Celebrating Black History: All Day, Every Day

This is a repost of a blog I wrote last year, and I’m hoping to include more posts in my Black History Month series this month. 

IfBealeStreetCouldTalkSo while I celebrate and educate folks on Black history and culture (American history and culture) EVERY SINGLE DAY, I decided to use the month of February to highlight some of the folks that have been a major influences on my life and my work. No doubt I should have started with my family, who continue to lift me up, but I don’t think they want to be featured on my blog. 🙂

I’ve started with my chosen family instead, and I’d like to think that if I had a Black gay dad, it would be Brother Baldwin. His influence on me has been immeasurable, from Notes on a Native Son to If Beale Street Could Talk. My predilection for essay writing can be directly attributed to Baldwin, as well as my desire to always speak my truth to power.

If Beale Street Could talk was one of the first “grown up” novels I read as kid. I think I was 15 or 16 when I read it, and what I remember most about this experience was that I was told by my English teacher that I couldn’t do a book report on this novel because it wasn’t on our list of approved readings. Nor were any of the other texts by Black authors that I wanted to read. That upset me, and stubborn child that I was, I did it anyway and dared her to fail me, knowing already that I was one of her best students. She didn’t, and thus my reputation as being “radical” was born. They really had no idea, nor did I, how far that one little act of defiance would take me. Either way, I love this book and I was able to read it again a couple of years ago when I was studying for my Ph.D. exams.

If you know anything about Baldwin, you know his novels are emotional, thought-provoking, and gut-wrenchingly honest, especially in regards to Black experiences in urban America. This novel is no different, and reading it reminded me of how spot on Brother Jimmy was about all things America. The other thing it did this past year was remind me of how little has changed in American society in regards to the incarceration of so many Black men, as well as the ways in which Black communities are still struggling to save all of our children from the legacy of slavery and white supremacy in this country.

On Black LGBT “History”: More Substance, Less Celebrity Please

Ok, so I’m a little hot right now so bear with me. And this is probably going to make some of y’all mad.  Huff Post Gay published LGBT History Month 2013: 21 Influential Black LGBT Icons which I saw on my Facebook feed. The National Black Justice Coalition shared it with the missive to “know your history” as in your Black LGBT history. I clicked the link and was pleased to see the likes of Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde, Bruce Nugent, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Alvin Ailey, Alice Walker and E. Lynn Harris, who I absolutely consider to be a part of Black LGBT history. However, I was bit dismayed to see the likes of Frank Ocean and Snoop, or even Don Lemon, who are not “historical figures.” They may be popular, and even talented. But “historical icons?” Come on y’all. Did you just  put Don Lemon in a category with Bayard Rustin and Jimmy Baldwin? Coming out publicly as gay does not make you an historical icon. It is certainly brave and admirable, and for those of us who are always searching for community among those that share our skin tone, it’s almost like meeting a new family member.

However, I’m also bothered by the fact that they claimed Snoop from The Wire as an historical figure, but left out Barbara Smith, founding member of The Combahee River Collective and the Black lesbian credited with the first ever theoretical statement on the creation of a Black feminist criticism. In 1977 no less. Or what about Ann Allen Shockley, credited with publishing the first Black lesbian novel in 1974? Or Doris Davenport, Pat Parker, or Stephanie Byrd, Black lesbian poets from the 1970s and 1980s? Or Black lesbian filmmakers Cheryl Dunye and Yvonne Welborn, both who have been making and producing films for decades?

It seems to be that our claim to LGBT history seems to be invested in the young and sexy, or the spectacle of celebrity, much like the rest of the world. Or maybe the author of the piece was stretching the limits of his knowledge to come up with 21 Black LGBT folks. I don’t know. Regardless, no shade whatsoever to the current group of Black LGBT gamechangers, but I think categorizing them as “historical icons” is a bit disingenuous, since in my book you have to do more than put out one or two hit records, star in one show, or make a lot of money and look good to be an historical figure. It would also seem to me that you would need to be around for a while, since you know, history is about the PAST, not the present.

The struggles of Rustin, Lorde, Nugent, and Baldwin in particular are substantive and have been tested over time.  They truly paved the way for this current batch of folks to do what they’re doing right now. Maybe it would be better to look back on the work of folks like Snoop, Polk, and Ocean, and take note of the ways in which they use their celebrity OVER TIME, to expand our notion of Black LGBT history. Or maybe we need to understand that pop icon and historical icon don’t necessarily mean the same thing. Until then, if you need the names of people who have actually changed history for the good of Black LGBT folks over the past forty years, let me know.

Mini rant over.

Celebrating Black History: All Day, Every Day

 

 

 

 

IfBealeStreetCouldTalkSo while I celebrate and educate folks on Black history and culture (American history and culture) EVERY SINGLE DAY, I decided to use the month of February to highlight some of the folks that have been a major influences on my life and my work. No doubt I should have started with my family, who continue to lift me up, but I don’t think they want to be featured on my blog. 🙂

I’ve started with my chosen family instead, and I’d like to think that if I had a Black gay dad, it would be Brother Baldwin. His influence on me has been immeasurable, from Notes on a Native Son to If Beale Street Could Talk.  My predilection for essay writing can be directly attributed to Baldwin, as well as my desire to always speak my truth to power.

If Beale Street Could talk was one of the first “grown up” novels I read as kid. I think I was 15 or 16 when I read it, and what I remember most about this experience was that I was told by my English teacher that I couldn’t do a book report on this novel because it wasn’t on our list of approved readings.  Nor were any of the other texts by Black authors that I wanted to read.  That upset me, and stubborn child that I was, I did it anyway and dared her to fail me, knowing already that I was one of her best students.  She didn’t, and thus my reputation as being “radical” was born.  They really had no idea, nor did I, how far that one little act of defiance would take me. Either way, I love this book and I was able to read it again last year when I was studying for my Ph.d. exams.

If you know anything about Baldwin, you know his novels are emotional, thought-provoking, and gut-wrenchingly honest, especially in regards to Black experiences in urban America. This novel is no different, and reading it reminded me of how spot on Brother Jimmy was about all things America. The other thing it did this past year was remind me of how little has changed in American society in regards to the incarceration of so many Black men, as well as the ways in which Black communities are still struggling to save all of our children from the legacy of slavery and white supremacy in this country.

Tomorrow: Alex Haley’s Roots.