Category Archives: Making Connections
“Allowing women to vote is like (insert negative comparison).”
“Allowing Blacks to vote is like (insert negative comparison).”
“Allowing people of different races to marry is like (insert negative comparison).”
“Allowing gays to marry is like (insert negative comparison).”
It’s always the same ignorant language being used to privilege one group over another.
Blacks have to unlearn racism just as much as Whites. We are all taught the same toxic views about race.
Women have to unlearn sexism just as much as men. We are all taught the same toxic views about gender.
Gays have to unlearn homophobia just as much as straights. We are all taught the same toxic views about sexuality.
Whose responsibility is it to validate your existence? Whose job is it to pay attention to you? These two questions were on my mind as I thought about the role, if any; the White media should play in the lives of Black gay people. I also want explore the Gay Rights Movement, and the various groups that make up this collective movement.
I have noticed that some people, often Black, but not always, expect the White media, and White gays, to tell the stories of Black gay people. However, this is not a sentiment that I share. I do not need the White media, or the White gay community, to validate my existence as a Black gay person. I do not need the White media, or the White gay community, to pay attention to my life as a Black gay person. I believe that it is the responsibility of the Black community to pay attention to our community, and to validate the existence of our community. These are not jobs that can be performed by the White media or White gay community.
I do not want to suggest that the White media and White gay community can’t provide opportunities for the lives of Black gay people to be validated and paid attention, they can, and have many times. I’m thinking particularly of Patrick Ian Polk’s relationship with Logo. Here was an instance where a Black gay person paid attention to the lives of Black gay people, validated the lives of Black gay people, and worked with the White media, and White gay community, to utilize the platform they offered. There will, and has always, been these kind of working relationships.
My issue is with those who think that it is the responsibility of the White media, and White gay community, to create the Noah’s Arcs, to create the Rod 2.0′s, to be the Robert Jones Jr’s, to be the Staceyann Chin’s, that is not their responsibility, it is ours.
Many have argued that the Gay Rights Movement doesn’t focus on the issues and lives of Black gay people, but I think they are doing themselves and their community a disservice. We tend to think that a movement is a specific, tangible location that can be pinpointed to a certain location, but this is not true, or at least not in my mind. I believe that movements are anywhere we are, and that the first place we should look for a movement is among our own people. To suggest that the Gay Rights Movement is only a movement of White people, specifically White men, is to believe that the movement is only about them. Sure, they may have more access to the media, but since when did media attention become the defining marker of any movement? The issues that a movement seeks to address go on even when the cameras stop rolling, and when the websites aren’t receiving traffic.
I never felt like the Gay Rights Movement was only a movement of White people because I never looked to them to validate my existence or pay attention to it. I spend my time reading the writing of Black gay activists; I spend my time talking with passionate and critical Black gay activists. I could never come to the conclusion that the work these people are doing isn’t important simply because TIME Magazine, The Advocate, and Perez Hilton isn’t paying attention to them. I know The Feminist Wire is paying attention to these people, I know Rod McCollum is paying attention to these people, I know numerous publications geared towards the lives of Black gay people are paying attention to those people, to my people.
There needs to be a shift in the way that we look at things. I don’t believe in this White Supremacist notion that without the White gaze things are not taking place. Audre Lorde has as much to do with the development of the Gay Rights Movement as Harvey Milk. It is not up to White gay people to make that statement; it is up to Black gay people to make this statement. As I mentioned in the beginning, we have to validate our existence, we have to pay attention to us.
Black gay people are here, and we have always existed in the Gay Rights Movement. The crucial question now, as it always has been, is whether or not we are willing to see ourselves as being here. I see it, many other Black gay people see it, and I encourage you to see it as well.
This is for them homophobes,
Denying the diversity in human sexuality ain’t gone help you none
This is for them sexists,
Love male and female being without privileging one over the other
This is for them transphobes,
Cis gender privilege is not where it’s at
I don’t got a Ph.D in Gender Studies babe, but I can teach you something. Who needs patriarchy when you inventing life?
I’ve often listened to T.I’s song “Dead and Gone” and felt a certain kinship with the song. I found something very honest and very authentic in the lyrics of the song that resonated with me. I knew I wanted to look at the song from a feminist perspective and translate the pain of patriarchy that I found in the lyrics. Tonight, while sharing with my followers on twitter a few thoughts I had on the song; I felt the need to put my analysis of the song into a blog post.
bell hooks states in her work The Will to Change, that “The choreography of patriarchy, the unholy fusion of love, loss, and violence, spares no one.” In my opinion that is what T.I’s “Dead and Gone” is about, loss and violence brought by the embracing of patriarchal masculinity.
