Black in Bed-Stuy: Another Kind of Non-Citizen

While all eyes are turned to Arizona for the (now partial) implementation of SB 1070, I found an interesting article in City Limits (a NYC-based public policy and urban affairs news site and magazine, which has gotten really good in the last year!) about a public meeting last night, where residents of Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy neighborhood voiced their concerns about policing, and the “stop and frisk” policies of the New York Police Department.

What’s interesting about this, or sad perhaps, is the ways in which Black people have to deal with law enforcement every day, and unless you’re shot dead, with very little public outcry. The testimonies from this town hall meeting recounted in the City Limits piece are heartbreaking:

Anger rattled his voice when he came to the microphone to tell a tale that has become all too familiar in his Brooklyn neighborhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant. The police have been harassing him, he told the crowd, because he is a young, black male. In his hand, he held a baseball cap. His hair was cropped close to his head. He wore a long, white t-shirt and oversized jeans. He’s done nothing wrong, he said, but police have issued him 50 tickets he can’t afford to pay, accusing him of loitering, engaging in disorderly conduct and other minor crimes. “I’ve got fifty tickets in my house and I ain’t got fifty dollars,” he said…

…A woman said that she “would never call the police for any reason—if I was assaulted,” she said, “they would be the last people I would call.”…

…An older woman, a grandmother, said that she was beaten by police officers in 2008 when she could not produce identification. Both of her wrists were broken during the incident, she said…

…David Miller, who directs a hip hop TV show, said that his son was arrested on the streets of Bed-Stuy for lack of identification and was sent to central booking for 22 hours. “It’s like the South Africa pass laws,” he said. “We are simply not respected.”

I am not interested in an argument with the Left about all the organizing around SB 1070 because it is a disgusting and indefensible law by the legislature of Arizona, but I am here to suggest that the argument that the Arizona situation is one step towards a police state, is actually one step too late. These kinds of human indignities are already enshrined in law in cities all over the nation (including the half Black and 1/3 of NYC stop and frisks that happen to Latinos–largely of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent), and there are no calls for boycotting  New York City, for example.

Coming Back.

I left for a while. Been working harder than I’ve ever worked before. But I think it’s time to come back. Maybe not as regularly. Maybe a different set of issues, but I need the space to speak.

See you soon.

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.


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!

Gender-based Violence: Three Stories

In the past several days there have been three stories that have been very disturbing to me, separately, and all as a result of the proximity in time–at least as news stories.

This week, the three NYPD officers were all indicted on several grand jury charges for allegedly raping 24 year old Michael Mineo with a police baton at a Brooklyn subway station in October. The most severe charges going to Police Officer Richard Kern, 25, is Aggravated Sexual Abuse in the First Degree, a Class-B Felony, punishable by up to 25 years in prison. Police Officers Andrew Morales and Alex Cruz, both 26, are charged with several Class-E felonies, including Hindering Prosecution and Official Misconduct, for their participation in the attempted cover-up, and face up to four years in prison. Kern and Morales are both charged with Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, for their roles in the attempted cover-up. The lawyer of one of the officers is suggesting that the DNA evidence found on the baton may not prove that it came from Mineo’s rectum.

Just last night, I learned of the beating of Jose & Romel Sucuzhanay-two Ecuadorean immigrants in Bushwick, Brooklyn. They were brothers, walking arm in arm in the street, and were presumed to be a gay couple allegedly by a group of Black youth who ultimately attacked them with baseball bats, shouting racial and anti-gay comments at them. Jose, as far as I know, is hospitalized and life remains in the balance.

Lastly, in Baltimore, MD, a 25 year old man was arrested this week in the 2005 murder of his girlfriend, Shanika Pretlow, whom it is said he killed because he was told by someone that she was HIV+. Not that it makes the murder more or less tragic, but it turns out she did not have HIV. This kind of murder of women believed to be HIV positive, or that they were the ones who gave it to their male partners has been widely reported in South Africa.

