Friday, March 30, 2007

(re)considering queer communities in the black church

a recent NYT article testifies to the hardships currently being faced by black churches in atlanta, georgia that have become welcoming and affirming. the congregation of victory church in stone mountain, georgia has halved over the past four or five years; tabernacle baptist church has struggled financially due to the loss of three hundred tithing parishioners over the last three years. for blessing the commitment ceremonies of gay and lesbian couples and including trans people in their congregations, black pastors in the atlanta area have suffered grave threats to their ministry.

from the anti-lynching advocacy of Ida B. Wells and other early twentieth century African American women reformers, to the contributions of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement, and the ongoing faith-based community organizing in urban centers such as East Brooklyn and New Haven, there is a great tradition of prophetic politics in the black church. these atlanta pastors have upheld this heritage and answered their call as christians to stand in full solidarity with "the least of these" (Matthew 25:45).

in accordance with the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:11), christians believe in the resilience of oppressed peoples and that all of humanity is precious, belonging to and made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). we believe that in our diversity, we possess oneness as children of God (Colossians 3:8-11). we believe that the Lord loves righteousness and fills the earth with “unfailing love” (Psalm 33:5) and that as disciples of Christ, we too should seek justice and be, as the Lord is, a stronghold for the oppressed (Psalms 9:8-10). for those of us who are Red Letter Christians, we must be faithful to Christ’s words above any other nationalistic, cultural, or worldly ideology. to value mortal agendas of marginalization and hate above God’s command to love one another as He loves us (John 15:12), is to be guilty of idolatry.

it is biblical teachings such as these that call us to embrace queer brothers and sisters, defend their civil rights, and love them ceaselessly.

moreover, as black folk, we have been historically oppressed by the same power structure that persecutes queer communities. both communities of color and queer communities are engaged in a common struggle to destabilize a supremacy founded simultaneously upon whiteness, patriarchy, and heterosexism.

the homophobia of several black american churches not only silences and excludes queer christians but dangerously precludes the possibility of an adequate ecclesiastical response to the crisis of HIV/AIDS in black america. the perception of AIDS as a disease associated with homosexuality and sin has prevented many clergyfolk from openly and boldly addressing the threat it levies against our people. in March 2006, a CDC report stated that HIV was the second leading cause of death amongst black men ages 35-44, and the third leading cause of death amongst black women ages 25-44. according to a 2000 census, African Americans make up 13% of the US population but 49% of new HIV/AIDS diagnoses. 61% of people under age 25 diagnosed in 2001-2004 were African American. furthermore, there are 24.7 million adults & children living with HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa. in 2006, there were 2.1 million AIDS deaths of adults and children.

the church movement to combat poverty, promote economic development locally and globally, provide care for families and orphans, and advocate for policy change, must continue to grow. HIV/AIDS ministry is necessary for the fortification, restoration, and salvation of our people, all people.

community institutions, spiritual and otherwise, must lead and call for change locally, federally, and globally. it is imperative that the church continue to work to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS in our communities in order to provide education, reform, and support those who are suffering from this epidemic in our neighborhoods, nation, world, and Body.

the shame associated with homosexuality in the black church is connected more broadly to the problem of black sexuality that persists in our collective memory as a legacy of slavery. from enslavement to the present, black people have been systematically subjected to sexual violence, robbed of sexual autonomy and agency, indicted for allegedly deprave moral sensibilities, and accused of possessing salacious and brutal sexual tendencies that jeopardized both white virtue and social order. throughout history, black scholars, performers, artists, activists, and individuals have sought to challenge the objectification of the black body and the dehumanization of black desire.

several prophetic black voices have been central to this process of healing black consciousness, reclaiming black bodies, and reviving belief in the possibility of black love. an acknowledgement of our varied gender and sexual identities is an essential step toward beginning a centuries overdue honest and open dialogue about our intimacy and wellness.

knowing that as black people, our pleasure has always been political, we must not shrink from the opportunity to define our own sexual identities and take control of our sexual health. remembering, as Christians, that God died for all of us, we must unfailingly love each other. and so we stand in solidarity, our many distinct and overlapping communities (christian, black, and queer), resolved to confront the lingering consequences of the past and forge a better future on terms determined only by ourselves and God.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

the truth of the matter

Testifying against "the myth of continuing African-American victimhood"

"Discussing John Locke, my TA turns to me and asks, "So... what are your views on the matter?", looking at me with a certain amount of trepidation, knowing that this question was not asked in the spirit of intellectual admiration for my thoughts but because in spite of his liberal upbringing, he was curious what this black girl's view on John Locke could be."

