Thursday, May 13, 2010

on my soapbox: terrorizing blackness

To say that I am angry is a huge understatement. I do not know what words to use to properly convey my sentiments right now. Incommensurability may be as close an approach to my present feelings.

Last night, I went to a bar with colleagues for an end-of-the-semester celebration, a gathering to spend final moments with the many who work at the Perkins Library at Duke who will be graduating. Of course, there were others invited. For the majority of the time spent with my colleagues, it was enjoyable. But then I was confronted with the fact of blackness as confrontation from someone who finds her own blackness so restrictive and terrorizing, only made less so by a particular deployment of sexuality.

That’s a long way to say this: as I sat talking, one young “mixed race” woman decided to speak to me. She has never spoken to me before last night, though I have seen her several times when I worked at the library. I would often nod, smile, but my presence was never acknowledged. But last night, someone told her that I am gay and the following ensued: “so, can I ask you a question?” to which I responded with a “yes.” “So are you gay?” and again, I responded with a “yes.” Then, she said, “when I was growing up, I was terrified of black people…but when I heard you were gay, I was totally cool with you.”

My response? “Um…what?”

That is all I could manage. I was stunned, upset, saddened. Did this young woman who wanted to be anything other than black admit to the fact that I terrorized her – by virtue of being black – only moments previous? Had no one told her I was gay, would that conversation have taken place? What does it mean that my terrible, terrorizing blackness was softened, quite literally, by my gayness? Was I no longer black? Was I somehow “mixed race” as well? Does blackness always mean heterosexuality? Is gayness always white? Is white always virtuous? My gayness became a property that “mixed” my racial position in the world.

I almost cried. Almost cried because I was angry. Almost cried because I was sad. Almost cried because this woman admitted how blackness terrorizes her, and as such, much terrorize her own personhood in the world. Almost cried because I was confronted with the self-hatred of another that purported to be my problem and not hers. Almost cried because she projected her insecurities onto others and has never had a way to work it out. For if my blackness terrorized her, what does she see when she looks in the mirror daily?

Mostly, I am sad for her because she does not love herself. She must separate parts of herself – evinced through her dissection of others – in order to find herself and others approachable. So we can ask: how does one approach self when that person must lop off parts of self in order to think oneself as beautiful? This is the same sorta self-hatred I encounter in queer communities, in impoverished communities.

As for me, I’m cool with my gayness and my blackness. Terribly so. Beautifully so.


  1. oh my. it really goes without saying that sometimes folks say things to you that are so racist that it paralyzes you. and it sucks because those are the moments when the speakers could really be challenged. i mean, damn, the way in which she freely articulated her prejudices indicate to me that she's said this kind of thing before--amongst "friends," of course--and was never checked on it. maybe i'm inferring too much, but the assumption that your gayness nuances your blackness thereby making you friendly enough to hear about her fear of blackness doens't seem like a never thought, spur of the moment confession. in her extension of "friendship" she really let you know that she was an enemy.

    i'm sorry you had to go through this. *sigh*

  2. What are the faculties that contributed to this woman's emotional and foundational pysche? Sure, she's probably an intelligent woman, but even smart people don't always "get it"; like in that conservative or even reactionary way. She has simultaneously experienced so many oppressions while realizing none of them. Experiencing them when she is trying to ignore/avoid/hide from that within her that subjugates those oppressions, but understanding none of them when she splits those from being a part of herself and proceeds to project those oppressions (or so she thinks) on those who cannot and will not fear them. Her irrelevance to her very own identity is heartbreaking.

    Presumptuous as a result of having to give uninformed answers to the several questions that pop up from a situation like this one, so be it. This is one time when I am willing to proceed without respectful caution.

    P.S. Bravo