“I ain’t never been scared, I lived through tragedy
Situation could’ve been dead lookin’ back at it
Most of that shit didn’t even have to happen
But you don’t think about it when you out there trappin’
In apartments, hangin’, smokin’, and rappin’
Niggas start shit, next thing ya know we cappin’
Get locked up then didn’t even get mad
Now think about damn what a life I had.”
bell hooks states, ”Patriarchal Thinking: One must be violent to have power.” T.I raps in the song that the most of the situations he involved himself in didn’t have to happen, and that he didn’t think about those things when he was trappin. But I would suggest that the reason men don’t think about these things, is because they are taught that to be powerful they must be violent, and when another man or a rival group starts something with a man or his crew, the natural response is to prove that one is more powerful, and the way to go about proving that is to be violent, hence the reliance on fighting and gun violence. It’s often overlooked and quite sad that many of the men who embrace patriarchal masculinity don’t realize that by using violence as a means to gain power, they open themselves and their loved ones up to the real possibility of becoming victims of what bell hooks labels the “choreography of patriarchy,” the love, the loss, and the violence.
In the song T.I raps,
“Niggas die everyday
All over bull shit, dope money, dice game, ordinary hood shit
Could this be ‘cos of hip hop music?”
Here T.I. questions why so many die of seemingly minute things like money, a dice game, or ordinary things in the hood, and wonders if it is because of Hip Hop music. Many have latched on to Hip Hop music as the driving force behind male violence, but I would suggest that male violence existed long before Hip Hop, and that seeing how Hip Hop is such a diverse genre of music, blaming Hip Hop, alone, for male violence is to only scratch the surface. Aspects of Hip Hop particularly the most violent aspects of the genre are informed by patriarchal masculinity which teaches men that in order to be powerful they must be powerful, so it is not Hip Hop that is to blame, but patriarchal masculinity. The notions of manhood rooted in strict gender roles, and the over emphasis of toughness and a lack of emotional awareness are what produce a community or a culture that literally has men dying everyday over seemingly pointless things. I find no solace from those who wish to single out Hip Hop as the issue to societies problems when we are a culture that celebrates violence in our movies, our video games. I find no solace from those who wish to single out Hip Hop when we are a culture that wages war without consideration for human sacrifice or life.
I think part of the reason why this song hits so close to home for me is because I know men who are in T.I’s shoes. I know men who have lost friends and loved ones because of their allegiance to patriarchal masculinity. This idea that I have to prove I am tougher than the next man or the next group of boys informed much of the attitudes of the young men in my community growing up. This idea of proving manhood, a perverted sense of manhood ended in the senseless deaths of many young men. A young man who brags about killing for his own brother is gunned down for talking to the girlfriend of another man. These ideas that violence is power and women are objects to be fought over are informed not by Hip Hop but by patriarchal masculinity.
T.I. ends the song speaking of the new him,
“That old me is dead and gone
But that new me will be alright”
I call on those who have had enough of the death and destruction brought by patriarchal masculinity to imagine a new them outside of patriarchal masculinity. We see the problem but do we embrace a solution that means imagining a new manhood and freeing ourselves of the rigid gender roles and expectations that have poisoned us into a culture of loss and violence and loss? The steps that we take to addressing violence and death in our communities begins with a rebuking of patriarchal masculinity and a willingness to teach our men a new manhood not based on proving ones toughness but ones ability to respect self and others.
T.I.’s “Dead and Gone” is one of the sincerest rap songs speaking the pain brought by patriarchal masculinity I have ever heard. If you take the time to truly listen to the song what you hear is the sorrow of a man destroyed by the very ideology he embraced, patriarchal masculinity.
This essay allows me to merge my two loves, history and English, and provide a window into the life of a black gay male living in a heterosexist society. As I look back on my life, I can appreciate the role that literature, and great literature at that, played in giving me the keys to unlock the mental cage I was being held captive within, setting me on the path to freedom. The Bluest Eye by Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison is a book about freedom, and it was integral in helping me release my mind from the shackles of mental slavery and self hate. The first time I read The Bluest Eye, like most student’s I appreciated the message of the story, but it didn’t resonate with me as it today, as a grown adult man, growing up in a society that seemed eerily similar to the one Pecola lived in. As a feminist, one of my core beliefs is “the intersection of oppression.” The “intersectionality of oppression,” is an outgrowth of the “intersectional theory,” created by feminist Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989 and brought to prominence in the 1990′s by Patricia Hill Collins. According to Susanne Knudsen, “Intersectionality holds that the classical models of oppression within society, such as those based on race/ethnicity, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, or disability do not act independently of one another; instead, these forms of oppression interrelate creating a system of oppression that reflects the “intersection” of multiple forms of discrimination.” It is through that lens that I was able to find my voice in the story of Pecola Breedlove. For most people, the thought of white supremacy and homophobia being connected, never crosses their mind. As the descendants of the civil rights movement, many of us are raised to believe that it is racism and racism alone that impacts the lives of persons of color on a day to day basis. Little attention is paid to the way sexism, homophobia, or ableism are thrust upon the black community, both inside and out, and the consequences of those forms of oppression. If Pecola’s story is about the consequences of a little black girl growing up in a society dominated by white supremacy, then my story is of a black boy growing up in a society dominated by heterosexism. Readers of The Bluest Eye are familiar with the consequences of white supremacy, and this too is often the case with heterosexism in a society, the end result can literally alter the mind of those trying to live within such an unattainable system.