Normally our society doesn’t think of these things being tied together. We are led to believe that police violence–especially of a sexual nature against other men–is an aberration. In addition, we are also led to believe that sexual violence against men in general (because “real men” would not get f****d unless it was rape, so goes the logic) is supposed to be worse, or command more sympathy than when women are raped (which presumes vaginal penetration to be natural, and inevitable, and especially for women of color–always consensual). Many times when gay men have been raped, courts, lawyers and police officers have tried to argue similarly that if a man is gay, he must “naturally” like getting f****d, so how can one determine the issue of force from a legal standpoint?

What is apparent to me, is that in all three cases, patriarchial power and dominance is at play, regardless of the genders of the people whom the violence was perpetrated against. For Mineo, the police saw a “punk”–with his tatooed body and slight frame, and the alleged rape an act of patriarchal dominance (not that one has to be slight of frame, of whatever gender to be raped. But in terms of the ways in which men who are subject to sexual assualt, whether it is physical stature or demeanor that is deemed to be “feminine” becomes part of the underlying logics that justify such assaults) For the Sucuzhanay brothers, the appearance of “same-sex” affection in “the hood” had to be literally stomped out. I know this is dangerous territory, and I am sure someone is going to try to use these words against me, but I do think those of us concerned with the racist imagery and portrayal of young Black men have to also create some space and language to talk about what it means when very marginalized and disaffected Black males understand the very gendered & racialized terror that the Black male body incites in the world, and how that gets deployed by black men who act out various forms of violence.

Similarly, Pretlow’s murder, predicated on the notion that women are potentially diseased jezebels and tempresses, also was the victim of popular notions of infectious disease, which are also gendered. She’s the woman who’s sexuality has been whispered about, talked about and dragged through the streets for centuries, and who pays the price for what was thought to be infecting an unsuspecting lover– which he wasn’t obviously thinking about when he had sex with her in the first place.

Without displacing our concerns, advocacy and outrage at the very real way that people born into the world and labeled “women” have to deal with gender based violence, how do we also think about the violence we read so often that happens between “men” and “boys” intra and inter-racial, as also being about notions of gender and power? One of the things that is becoming increasingly clear to me, and as I talk to several feminists friends of color, is the need for more analysis of the gendered nature of violence against male identified people that doesn’t try to displace women, but rather gets to the core of violence in a culture that encourages domination.

In Memoriam: My Grandma

My paternal grandmother died this past Friday.

My grandmother was not a knitting and baking kinda granny. She chained smoked Pall Malls (she switched to the filtered kind only in the 1990’s). She loved to drink gin and juice. She listened to the Blues– and one summer many years ago she took off work and followed BB King on tour all over the country–from 5,000 seat venues to juke joints and “sugar shacks” all over the South.

She had a roaming spirit too. She travelled all over the country and the world. She especially loved Egypt, and had been several times over the years. I remember one year she went to Cairo with a friend. They flew to Paris, dropped their bags at the hotel, partied in Paris all night, and flew to Cairo the next morning.

She took shit from nobody and no-one. She could out-cuss anybody I’ve ever known. Many of the choice phrases I have come to use over the years came from her. She was a cross between Della Reese’s character in Harlem Nights and Tyler Perry’s “Madea.”  

As tough as she was, and she was not one to show alot of emotion or be overly affectionate, she was a retired registered nurse for the Veteran’s Administration. She was also really very proud of her grandchildren, and revelled in our success. I found out from a cousin a few years ago that that she cussed out someone who had something to say about “gay people,” which he knew was mostly for my benefit, and her unwavering support of me. 

In many ways I feel like I am who she might have been, in a different era, with no children and more opportunities available to her, but I definitely learned from her example. I learned from her how to be independent, that I could travel and see the world, that I could love clubs and bars and cocktails and that was alright and there was no shame in it! Most importantly, I learned from her (and other women in my young life) that a Black woman did not have to be anybody’s Mammy, and they didn’t have to be anybody’s punching bag, either!