"Today in Ivy Noodle, the Chinese woman up front saw me walk in and gave me a look as if to say, 'Am I going to have to deal with this ignorant, loud-mouth, -----?' " Five minutes later, she turns to a popped-collar white couple (this is in fact what they were both wearing, not a euphemism) and says "Oh Mr and Mrs, thanks so much. How was the food? Be sure to have a great night." In the same moment, she turns and shoves my order to me. The "thank you" was barely out of my mouthbefore she turned her back, signalling good bye...and good riddance. We ought to have been allies, I wanted to say."

"My niece asked me today, "Auntie, what is slavery?" And I looked at her terrified and incapacitated. How do I explain history without giving my girl the chains?"

"I was in line and he was saying some things I thought were latently racist and I decided to turn around and you know, say something. All of a sudden, he goes "Woaah! Don't get so angry with me. Calm down!" And I was like, so when a Black man dares to disagree, it's irrational anger? You have not seen my rage."

"Section: we were talking about the systemic rape of women during war as a political, war-time act to break down family structures in World War I and my entire class agreed that nothing comparable had ever occurred in the US. Did they forget the institution of slavery, or is that chapter of racial history so closed, it is not worthy even a passing remembrance?"

"She says accidentally but so transparently, 'patriarchy i mean, doesn't really exist in places like here, not as much as like I don't know, Africa...?' "

we write to assert that our experiences exist to the contrary of claims whether made in nationally established magazines or personal encounters. the testimonies above (abridged, i admit, through my voice) are acts of assertion against systemic attempts to erase evidence to the contrary.

giving word to our experiences, we cease to sustain silence which is the life-blood to racist hierarchies and in our speaking out, we are finding a community of individuals who have similarly travelled along this path of injustice and we will build a canon of evidence of present-day racism so that someday the proof of our experiences as racialized individuals will overflow the lexicon of newspapers, literature, art. the totalitarian mindset prefers to rationalize its destructive acts through willing ignorance that permits him or her to accept the status quo, this totalitarian mindset will be overrun by evidence.

racism in the 21st century is not a fiction.

the dissolution of jim crow, the subsequent and so-called independence of African states, the rise of Condoleeza Rice to Barak Obama, our spotted presence in choice elite institutions, etc - they do not collectively act as a period to a history. they do not disavow the actuality of day-to-day life as black people.

and in part what i'm attempting to do in giving word to these experiences is make the listener understand the CRISIS of the incommunicable, the sensation of belittlement/shock/degradation/frustration/hilarity/irony/anger that overtake us when we are faced with these. in testifying, one attempts to legitimatize the experience while also attempting to convey the gap between the word on the page and the immediacy of sentiment.

but i should make something clear, we're no victims.
our words are that first, elemental step in the battle.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

(reclaiming) black english in the ivy league

"I Speak 'Right', Not 'White' Bitch!" has been a recent topic of discussion in an online forum for black students in the ivy league. in addition to using disparaging terms that are problematically gendered, this topic fails to recognize how the politics of speech are constructed to assert white cultural hegemony. the following is a contribution to this ongoing discussion. hollablack.

i recognize the important need and desire in removing the oppressive power whites have in defining our identity by their standardization of universal social tools with their oh-superior race. i flip out when white people make white supremacist comments to me, "oh you speak and act white." No, your daily viewing of BET wouldnt even begin to prepare you to understand me if I were to act as my natural black self, how foolish I am in even my minimal attempt to relate to u and ur sheltered needs. we as minorities have the burden of learning the dominant form of language in America, but we must still retain what is "right" for us. thus the white supremacy implicit in the statement "I speak right, not white," must be attacked not foolishly accepted. to claim that you speak "right," is to concede to a form of white supremacy that is detrimental to our people, for it attaches a positive valuation to a type of language mainly at odds with the type of language us black people have historically spoken.

There is nothing "right" about speaking in a complete and proper sentence, or without slang. The purpose of language is to serve as a tool for interpersonal communication. I can understand the butchered English of my Eritrean parents, make out where the breaks "should be" in slurred Jamaican patois, and recognize the revolutionary power of African-American Vernacular English/ebonics/slang or whatever the hell u wanna call it. All of these different languages or dialects are therefore "right" because people who speak them can understand what others say. Moreover, they carry a culture that unites the global black community, for in their radical departure from British/American English they represent a struggle against slavery, colonialism, and white hegemony. For us, if any language is to be "right," certainly it is this one, for its tied to our history.