“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.” – Audre Lorde
Who is Pecola Breedlove? Who am I?
Pecola Breedlove is the protagonist of the novel The Bluest Eye written by Toni Morrison in 1970. In the novel Pecola Breedlove receives messages from the dominant society that white is the standard of beauty, and thus feels that she is ugly. All around her the message is being reinforced that to be beautiful she must embody the white ideal, which was blonde hair and blue eyes. In her quest for this ideal, Pecola loses her mind in the process, only acquiring the eyes she so desperately wants at the expense of her sanity.
I am not a fictional character, but the similarities between me and Pecola Breedlove are numerous. Where Pecola Breedlove thought herself ugly for not living up to the white supremacist ideal of beauty, I thought myself ugly and abnormal, for not living up to the heterosexist ideal. Like Pecola, all around me the message was straight was the way, and anything other than that was not only wrong, but even worse, sinful. Like Pecola I knew all too well growing up what it felt like to be an outsider, one who failed to live up to the ideal put forth by the dominant culture.
Absorbing the Message
The pressure to conform to the dominant ideal in a given society is one that many of us struggle with on a day to day basis. For Pecola Breedlove, it was trying to fit herself into a white ideal that was impossible for a little black girl like herself, but in spite of that Pecola longed desperately to be normal, to fit into what society had deemed normal. ” It had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights–if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say beautiful, she herself would be different” (Morrison 46). Reading that passage still brings back painful memories for me. I can remember being a young boy desperately wanting to be normal or what I thought was normal. I had learned early on, much like Pecola did, that I wasn’t exhibiting what I should be. For Pecola it was eyes, but for me it was the gender identity and sexual orientation that is required of young black men in the United States. As Pecola longed for her eyes to be different, I longed for my mannerisms to be different. If only I could prevent myself from switching, if only I could hold my hands in a fist, if only I were different, more masculine like the other guys who were revered for their masculinity, I too would be changed! Where Pecola longed for blue eyes, I longed to rid myself of the “sugar in the tank,” that seemed to be the source of my discontent. Sometimes the message is so strong that the receiver longing to be normal turns to a higher power for consolation. Before becoming the atheist that I am now, I was everything a well brought up Christian boy should be, despite raging internally of course. Pecola, like me, turned to prayer, “Each night, without fail, she prayed for blue eyes. Fervently, for a year she prayed” (Morrison 46). Looking back, I have to laugh to stop from crying at the state that I was in as a young gay boy, hoping desperately to fit into a heterosexist ideal. I too said the prayers, sending up enough “Dear God’s” to equal a mega church worth of prayers, but to no avail. Each morning I woke up and I was the same ole me, the prayer hadn’t worked, and I was forced to live another day in torment, failing to live up to the masculine and heterosexist ideal being forced on me. There’s something very tragic about a child longing to be normal, but that is the way our society is organized, and that is what most parents unfortunately instill in their children, to strive to be normal, as opposed to appreciating the abnormality or difference.
“A group of boys was circling and holing at bay a victim, Pecola Breedlove. Heady with the smell of their own musk, thrilled by the easy power of a majority, they gaily harassed her” (Morrison 65).
