I have an issue with any group that thinks it owns me. A large part of what I notice has been passing for black identity is merely a coalition of black-and-brown skin people asserting roots to Africa, ones who think that by virtue of my pigmentation, they ultimately speak for me, and that my body, voice, and silence automatically represent them. I want to own my freedom to escape this sort of patrolled blackness.
I do not want to be the property of any group. I’d like to recognize my skin color and identify with diverse histories that made me, battled for me, gave me possibilities, and permitted the longer stay of my breath. Up to months ago, I had long loved the idea of calling myself black because it felt like community. I saw it as fulfilling a needed political gathering that gave my body and my productions visibility. Home—it was—a space that alleviated my fears, nurtured my confidence, fed the bones of my power, and took me from the status of childhood.
Now that home has made me an adult, I wonder if the law of diminishing returns has set in when considering the role of black identity. Is home more dangerous to me now than beneficial—as my own physical home of childhood raised me but couldn’t cope with my queer body? Increasingly, I have grown uncomfortable sharing my thoughts with family members of the black diaspora. It’s less labor to keep my thoughts private in my head or on my computer. To not do too much talking, seems tempting a course of action, because speech will certainly come back to haunt as it did Tiger Woods with his Cablinaisian talk.
Many of us recognized Tiger’s struggle to situate his identity as diverse—his attempt to reject the strict boundaries of identity placement zones. But many blacks considered Tiger’s body as their property. His announcement violated the ownership rules of racial categorizations. Where I am concerned, knowledge not only offers the pleasures of awareness, knowledge administers a heavy burden when not shared. Or, if one should say there is no knowledge-burden, it’s just that I am weak and unable to keep my thoughts to myself, I will believe they are correct.
The black spaces that are positioned as marginal in the global sphere seem too eager to marginalize voices of their members. We see evidence of this on the issue of sexuality. Increasingly, popular viewpoints circulate that blacks in America are not more transphobic and homophobic than other groups. I agree with that statement and the need for its presentation. Black bodies must be recovered from deceitful white frameworks that situate them as being in perpetual antagonism with other groups seeking freedoms. But I cannot support the view that black transphobic and homophobic articulations equally mirror those of other groups in America.
Look around! It explains why queer peoples, for instance, dress and speak a certain way when in Manhattan, New York. But on the way back to Brooklyn—after passing certain stops, they put away their diverse vocal registers in the same way they rub away their make-up and change their clothing, right there in the train. The ramifications of the unequal articulations of transphobia and homophobia in black communities destroy the confidence, growth, and expressions of queer members of the black community. That fact should not be dressed up.
Another example of the marginalization of members’ voices can be noted in popular black responses to Republican leaderships and the shifts in theoretical approaches of certain black figures. Many of these famous persons are automatically not considered black enough. Remember that Obama was “not black enough” until after Oprah Winfrey endorsed him. The view is that these black leaders are a sellout or that they do not seriously grasp the history of race. Clarence Thomas, therefore, is not evaluated in terms of his adherence to a conservative judicial philosophy. He is personally attacked because many black people think they have a right to decide in what political body (conservative or democratic?) Clarence’s views should permanently reside.
Another figure, Henry Louis Gates, opened much territory for black studies. But we notice that as his research approaches changed over the years, blacks have demonized him rather than his research methods. Raven Simone, too, has graced our television as a child star in an era when black child stars were rare. Blacks vilified her because she expressed a desire to be identified as “human” rather than “black” or “gay.” People forgot the gay part. They went after her for failing to follow the ownership rules of the black part. And recently when Raven dared to share her views that Harriet Tubman should not be permitted on the $20 bill, the black community ate her alive with nasty creative metaphors.
Condoleezza Rice, as well, was heavily demonized as a disgrace to the black community while serving in the Bush administration. Many questioned her integrity and pointed out that her blackness served in a counterproductive capacity. It shared violence responsibility as it endorsed the murders Bush waged upon non-white geographies. Thus, Condoleezza’s blackness symbolically refuted contentions that Bush waged a racist war.
Whether I agree with the approaches of any of these figures is irrelevant. I am merely troubled by how blacks vilified them for sharing their views or adopting unconventional approaches. Even Al Sharpton who has clearly shown a different activist approach in the last five years is now portrayed as an ineffective figure tangled up in corporate coffers. Increasingly, many are ignoring his years as a consistent activist figure as they question his integrity. Of course, the black community should criticize black figures. Yet what irks me is the popular failure to distinguish criticism from demonization.
This failure brings to attention the workings of the black plantation paradigm that issues its vengeance when discourse, strategies, and convictions counter black conventions. In these moments, it becomes difficult to distinguish deployments of blackness from dangerous evangelical cultism. Voices that stray from the cultivated, politicized, rehearsed, blackness are ignored. Family members seem interested only in the body that echoed the voice. They show a determination to demonize the body, ridicule it as “ignorant” and filled with “self-hate.” Once upon a time, there seemed to be a need to coalesce diverse forms of black representations to cultivate counteracting power structures to white intellectual and economic violence. That need remains, but equally necessary is the importance of eradicating plantation blackness, where black Massas of the intelligentsia, activism, media, and diaspora of black politics treat black bodies and voices like chattle.
Marginal voices and bodies need liberated spaces, safe from the gathered, powerful, violence of dissenting black social media consensus. Yet I wonder—will there ever be a space for blackness that is not easily definable, because its identification embraces the notion of black boundarylessness. That is, blackness that has no geographical, conceptual, and genealogical boundaries. Blackness that is apolitical yet politically (un)predictable because it expresses no allegiance to dominant ideologies. Blackness that is theoretically (in)consistent and flip-flops rather than pridefully asserts ontological permanence and irrefutable epistemology, given that knowledges are in flux—and so it is willing to permit its fragmentation, mutation, and even deny its existence sometimes.
How can I escape the globalizing responsibility to “blackness”? At the same time, how can I embrace (a)-(my)-(no) blackness, and at times reject it/them, and at other times return to them/it? How—really yes—can I allow my identity to work for me without worrying about the Massas and the cultisms of black plantations? How can I release myself from trans-geographical biddings and auctions for my pigmentation, my silent body articulations, and my voices?