This post was written and originally posted for the Association of Black Sexologists and Clinicians, in my role as a “National Thought Leader.” It was later edited and reposted by Gawker.
There has been much ado about the newfound notion of “Black gay privilege.” In numerous tweets, blogs and a certain HuffPost article, it has been articulated as a special benefit enjoyed by black gay men. This ‘privilege’ supposedly enables us to evade the traditional economic struggles experienced by (straight) black men and produced by white anxiety and white supremacy. The crux of the argument is such: white people are less intimidated by black gay men, because they are seen as less of a threat. Therefore, black gay men enjoy greater employment options and benefits than black straight men. Said ‘privilege’ is situated on the assertion that black gay men are less masculine and therefore less intimidating to white men and women and more likely to be hired and promoted. There are many problems with this assertion, but let us first begin with the obvious. Neither Queerness nor same-sex attraction inherently require or guarantee a particular performance of masculinities or femininities. This is equally true for heterosexual black men. Racial-sexual discriminatory hiring (and firing) practices are not a function of the sexual practices or gender performances of black men, but instead a display of white (masculine) anxieties and insecurities. These insecurities and anxieties are rooted in racial-sexual tropes imputed on black bodies during slavery. Black male and female bodies–across sex, sexuality and gender performance–were routinely violated in circus-like displays of racial-sexual terrors. These (white) family events included lynchings, penectomies, breast augmentation and genital mutilations. These events occurred for myriad, sadistic reasons, but most often functioned as violent lessons of racial-sexual comportment. They official word, that black men and women were hypersexual and needed to be punished, eliminated and made examples of, was held as gospel in the white community–and widely disputed amongst black survivors. The activist and scholar Ida B. Wells noted that most were terrorized not for their sexual proclivities but for their refusal to be used for the sexual pleasure of slaveholders, male and female, gay and straight. In short, black people were killed not for acts of sexual violence, but sexual resistance, interpreted as violence to the system of white (sexual) power and domination. In layman’s terms, they wanted to teach (read: force) black people how to (sexually) act (read: submit). The phenomena of some black gay men accessing professional longevity is not about privilege. Privilege is an unearned benefit, bestowed without merit. This is different. This is survival jujitsu. This–the forced circumcision of blackness from queerness, and queerness from masculinities in order to remain employed is violence. Gay, bisexual, queer and same-gender loving black men already exist in a space socially and politically apart from black men–we are the other brothers. Daily we are forced to choose and navigate how we perform maleness, in order to affirm our identity and preserve our safety from (many) patriarchal violences. We are also called and required to police our blackness in a way that allows us to remain close to home and family, while also allowing proximity to whiteness (as sociocultural capital/property), to avert or lessen white supremacist violences. Finally we must navigate, customize and reform our queerness, second by second, to avert heterosexist violences, obscure our seemingly dangerous blackness and assert our power as men–that is, the power to avert systemic (cis) male-domination, visited on the bodies of women. Put simply, BlaQueerness is the practice of the survival of racial-sexual circumcisions, a two-step of terror-evasion.
“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”
When we are coerced to perform, mask and other our personal performances of black “maleness”–in order to evade a layer of white supremacist violences and anxieties–we enable ourselves to climb socioeconomic ladders, however frail, to financial sociopolitical wealth. However in doing so we commit to, reify and endorse the work and will of white supremacy and heterosexism/patriarchy through our assent. Thereby compromising our selves and our right and abilities to simply be, us, alive: regardless of masc/femme performances or nature. This isn’t privilege. It’s survival. It’s exhausting. It’s genocide. We are placed in the impossible position of negotiating between survival under white supremacy, and hunger within personal black (queer) authenticity. The notion of black gay “privilege”–aside from erasing the realities of “right of masculine” men, trans men and womyn–positions the BlaQueer man as a buffer between white supremacists hiring practices and their black critics. Because we hired these black men, white supremacists note, we cannot be racist. Lost in translation is requirement of BlaQueer men to mortgage defacto control of their bodies and performances of self to their employer as a condition of employment. Also lost is the implicit messages that either these (blaqueer) men are ideal and preferable and/or that other black men are deficient by choice or nature. This enables race, and by extension power, to be evaded as the focal point and instead posits responsibility on the deficiency of black, straight, masculine presenting men.
“The power of the white world is threatened whenever a black man refuses to accept the white world’s definitions.”
There is no black gay privilege. There are white supremacist, heterosexist, patriarchal, capitalistic anxieties engraved upon black, gay bodies through violent hiring, firing and retention practices. There is violence–psychological and psychosocial terrorisms–in forced, perverted performances of ourselves, in order to find a sweet spot between masculinities and femininities that do not arouse white fear, white guilt or white notions of equity. We are to be propertied–seen, heard and felt as accessible and owned by employers for their pleasure and fulfillment. Our given role then, in this system, is to do what white supremacy believes “straight” or “masculine” black men, will not: take micro-aggressions, violences and inequity with a smile and a hair-flip. Unfortunately for the aforementioned system, BlaQueer men and womyn are the kings and queens of subversive existences, politics and liberatory practices.
“If a human chain
can be formed
around missiles sites
then surely black men
can form human chains
around Anacostia, Harlem
South Africa, Wall Street
Hollywood, each other.
If we have to take tomorrow with our own blood,
are we ready?….
All I want to know for my own protection is,
are we ready for whatever,
Yes, yes we are. We must use the insights and lessons, of the scars of oppression, to draw and map our home to collective freedom and liberations. There is no cure, no panacea, no treatment to rage and resolve within the bones of BlaQueer peoples, outside of black and BlaQueer liberations. We are not the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the ones we have been loving for, dying for, and living for. We do this in remembrance of our ancestors, in humanization of ourselves and the hope of those coming next. We are ready, we are willing and we will win.
Find me here: Twitter @blaqueerflow