To survive a childhood on the wrong side of patriarchal masculinity is something remarkable in and of itself. Obviously all children are teased in school, as school children will no doubt find any fault to dwell on, but being the “faggot,” is a unique experience, if not a traumatic one. The thing about numbers is that it makes people who would otherwise not act turn into invincible monsters. Where a single person might overlook certain things, the group is sure to tap into their collective disgust, and produce something terrible for their victim. Being the recipient of harassment was something that Pecola and I both shared. I can remember otherwise happy days turning from bad to worse all because some idiot or idiots decided to bring me down for being “different.” Of all the names a young boy can be called, faggot is perhaps the worst. While other words like “nerd,” “poor,” “dumb,” etc left a young boys manhood intact, faggot cut right through to the bone, and severed the recipient of his manhood, a fine cut from a metaphorical Samurai sword. As insults go, on playgrounds around the country, none is quite as effective on debilitating the confidence of young men as “faggot.” The fact that I was smarter than them, better dressed, wealthier, and more popular meant nothing, being labeled a faggot reduced me to the lowest of the low. My straight A’s and my perfect attendance meant nothing that that point. All that I had built my reputation on crumbled in that instant, I was the butt of the cruel joke. Fortunately trouble doesn’t last always, and the moments of being shown the worst side of patriarchal masculinity would end. Although for Carl Joseph Walker and Jaheem Herrera, there only refuge from anti-gay bullying, would lie in suicide.
Pecola Goes Insane, I Go Into the Closet
In one last desperate attempt to be normal, Pecola forfeits her sanity, and only then achieves the blue eyes she so covets. “A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl and the horror at the heart of hear yearning is exceeded only but the evil of fulfillment” (Morrison 204). The road Pecola traveled on ended in delusion and in many ways that was the path that I was one. I didn’t lose my mind like Pecola did, but I did begin to delude myself. There would be the time in middle school when I convinced myself that my sexual orientation was just a phase, something I could abstain from by no longer visiting the gay chartrooms on Yahoo and AIM. I’d stop talking to the guys I had met, I would finally give in to the girl in my class who wanted me to be her boyfriend, and I would emerge a heterosexual. That delusion I set up for myself lasted for about three months the first time around, and I would try it on and off throughout school until I came to terms with whom I was in the 10th grade. I could have ended up like Pecola though, as many gay men and women in this country so often do. They are those who project a heterosexual image to the world, despite being homosexual. They’re delusion becomes a coping mechanism for the heterosexist society they are forced to live in and unable to deal with. I was on that path but fortunately I got off and found my own truth, but for many gay men and women, they end up like Pecola, never finding their own truth. They get their blue eyes, there’s being heterosexuality, but it comes at the expense of their self worth and self respect, being true to themselves.
If the product of white supremacy is a black community torn apart by colorism and other forms of racial self loathing, the product of heterosexism, is generation after generation of black gays and lesbians who hate themselves, loath themselves, and detest themselves for being that which they are. Pecola Breedlove is causality of white supremacy, and for the thousands of gays and lesbians who suffer under homophobia, they become casualties of heterosexism. Our inability to recognize or respect the differences and variety of humanity are all guilty of promoting and reinforcing the very ideology that drives the Pecola’s and I pray to be “normal,” whatever that means. One of the resonating quotes from The Bluest Eye that sticks with me comes on the second to last page. “All of our waste we dumped on her and which she absorbed” (Morrison 205). We can strive to put an end to the racism, the homophobia, the sexism, the ableism, and the classism, that we dump on our fellow human beings, and which they absorb.
“We are wrong, of course, but it doesn’t matter. It’s too late”(Morrison 206).
Unlike, the narrators of the The Bluest Eye, we have the power to prevent it from being too late. We have the power to recognize the intersectionality of oppression, and correct our wrongness when it comes to rejecting and fighting against white supremacy and heterosexism. It doesn’t have to be too late for us.
The Master Narrative
I don’t think words can begin to express the love that I have for Toni Morrison. In terms of living authors, I would gladly put her at number one, and leave a considerable amount of space before the next slot. In terms of developing my worldview, her works have been instrumental in allowing me to broaden my worldview to a scope that I could have never imagined. From Song of Solomon, to Paradise, her work has given me the words to articulate the pain and pride that I experience in my life. As a black, gay, atheist, and feminist her work, especially her articulation of the “master narrative,” have been fundamental in me becoming the freethinker that I am. What exactly is the “master narrative?” Toni Morrison states that the master narrative is, “whatever ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority on everybody else” (feministteacher.com). Finding the strength to liberate myself from the master narrative was one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of my life and continues to be a rewarding process with each new step that I take on my journey of personal autonomy. Living a life of one’s own choosing is the first step to rejecting the master narrative and something I have found to be very cathartic on my journey. Society will prescribe what is standard and normal, but it is not an obligation for us to accept this. Just like society told Pecola that she should covet white features and attributes, society tells gays and lesbians like me that the only acceptable way to be is heterosexual, despite bisexuality and homosexuality both being legitimate sexual orientations as well. Severing my allegiance to the master narrative is ultimately the act that separates me from Pecola Breedlove, but is the very factor that links so many of our generation to Pecola Breedlove. We may not be trying to fit into white supremacy, but there are certainly many of us trying to follow the master narrative at all costs. We only hang out with those who the master narrative tells us to hang with, we only follow the Christian religion, prescribed by the master narrative, we only major in the area of study prescribed by the master narrative, we think it necessary to fit into the sexual orientation as prescribed by the master narrative, and we even think it worthwhile to subscribe to and reinforce the outdated gender roles and expectations assigned by the master narrative. Do we realize that reinforcing the master narrative is often the key ingredient in our own marginalization? Or are we too busy in our praise of the master narrative to take notice of the consequences of such an act. There are many Pecola’s in the world, which have fallen victim to the master narrative, and speaking as someone who was a victim of the master narrative but now a survivor, I can attest that it is possible to move beyond the master narrative, to begin to live a life of your own choosing, just as I now do. You may not be like everyone else, and you may not be normal, but at least you are free! As I always say, slavery ended and I serve no master, especially not the master narrative. Demanding that element of freedom is an important lesson that I took away from The Bluest Eye and other works by Toni Morrison.
