FEBRUARY | 2018 | FRONT PAGE
BLACK ABOVE ALL
Reignbeaux Lux™ exists because we wanted to create a platform where we could safely discuss issues on race, gender and sexuality. Our goal is to maintain a space where we can safely address the specific issues of Same Gender Loving (SGL) men of color. In an effort to remain consistent with our mission while acknowledging Black History Month, we wanted to dedicate this month’s Front Page to addressing whether or not our blackness (or our “of colorness”) takes precedence over our SGL identity.
Remember the movie “Divergent”? It took place in a dystopian world where citizens were divided into factions based on how they scored on a government sanctioned aptitude test. Those whose test results indicated that they had equal attributes of multiple factions were labeled as being (you guessed it) Divergent. This classification was seen as being a threat as Divergents were able to think independently and couldn’t be controlled by the government. That’s the movie in a nutshell, and while it wasn’t really the blockbuster producers hoped it’d be, it had us thinking about whether or not being Black and SGL qualifies us as Divergents.
We started fostering discussions about whether our SGL and Black identities coexisted peacefully or if they’re constantly at odds with one another.
Let’s begin by examining our blackness- which is almost always perceived as a threat. Our blackness is the reason we’re (immediately) judged based on the negative perceptions of non-black (predominately white) America. We are feared to be violent, assumed to be either under or uneducated, perceived as being morally bankrupt, and thought to be socially irresponsible. Portrayals of us in these lights can be found in almost every aspect of the media. We’re pretty comfortable assuming that none of this information is news to anyone reading it.
These challenges are intensified when we give consideration to how we’re perceived based on our SGL identities and hold space for further discrimination, prejudice and exclusion. Our “lifestyle” is constantly criticized by the black church, excludes us from the “conscious” community and often leads to us being rejected by the greater black community. We take it in all ends and from many different angles, but somehow we manage to persist.
Such, there were very few of us who were surprised when gospel singer Kim Burrell described us as “perverted” mere days before she was to appear on the show of America’s biggest (and most famous) lesbian, and we weren’t afforded the luxury of being able to feign disbelief when Nipsey Hussle qualified us as being the antithesis of strong black men. We damn sure aren’t shocked when we hear Hoteps like Tariq Nasheed address us as “gay bed bucks” who identify as “LGBTQOPPRTDSXMF first, not Black first”. Nah, we don’t get that kind of comfort, not even from those of us who look like us.
When it comes to determining whether or not our blackness takes precedence over our SGL identity, the former will always trump the latter. No matter how many times we’re told not to, we judge and are judged by our book’s cover. Our interactions are based on our perceptions of people, and the vast majority of our perception comes from appearance. In any instance we’re stopped by the police, the first things they’ll see is our race and our gender. Our sexuality isn’t immediately perceived and can be masked if need be.
Our Blackness will always supersede our sexual orientation because it is the first thing that people see.So how do we find balance between the two? It would be nice if there were a how to book we could use to aid us in navigating being Black and SGL, but there isn’t. Being Black comes with discrimination, stereotypes and social exclusion, but so does being same gender loving (especially within communities of color). The trick to creating a peaceful coexistence between our two identities is to shift our focus from exclusion to inclusion.
Doing so means that we find the spaces and places where we are accepted. Our Blackness and our sexual orientation cannot peacefully coexist in any church where we’re constantly condemned to eternal damnation for being abominations, but they can peacefully coexist in spiritual places that educate on how to be Christ like as opposed to the places where the homophobic words of man are assumed to represent the living will and testament of God.
Sandra DiPillo wrote an amazing thesis in which she explores (as titled) “Identity Among Black Gay Men: The Relationship Between Racial and Sexual Orientation Identity Development”, where she concludes that the participants in her study “experienced a split between the Black and gay [SGL] parts of themselves” and that “men do not want to choose between their racial and sexual orientation.”
We found similar results when polling SGL men of color who overwhelmingly placed their Blackness above their gayness. Out of the 94 men surveyed 71 (76%) chose to identify as being Black first while 6 (6%) choose to identify as SGL first. Out of the remaining Beauxs who were polled, 14 (15%) placed the same value on their Black and SGL identities while 3(3%) provided responses that were outside of the scope of consideration.
The answer, then, is quite clear. While we’re free to identify as we see fit, society is going to do as it has always done, which is to judge us based on how we appear- and we appear in color.
If factions were based on sexuality and race then our SGL and Black identities would qualify us as Divergent, but not to the extent that we’d be seen as governmental threats. Our dual identities give us the benefit of being able to relate to multiple struggles, but it also means that we experience multiple struggles as well. As men of color we can attest to knowing what racism feels like just like we, as men who have sex with men, know the sting of homophobia.
The only difference between our two identities is that one is overt (Blackness) while the other is less obvious (sexuality). This doesn’t mean that the 76 percent of men who responded to our survey as identifying as Black first were more right or wrong than the 6 percent of men who identified more with their SGL identity because people are allowed to identify in whatever way suits them best. However, outside of that, what we need to consider is this: If we were pulled over by the police, how would they identify us? Food for thought.