Sunday, January 01, 2006

From the News & Observer: 'Black and Gay'

My blog has moved!!! Please visit my new blog for all the newest news, events, opinions and more!!!
You will be automatically re-directed in three seconds. Click the link to go to the new blog now. Use the search function on the new blog to find any story you are looking for on here.

The following is an book review from the Raleigh News & Observer. Instead of doing my usual "put it in my own words" writing style, I think this one says it better than I ever could on its own:
What it means to be black and gay Quinn Eli, Correspondent January 1, 2006 Last February, when the debate over gay marriage had reached a particularly ugly juncture, the Rev. Gregory Daniels, a prominent black minister from Chicago, announced from his pulpit: "If the KKK opposes gay marriage, I would ride with them." On that occasion, if race had been a social club, I might have handed in my resignation. That level of intolerance struck me as so extreme -- and so indifferent to the history of violence inflicted upon blacks by the terrorists of the Ku Klux Klan -- that it literally sickened me to think that such vile rhetoric had come from the mouth of a fellow black man. Ordinarily there is nothing that fills me with more pride than my racial identity, but like many of us who grew up in that mythic, elusive entity known as "the black church," I have been subjected to more than a few anti-gay invectives from the pulpit. Of course, anti-gay rhetoric isn't limited to the black church. But African-Americans seem to face unique challenges in accepting homosexuals. Having suffered intolerance for so long, perhaps we've been cruelly condemned to perpetuate intolerance ourselves It's fortunate, then, that "Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology," edited by E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson (Duke University Press, $23.95, 400 pages) offers such an insightful glimpse at the strained relations between gays and straights that sometimes exists among people of color. A collection of scholarly essays, "Black Queer Studies" is not exactly light reading. Academics often write as if their only readers are those who will decide whether or not they get tenure. And some of the more nuanced treatises about the very nature of "queer studies" and its future as a legitimate field of study were beyond my powers of comprehension. Nevertheless, persevering readers will find insights about gay experiences that will instill a better sense of the struggles faced by African-Americans who identify themselves as "queer." From the racial segregation that can occur in gay neighborhoods to current debates about the depiction of black gays and lesbians in film, many of the essays pursue important questions about sexual and racial identity. Chief among these are essays written by the two editors. E. Patrick Johnson's awkwardly titled " 'Quare' Studies: Or (Almost) Everything I Know about Queer Studies I Learned from my Grandmother" is a gem. Like others in the book, Johnson tries to clarify the epistemology of the word "queer," especially as it applies to African-Americans. Then he seeks to redefine the word in a way that reflects its political, sexual and intellectual connotations. If, like me, you think "nigger" is stripped of its racist, humiliating power when blacks hurl the word around with abandon, you'll appreciate how "queer" gains strength when gays and lesbians wear it as a badge of self-identification. Mindful, however, that gays and lesbians of color sometimes feel alienated by "queer" -- because queer studies as a discipline tends to privilege the experience of whites, excluding "gays and lesbians ... who come from 'raced' communities" -- Johnson offers an alternative: "Quare." "Quare," his aging grandmother's drawling, nuanced, Southern pronunciation of "queer," has more personal resonance for Johnson, and it connects to a broader world: He discovers that the Irish variant of "queer" is "quare," as in the Brendan Behan play "The Quare Fellow." In combining this Irish epithet for gay with his grandmother's usage of "quare," which means "slightly off-kilter," the word seems to him positively international and thoroughly inclusive: a single word that can both highlight a community's shared identity while making explicit all its wide and far-reaching differences. If you're wondering why any of this matters, you might remember that ever since Adam roamed the Garden of Eden, casually naming the animals, the act of naming has been endowed with considerable power. In choosing how we wish to be identified -- as part of a group, or as individuals -- we assert our identities, making clear that it will no longer be up to others to tell us who and what we are. Johnson makes this point with great force, but like so many in the academic industry, he seems incapable of writing a sentence that moves fluidly from subject to verb to object. Thankfully, the book's other editor, Mae G. Henderson, who teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill, conveys equally important ideas with much more clarity. Her essay, examining James Baldwin's gay-themed novel, "Giovanni's Room," is a straightforward piece of literary criticism that serves as a pretty good reminder that Baldwin is one topic that never grows old. Not enough good things can be said about the way in which Henderson considers Baldwin from all sides: not just his homosexuality or race or even his gender, but also his expatriation, social consciousness and wide and varied literary gifts. A lesser writer would have focused on just one or two of these issues, playing up the gay angle, for example, as a means of privileging that aspect of his identity. Henderson demonstrates that Baldwin's greatest triumphs occurred when all the complex parts of his personality collided in a perfect storm. "Giovanni's Room," apparently, is the result of just such a storm. The book, she tells us, "was vital to Baldwin's artistic and social vision," illuminating his penchant for "crossing borders and breaking the boundaries of convention when they stifle the capacity of the individual to grow, love and create." Between the vast poles of these two essays is a wide (and wildly impressionistic) portrait of contemporary thought on race and sexual identity. Certainly "Black Queer Studies" isn't the last word on the experience of gays and lesbians of color, and it may not even be the best word. But as the rhetoric of hate and intolerance that once seemed targeted primarily at people of color is now used even by African-Americans to vilify lesbians and gays, each of these essays feels more like a prayer, the kind you'd hope to hear in church: a calm and quiet attempt to speak to the complex fears and thoughts that trouble all our hearts.
Technorati Tags: , , , , , , ,