I have been told by several people in the last several months that I am, or at least can be, somewhat of a mystery. There are aspects of my life that I don’t always discuss and whatnot. Well, I don’t know why people think they deserve or have earned the right to every aspect of one’s life. Is is because I am a writer? Is it that some people close to me, desire to be closer? And what does that mean, anyhow? What is it that they seek to gain? I am not sure. But I know that I don’t lie–if you ask me, I’l tell you. If it comes up in conversation and it seems relevant, I disclose. But I am not a fishbowl–clear ’round on all sides. Nor do I want to be. I am in many ways my grandmother’s child–a person in love independence, a person who digs nightlife  and club culture (but knows how to keep it at the proper distance). A person who can kick it with you or just about anyone–but that don’t mean we’re best friends. And if you cross a line, you’ll get cussed out!

I’ll miss you, Grandma.

Shock of The Week: Remy Ma Gets 8 Years

The hip-hop world had better get it together. Fame and celebrity will not protect your ass from the prison if you’re Black. Wesley Snipes just learned that lesson (OK so he’s not a hip-hop star, but he’s Black and he’s famous, so stay with me!), and Lil Kim and Foxy Brown have as well, and Snoop Dogg seems to get pulled over by the cops every time he leaves his driveway. The list could go on.

The latest hip-hop star to face prison time is Remy “I look too good to be fcukin’ you” Ma for shooting her homegirl in the gut over $3000 and fleeing the club in the meatpacking district of Manhattan where the incident took place. She was sentenced to 8 long years in prison. The details from E-Online:

In March, a jury convicted her on four counts, including assault, weapons possession and attempted coercion, for shooting Makeda Barnes-Joseph in the gut last July in a dispute over $3,000. She faced more than 25 years behind bars.

After State Supreme Court Justice Rena Uviller handed down the punishment, Ma’s fiancé, fellow hip-hopster Papoose, sparked a melee as he screamed invective at the victim, who took the stand earlier asking for a harsh sentence.

“Get the f–k off me. F–k y’all. F–k jail,” the performer [Papoose] yelled as the hearing ended and bailiffs escorted him out of the Manhattan court. “I don’t care. Lock me up. Lock me up. Take me to jail. Arrest me. It’s all about money.”

Papoose was caught by Rikers Island corrections officers last week allegedly trying to smuggle his betrothed a handcuff key as the two were about to tie the knot in a jailhouse wedding. He wasn’t charged, but the nuptials were nixed.

That key smuggling bit is so sad I can’t even laugh at it–obviously an act of desperation, if in fact it’s true. I do feel bad for her. I don’t think prison will solve anything–and I am not big on punishment as a form of social redress more generally. But can we just not shoot people?

Come on, people!

Just kidding.

But really. It’s been very clear that hip-hop stars are being widely surveilled (sp?) over the last several years, and the police, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are clearly sending the message that if you’re associated with hip-hop and do some shit out of the bounds of “law,” you’re going to prison. Besides that, I find myself in between a rock and a hard place. I know the systemic issues at play that creat accessibility to guns and the kinds of urban poverty (in the face of gluttonous and violent wealth accumulation) that drives the kinds of acts of violence that seem senseless. I am from the same kind of community. I get the fact that I only made it “out”(not that I, as a Black gay man, escape the scrutiny, disgust, and violence of the state) because of the push of family, friends and some teachers who decided I was the one worth giving a damn about.

But sometimes I am at a loss for defending or even trying to put to words this kind of foolishness. What is the language for critiquing institutional racism, sexism and capitalism while also critiquing the fact that these systems support and drive individuals to be alienated, disaffected, and violent? I want to see a way out of this mess, but I sometimes come up short.

How People Find

I thought I’d share with you how the people using search engines (like Google) came to my blog today. It’s amazing how many hits I get from people looking for porn. Note the person who typed in “kenyon kenyon gay porn.” I have never done porn, whomever was looking to catch me out there!!

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