and maimed and mutilated and that gets a PG rating, but if you see a couple, a married couple, making love, and that gets an R rating or even an X rating depending on what is shown. There’s just this thing that really ticks me off which has to do with the way America views sexuality. I look at sex as very normal, and as this God-given thing, so I just show it very normally.

KF: I want to ask you specifically about the Black community and sexuality. For me, on one level through hip-hop videos and other kinds of media, you see a lot of overt sexual imagery of black people, but at the same time in the community you have a very conservative attitude or response to sex and sexuality. The characters in Looker deal with the full spectrum of that—either liberation or shame around his or her own sexual desires. So what do you think the take away is for the black community on sex and sexuality.

SBC: I think it goes back to slavery in a lot of ways. We don’t want to seem out of line with what society sees as acceptable, and because of that we have a tendency to be even more conservative when it comes to sex for fear that the white man is looking. And we don’t want him to do that we are doing some of these things. It comes back to the old cliché that there are black people who are ashamed to let people know that they eat watermelon simply because of the old stereotype, or who won’t buy a Cadillac because of the old stereotype of it being a pimp-mobile. We have to liberate ourselves from that sort of belief, and to be free enough to express ourselves any way we want to. Continue reading

Bill Cosby on Meet the Press

Bill Cosby has caught hell in recent years for his controversial speeches about the hip-hop, poor black people, and the state of Black folks in American in general.

Today, Tim Russert’s Meet the Press hosted Cosby and his longtime collaborator Alvin Poussaint, MD., to talk about their new book, Come On People–a treatise on the state of African-Americans and what they think needs to shift. He doesn’t seem to be saying anythign that isn’t knew or innovative, but another hand-wringing book about the lack of Black fathers in the lives of their children, Black women have “made it” while men suffer in prison, that AIDS is the result of our “behaviors,” etc. I guess I have to say I am glad that there is at least a conversation happening in the Black community about what we need to be doing poltiically and socially, but I hate that the conversation never seems to evolve past the “we need the strong black man to take his rightful place” type of foolishness.

I guess it’s too easy to make fun of him as some doddering old fogey–I think the sentiment of his fears is sincere. I share his basic concerns. I do think something has to be done to improve the conditions of young Black men. But I don’t think that the people who currently hold the mic on the discussion, have much in the way of useful answers.

MSNBC.com has posted the entire first chapter of the book, and you can read it here.

BET’s ‘Read A Book’ PSA Causes Controversy

Now that you’ve watched it. What do you think? I gotta say, I kinda LIKE IT! Before I go into why, I’ll say upfront that it is not without its problems. Who’s watching this video? Will this create another case of people laughing at us, and not with us? Does it further stigmatize black youth? This seems specifically targeted to black boys/teens–why are black women’s bodies still exploited as the vehicle to carry this “message” to them? And does this undermine or outweigh the messages it’s trying to hit home?

I think these are all questions I have watching this video. And they are more than just rhetorical questions, I think they bear some thinking about, and demand answers.

But what I like about this video, as someone who is uber interested in media messaging, is that it does, in a really clever way, intervene on what can no longer be denied as problematic behavior. It’s especially interesting in a time where there is an ever-growing conversation in Black communities and on the left about how do we “reach” black youth. It does what the hip-hop activists and scholars, and “conscious” hip-hop artists have failed miserably at doing over the last decade–which is to use the language and visual culture of hip-hop to drive home messages to create what public health folks call behavior change. I think this has the potential to do that–albeit with the problems it has.

Certainly has come a ways since School House Rock!

Much love to Pop Gumbo for writing about this first.