But language shouldn't be thought of in terms of the binary of "right" and "improper." It is this type of thinking that allows jobs to be denied to black people who speak with some slang, for if they don't speak the same way as a white person is thought of speaking, they must not be intelligent. obviously this is bullshit. personally, i have no problem saying i speak white english and black english. neither is right or wrong and neither is standard. either way, we must recognize this cultural crime thats been goin on across american society for centuries. how terrible it is for a childs development for them to be constantly told in school that the way they naturally speak is wrong

def peep june jordan's essay "black english/white english." she breaks it down

This post was copied and pasted into the north star by Naima because Andom believes in the gendered division of labor. Expect a forthcoming post on internal oppression.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Can I talk to you?

I will be your cultural experience. I’m willing to let you get to know me and make assumptions about everyone of my race based solely upon my actions. And maybe what you saw on BET that one night when mother and father left you at home by yourself. I hope that what I have to offer is better than what you think of black people now. I mean…I’ll only be on the corner rapping with crack in my pocket, chicken in my teeth, and watermelon in my fingernails throwing up gang signs while spinning a rim on my left foot.

Some people have a problem with white people asking questions about their culture. I don’t. Because I know that if white people (The institution. Not you individually) didn’t run the country and I wasn’t as familiar with their culture (Which is for the most part just taking everyone else’s culture and deethnicizing it.), I would ask them more questions than I already do. What I have a problem with is you taking my story and applying it to millions of people. Mostly because I think of some of the black people I know. And if you met them and applied their story to me I would be maaaaaaad.

Can I tell you exactly how to familiarize yourself with black culture without getting snapped on or accused of being a racist in the process (Hint: Preceding or following any statement with “I am not a racist” is never good)? No. What I do know is you will not find it on BET. Nor will you discover the key to Black America through your one really really good black friend (ask Bull Connor). Music is definitely not the answer either. So what’s a whigga to do? Don’t just talk to a few black people here and there. Actually interact with different groups from different places if presented with the opportunity like they’re….I don’t know….people?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Welcome to Black Justice

Black justice can easily be thought to be a damning tautology, a phrase that in its “descriptive” redundancy implicitly illustrates the violent history and legacy of racial discrimination and exploitation around the world. No one in any society would argue that the ideal, moral state of humanity associated with a just world is one that should not be achieved by all peoples. Yet, human beings are socialized to think of black justice as somehow outside the realm of a justice worthy of realization. How is that which is “black” able to arise so much unwarranted action just from its essence? When one sees a black person, they think criminal; when one hears of a "black" program, they think it's racist. As black people, what are we to do?

The majority of contemporary society’s racism hides in latent form behind that which we fought for: political legislation and liberal theories of multiculturalism. Now, as these forces declare “equality under the law”, American people too continually conflate political liberty with equality of opportunity, and those of us who see race and class as inextricably linked, who recognize the harmful economic and psychological toll slavery and segregation had on black Americans, who see the necessity in attacking oppression from a racial dimension, are demonized. Justice is not for black people when we declare that it is for us; Western liberalism loves equality too much to allow it. When thinking that we are/were victims of white supremacy, souls colonized on our own land exploited by foreigners, oppressed men and women who have had to fight cultural abasement, who would argue that justice was not doing its job if it solely remedied our plight? Instead, our culture has been attacked and our people killed, but the sloth-like hand of justice aches as it presents us with a band-aid.

What we need is real justice. Black justice, if I must specify. Justice is, if for any people, for black people, so with the redundancy of black justice we have justice for black people achieved in a “black” way. This is the only way we can truly take control over our identities, our culture, our history, and our future. Blackness is our consciousness, our authentic, seemingly quixotic pursuit for true peace, peace as Martin Luther King Jr. described it: “Peace is not the absence of war; it is the presence of justice.” So black people, people who see themselves as black not because they cannot get a cab in NYC, but as black because they love their culture and their struggle; black people, let us affirm what true blackness is and take pride in this moment in all its ephemerality. For one day, when we have achieved our justice, we will be able to lower our shield and accept those who choose to enter our colorless arms.