IN RESPONSE TO MY DREAM, MY RELATIONSHIP TO BLACK MEN
That dream that I had raised a lot of issues I’ve been dealing with lately that I speak about to my close friends, but rarely on any social/public forum, and rarely in conceptual way. There is a major issue that needs to be addressed; how violence, both homo- and trans*- phobic (emphasis on the latter), exist in relation to race. I need to speak my mind
Black men and transphobic/homophobic violence and transmisogyny (“straight” black men are specifically what I’m addressing, but I won’t be qualifying the term with straight at every mention)
I have a wounded attachment to speaking on and making a platform of this issue, because it raises a lot of questions and concerns for me about what images I’m putting out there in relation to the black community as a whole, especially given that critiques of the black community, especially those that come from within, are often used by white people to point fingers at black people that in reality should be pointed at themselves (an opportunity that, given the sensitive and precarious nature of race in America, I imagine many salivate/crave).
Despite this, the more I reflect, despite shared experiences that all black people know on some level, there is no such thing as ‘the black community’, insofar as my critique should not be voiced and disseminated as part of what that term may mean.
To be blunt, black men are one of the single most sources of anxiety and fear in my life, not based on stereotypes of some sort of angry Mandingo nigger (although I grew up in America, so i’m not entirely immune to the impulse toward that type of internalized racism), but on my lived experience and the absurd (deployed here as term that implies quantity, yet exceeds it based on the elusive nature of the subject) nature and of violence I experience daily. There is a part of me that wants to form social/political/etc alliances with black men because I respect and understand the oppression they endure on a daily basis.
Straight black men constantly find themselves in precarious double binds: the opposition of constant infantilization and emasculation by the world around you to the assumption that you represent some sort of super-man (no pun intended). The larger white world idealizes the idea of black male corporal power (sex, sports and physical labor) but when it comes to the question of agency, tied to the idea of male intellectual and social dominance, black men are immediately reduced to the high school quarterback, fucking white girls while at the height of his physical glory only to later have the same women disavow him in lieu of the more total white male partner (the complicated relationship of white women to this whole ordeal is an entirely separate rage).
- ‘boy’ vs fetishized rapist (mandingo).
- Ultimate threat vs invisible assurance of the way things are (via the paternalistic police state and prison industrial complex).
Which is all to say … I feel you.
But something else is at work here. I read these oppositions as double-binds, because both ends ultimately disempower (socially, politically and economically) black men and the black community at large (used here with apprehension). Yet, the larger mentality is not to see them as double binds necessarily, but to understand one as an antidote to the other, via patriarchy. There is a constitutive element of black culture—and I use the term with the intent of it being far-reaching—that has learned to read and comprehend the social, political, economic and otherwise disenfranchisement of black people as synonymous with collective emasculation. Although I think emasculation is a key factor in the disfranchisement of black men, it is not reducible to it. With patriarchy as its conduit, black men have learned to not only make this equation, but to use this equation as a point of departure for what reclaiming that lost sense of power might mean.
The complicated and entangled nature of white power is reduced to a question of how black men can access the same (or at least an illusion) power that white men are afforded, implied as the general embodiment of what ‘man’ represents. Aggressive masculinity, particularly as a collective identity, becomes a if not the cornerstone of the way that black men relate to black women (gay and straight, although there is an interesting, albeit limited space for masculine-presenting black gay women that is another separate interrogation), black gay men, and especially black gender variant and trans feminine-presenting folk.
The way race has been constructed creates a dynamic whereby we all have a stake in each other. White men have a stake in ensuring other white men operate in a certain way so as to maintain their collective power and racial identity. The deliberate erasure, caricaturing and racializing-as-separate/ethnic economically disenfranchised white people is a constitutive part of this work. Similarly, although clearly distinctively, black men monitor and look to other black people as a way of sustaining their identity, which is inherently social (fanon’s psycho-social in its pure form).
So I think there are two things occurring at once:
1)the double-bind black men find themselves in is seen as an opposition. This opposition, once all forms of disfranchisement have been equated with emasculation, sets the stage for some sort of ‘re-masculation’ via patriarchy
2)given how race functions, the psycho-social aspect of black identity makes all black people currency in some sort of zero-sum representation/understanding of ‘blackness’.
