Wednesday, March 23, 2011

part III: racial nationalism and homophobia

{First, a brief recap of the last two posts... for fully new stuff, read from the first pink text onward}

What I learned over the last two posts:

I have spent the last two entries advocating for insider perspectives on black homophobia. Considering that residential and educational segregation persist and, consequently, most private (non-state) violence is intra-racial, I am skeptical of claims made from outside regarding the roots and ramifications of black homophobia.

Furthermore, I have maintained that the usual indexes of black homophobia (hip-hop lyrics, sermons and religious doctrine, poll data, and laws) are unreliable indicators of everyday behavior and beliefs. Explicit and public, they provide what, to modify James C. Scott, I might call an official transcript. Laws indicate how an elite wants a society to run; they prohibit those things that might interrupt productivity or unsettle hierarchies. That is, law attempts to regulate what is already occurring and, therefore, cannot indicate what a society actually is but instead projects an ideal elites wish to establish. (It's even arguable that such elites do not wish for the ideal to  come into existence, for without the constant threat of destabilization, they could never justify the violence necessary to insist on regulation).

Sermons are much the same as laws, the speech of a voice with authority but not absolute control over the congregation. In the specific case of African-American pastors' sermons, marches, and statements since the advent of George W. Bush, it is worth tracing the content of sermons to the offer of federal funds for marriage promotion. Even if federal money did not inspire the doctrine, it may well have contributed to increased emphasis on 'traditional marriage.'

With sermons, hip-hop lyrics, laws, votes, and other indicators bracketed (not ignored, just suspended before being put back into the mix), I'd like to offer a definition of black homophobia from within rather than without. In brief, it is that the most entrenched roots of black and white homophobia have to do with nationalisms--beliefs about what is necessary to protect, continue, and purify the nation. Even the most doctrinal oppositions to homophobia--within the Christian tradition, at least--are soaked with references to 'nations'--populations who are selected or chosen by God according to their faithfulness. Both biblical text and contemporary Protestant evangelicalism are framed in the language of opposing faith traditions as opposing national groups with differential access to God's favor and punishment. Therefore, nationalism is the field in which, to mix a metaphor, the attempt to uproot homophobia will bear the most fruit.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

notes on black homophobia II

Part II: Cutting it Down to Size, or Waking up From an Imperialist Hangover

After one more week of  hedge-clearing, I think I will be able to talk about black homophobia as I have experienced it from within black spaces rather than as it has been portrayed from the outside.

This week, I go into what appear to be the assumptions that allow whites and Westerners to find the mote of homophobia in black and brown communities while ignoring the plank in their own. After all, majority white states and municipalities have blocked gay marriage and adoption and refused to grant human rights protections. And the slender recognition and protection for queers in the US has come (as did racial integration before it) by judicial intervention rather than by groundswell of voters. Nevertheless, on this very unstable foundation of enlightenment on the question of sexuality, has been erected a tower from which to espy minority homophobia

On this one matter, I am tentatively aligned with the "dirty laundry" police--those minoritized people who don't want certain topics discussed in front of white folks. It does appear to me that we need to have a serious internal conversation about the damage that homophobia does to all its targets. In cases when the perpetrators and targets are primarily within racially oppressed communities, we need not have that conversation publicly and confirm pernicious stories that Africans, Latin Americans, Muslims, and the black and brown underclasses of the West are the backward folks responsible for holding back gay rights on a national or global scale. 

After looking through some evidence of premature self-congratulation on the part of those straight white liberals who wish to isolate homophobia in black and brown spaces, I end by arguing that there is nothing inherently homophobic about nonwhite communities or religious faith. The task in this case, as in all social struggle, is to reshape relationships. The most effective appeals, as legal scholar Patricia Williams once wrote, tend to be to already-existing ideals. That is, you convince someone that they were already for what seems to be a frightening change. You appeal, that is, to a conservative desire for precedent, continuity, and stability. There is more than enough room within both Christian and black nationalist ideology to argue in favor of equality, compassion, respect, and mutuality among all persons. It's not that such claims would not be opposed; it's that one need not dismiss these cultural starting points as irredeemably corrupted. 

What follows is looooooong, so I've just encapsulated the full argument above. Next week, I plan a post called "Black Homophobia, or Class Warfare by Other Means." There I'll be thinking about the strange way that homophobia has been positioned as a working-class phenomenon and homosexuality as the playground of luxurious decadents. I think this will take us away from religion as a single variable and toward nationalism, which always has reproduction of a race at its core. It may also tell us a bit more about why white gay organizations don't see race as a "gay" issue and it remains a hard sell getting gayness seen as a "black" issue, like economics, health care, or police brutality.
In the meantime, one final attempt to clear some ground and get some things committed to e-paper.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Notes on black homophobia: Part I

Part I: Coming (Back) to the Topic

An excellent article by my friend and future colleague, Aymar, inspired me (finally) to take on this massive topic--on which, much more to come. 

I was impressed with Aymar Christian's measured celebration and critical analysis of the achievement of having a gay black character represented in a flattering light on a black sitcom. This was a recent episode of Are We There Yet? from Ice Cube's production company, a rival to Tyler Perry's.  

Beyond marveling at how he was able to sit through an episode of a trite sitcom (musta been the eye candy, right Aymar?), I was also impressed by the article's drive to point out the downside of supposedly positive representations. After noting the complimentary aspects of the show's gay jock character, he reflected on its limits. Specifically, a gay character who is tall, attractive, muscular, and isolated (i.e., no 'boo' in sight) goes down so smoothly as to call the achievement of his supposedly barrier-breaking appearance on-screen into question. After all, same-sex desire is what causes problems, and this gay jock seems to have none. By virtue of having not done things that seem to be gay, he becomes a gay who is not gay--problem solved, right? 

That's certainly one way to achieve social harmony: Mort à la différence! ("Death to difference,"). Once there are no queers; homophobia will have no target (This is a bit like the fairy tale that hopes that "racism will end because one day everyone will be mixed and then we won't know who is not-white anymore." The reality of multiracial people didn't stop slavery in Virginia, New Orleans, or Haiti; it's no cure-all. Ditto for the assimilation solution: if you'd just become us we wouldn't try to remove you from our sight. Oh, that's a mighty generous gesture--embracing the whole world as long as everyone in it admires and emulates you). Unfortunately, these scenarios of permanent peace could only result from a planned genocide--through violent eradication, cultural re-programming, or gene therapy. Choose your poison. 

But there's a more stubborn aspect of the fear of difference: antigay violence doesn't need actual gay people in order to exist and do its work. Some gay people don't trigger it; some straight people do. Homophobia is about fear, and fear is often based not on objective conditions but on what one imagines is happening. It's a pre-written script that often has nothing to do with what is actually in front of us. As Deepak Chopra once put it, "everything we are afraid of has already happened."