“If you are free, you are not predictable and you are not controllable.” – June Jordan
Feminist Teacher. “Exposing the Master Narrative: Teaching Toni Morrison’s
The Bluest Eye.” FeministTeacher. FeministTeacher, 13 April. 2010. Web. 20 Sept. 2010.
Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. Plume Books, April 2000.
Mr. and Mrs. Patriarchy
Request the honor of your presence
At the marriage of their daughter
Thursday, the twenty third of September
Two thousand and ten
Half past 6 o’ clock in the evening
The inn at oppression
1000 closed minded drive
*Discrimination immediately following the ceremony*
Brides Bio: The bride specializes in the marginalization of gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals within society.
Grooms Bio: The groom specializes in promoting the belief that white people are superior to people of other racial backgrounds.
The Bluest Eye is a novel by Pulitzer prize winning novelist Toni Morrison. In her seminal work Morrison presents a character that is perhaps the most pathetic character in modern literature. Pecola is a character whose entire life is shaped by her self hatred. You see Pecola wants nothing more than to have the blue eyes that little white girls have. She idolizes Shirley Temple who in her eyes embodies all that a little girl should embody. She has milky white skin, she has deep blue eyes, and she has beautiful blonde hair. As a black child thrown away by society Pecola covets this ideal and desperately seeks it. She prays for blue eyes, she yearns for blue eyes, she would do anything in her power to have blue eyes. Pecola is someone who has fully surrendered herself to the Master Narrative.
The Master Narrative is whatever ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority (usually white men) on everybody else. In Pecola’s case it is being told by the dominant society that blonde hair and blue eyes were the height of beauty and purity.
For millions of gay men they are Pecola Breedlove. Instead of coveting blue eyes they covet heterosexuality. They want nothing more than to be heterosexual and to be able to pass for straight and to be considered normal. Gay men are also victims of the Master Narrative. They surrender themselves to an ideology that tells them that the only acceptable sexual orientation is heterosexuality and if your sexual orientation differs from that you are deviant, abnormal, and unnatural. Gay men much like Pecola submit themselves to the Master Narrative often times hoping, praying, and longing to be heterosexual so they can fit into the Master Narrative.
One of the saddest moments in The Bluest Eye comes towards the end when Pecola Breeddlove in her last desperate attempt to have the blue eyes she so deeply wants goes insane. In order for her to fit into the Master Narrative she escapes into madness and fantasy. She believes that she has at long last acquired the blue eyes she so deeply wants but everyone else realizes that she had lost her mind.
I see many Pecola Breedloves in the gay community. Men who have gone completely insane and lost their mind in an attempt to fit into the Master Narrative and exhibit or at least try to exhibit what they by way of the dominant society and those in control considers acceptable sexuality. Gay men who lie to themselves and others are living a fantasy. Gay men who prefer to be known as straight rather than gay and actively tell others that they are straight have lost their mind. Gay men who put interested in women on profile after profile are living a fantasy. Gay men who pray for their sexuality to be changed, and wish that there was a pill to cure them of their sexuality have gone insane.
When I think about Pecola Breedlove and how she represented the ultimate pathetic human being. I can’t help but notice how she represents thousands if not millions of gay men. So desperate to be validated by the Master Narrative that they choose insanity over loving themselves and recognizing, truly recognizing, the beauty that is inside them.
Pecola Breedlove is a fictional character but the thousands of self hating and closeted gay men are sadly not. They are real people, living real fantasies. Gay men who have gone insane chasing a heterosexual ideal.