The product of these two dynamics is one in which gender is necessarily rigidly established and policed so as to sustain the fantasy of ‘re-masculation’, or the ability to reclaim a sense or affect of power lost at the hands of a racist society. This is clearly manifest in a multitude of ways:
- The degradation and objectification of black women’s bodies via rape culture
- The legacy of physical and domestic abuse in black households at the hands of black men
- The cultural by-product of the absolute separation of male femininity (thank you, judith halberstam) and homosexuality from black maleness specifically; ‘down-low’ culture, ‘no-homo’ culture
- The romanticizing of prison in black communities as a right-of-passage into a tragic and outlaw form of rogue black male identity
- World-star hip-hop (self-evident)
In this world, gender variance, especially if your point of departure is in any way linked to black maleness, is seen as a conscious choice to disavow oneself of power. It is to disavow oneself of the idealized end of the double bind, hyper-masculinity and the perception of black power afforded to it, in lieu of that which is presented as its opposite, emasculation, particularly under the scrutinizing gaze of whiteness. The rhetorical question that my existence implies - why would you consciously parade yourself around in a way that reinforces the (gendered) powerlessness we all have to endure daily? Why would you disavow yourself, and given that we all bear the weight of each other’s representations and presentation to the world, your race of power? To be as I am is it is to disavow myself of concern or pride in my blackness. It is to disavow myself, at threat of retaliation, of the right to participation in the ever-changing notion of ‘the black community’.
This is an impossible. Blackness is corporeal. My blackness is my body and no matter how I express myself, I am always and until I die will be black.
… until I die
Death is the consequence of this type of gender variance and it is the desire to see this death (either subconsciously or consciously) that motivates black men to such extreme forms of violence towards gay and trans black folk. My body exists in a way that challenges the very foundation on which many black men’s identities rest, and their stake in this identity is insurmountable, as it has been firmly established as the crux of ‘black power’, insofar as I understand black power to be the sense or actual reclaiming of power in the face of white supremacy and all that it has robbed black men of.
Oddly enough, the internal debates within the original radical ‘black power’ movement were far ahead of the larger discussions happening in the black community at large.
I know every day when I get up and get on the train that I am going to be looked on with anger and profound disgust by black men, who would rather see me die than understand new ways of approaching their/our blackness. Lets get specific about what I go through:
· Calling me out of my name (bitch nigga, faggot nigga, nigga-bitch, faggot, pussy, pussy nigga, homo, etc). I list the general and black-specific terms because I find it interesting that despite everything, these same black men often still acknowledge me as a ‘nigga’ in spite of it all. The sad thing is, thats as close to a glimpse of hope as I suspect i’ll get.
· Literally rendering me invisible via refusal to co-locate. Black men refuse to sit on a train with me, get up if I sit down and walk to another section, straight up change cars, refuse to look at me unless with disgust, theatrically jump away when crossing/confronting me. The list goes on (I can also count on these incidences taking place with a lot of the above mentioned harassment)
· Public shaming. I regularly have black men follow me solely for the purpose of mis-gendering and verbally attacking me. Statements like “look at this nigga right here!” “thats a fucking dude!”. “i fuck real bitches … you have a dick” accompanied often with public laughter. Initiating scenes whereby all black men in an immediate area are invited to join in taunting me
· Physical violence - the threat of physical violence is a constitutive element of my life generally, but especially in NYC. “I’ll make that faggot suck a gun” “we could slice that faggots throat and jump out when the train stops” “I would be the shit outta that nigga” just throw a few out. Not to mention when I have relied on other (often, but not always white) men to defend me and at times, I turn to police (I have an ambivalent and troubled relationship to police as a result)
Being gender-variant and trans—specifically as categories tangent to, but distinct from, gay and lesbian—makes the whole experience schizophrenic, as you experience simultaneously the desire black men have for your death and the desire they have to fuck you. The experiences of black cis-gendered women here link with the experiences of black gender-variant (fem) individuals and black trans women (trans-feminine spectrum largely). Black men, as part of rape culture, have learned that if those outside of your community infantilize and treat you as a boy, it is your duty to insist upon your manhood within. Patriarchy offers to black men an ostensible right their own impulses, particularly in relation to black women (doing an analysis of gender in hip-hop as a black cultural artifact would be perfect for understanding this on a deeper level). Black women are attacked doubly; by white society’s various ways of hyper- or de- sexualizing their femininity, yet are supposed to unflinchingly submit to black men and offer themselves as pure objects, against which some semblance of hyper-masculine black male subjectivity (under siege a la as described above) can come to fruition, even if only through mere opposition. Those who inhabit a space that is both black and trans-feminine (I am part of this category) are constantly under attack from black men. Most want us dead in one way or another. Rape is a form of death, especially for trans women, who are denied their womanhood (and the desirability of said womanhood) publicly, yet are raped as women desired by men for that very same quality.
This not to say there aren’t exceptions. On the rare occasion I greeted with acceptance, pride, or just basic congenial recognition by black men, I am surprised and warmed. Those are my real glimpses of hope but, honestly speaking, that glimpse is set against dismal and messy horizon.
I’m going to start recording my dreams more, as my mind is offering me surreal and poetic tools to elucidate the oft-troubled world that I live in daily.