Junior Burchall, a friend to the blog, perfectly critiques the asinine notion that homosexuality is un-African. He writes,
”These ‘conscious’ folks sound like European, bible-bashing, rapist-enslavers.
they have absolutely no handle on the history of the Motherland and how same sex sexual intimacy had a Continental presence that went back thousands of years. here are three examples, off the top:
among the Maale of southern Ethiopia, men who took on female roles and had sexual relationships with other men were called ASHTIME. they were not shunned by their community.
the Dagara (of Burkina Faso) viewed ‘homosexuals ‘ as gatekeepers charged with the supreme responsibility of shepherding people between the world of the flesh and the world of the Spirit.
among the Meru (of Kenya), same-sex, sexual relationships were seen as normal. indeed, some Meru who occupied positions of religious leadership (they were known as MUGAWE) often wore women’s clothes and hairstyles. they were also sometimes married to men. [NOTE: the aforementioned predated the arrival of europeans by many, many millennia].
these ‘conscious’ brothers are viewing Afrika through the pale, bleu eyes of the folks who brought them the king james version and made cruel sport of the slaughter of their Ancestors. and they think that – because they’ve read a few chapters of Diop and Dr Ben and have an uber-conscious-sounding online name – somehow, their homophobic bullshit is magically transformed into breakfast chock full of nutrient dense, culturally specific scholarship.
not so, not so…..
but, as with all systems predicated upon the aggressive suspension of reason and the uncritical devotion to the maintenance of oppressive hierarchy, the arguments of these pseudo-conscious, pseudo-afrocentric, Youtube minstrels are remarkably resistant to fact.
i tell ya, the always-busy intersection where various unjustly-acquired privileges converge makes for the strangest of bedfellows. it is there that you’ll find, for e.g., Umar Johnson and Mwalimu Baruti, cuddling up with the right reverend pat robertson and sharing sweet, homophobic nothings with the ever-insightful doyen of late twentieth century, lowbrow yankee bigotry, rush limbaugh)
call it what it is: pure, unadulterated, Eurocentric, patriarchal, anti-Feminine pfuckery.
…and yes, the ‘p’ is silent.”
Vernacular: The commonly spoken language or dialect of a particular people or place.
I begin this essay with the full understanding that definitions do not tell the whole story. I chose to define vernacular because I feel it offers an entry-level understanding of what I mean when I talk about the language of Black gay people. There is much more to the languages spoken by Black gays, but I do think the definition is a useful starting point.
I believe that I have always known of Black Gay Vernacular, to some extent, but my full awareness of, and entrance into, the language came when I created an account on a site titled Black Gay Chat. This site, populated mostly by Black gay men, provided me with an entrance into Black gay culture. It was in the forums of this site that I began to dialogue with Black gay people from all over the world. Reading the profiles of members, conversing with members in chat rooms, and reading message boards, were some of the ways that I began to access a language that I would come to learn and love. I would begin to learn all about “the tea,” and “shade,” on this site, but it would take another experience to truly familiarize with Black Gay Vernacular.
Growing up in a small, predominately White, town did not provide me with much access to Black gay life. The only openly gay person that I knew of in my immediate surrounding was a drag queen named “Punk Jerry.” I always found Punk Jerry to be thrillingly entertaining, if not a little misguided and the subject of constant taunting, but he carried himself with a confidence that anyone could appreciate. As far as small town life goes, Punk Jerry was a Polar Bear in a desert, but insisting on his right to exist there, none the less.
So, in the fall of 2006 I entered college as a freshmen student at Florida A&M University. It would be in this environment that I would come to fully integrate myself into Black Gay Vernacular. In college, I came into contact with a host of words and expressions that I had never heard of. The Black gays in this college town had a language all their own, one separate from the language used by the heterosexual environment of my youth. In the settings I found myself in college, “shade” “the tea,” “miss girl,” “yes ma’am,” “stud,” “femme,” “paid it,”, “kiki,” “read,” “Alice,” “sick’ning,” “trade,” and “late” were the words commonly and affectionately used. Learning this language was like learning any other language, it took work and familiarity with those who spoke it. I would become familiar with this language by my continued embracing of the Black gay culture of Tallahassee.
I’d like to share some examples of Black Gay Vernacular in action. If you’re not familiar with Black gay culture, you likely won’t understand a word of what I am saying, but for those who are familiar it will be like talking to an old friend.
“The real T is that mama couldn’t get her coins up so she boosted that store and trade called Alice.”
“That performance last night was sick’ning. He cleared it, and the late kids couldn’t take.”
“The kids are going to gag when I tip through the bar.”
“Shade comes from reading.” – Dorian Corey (Got to know my history)
“That gave me my life.”
“The kids cleared it, last night. They did not have it!”
These are but a few examples of Black Gay Vernacular, in action, and I could honestly go on all day with colorful examples of the language. I could explain what it all means, but I think an understanding of the language should come with access to the group that uses the language. As the saying goes, to know there you have to go there.
The conditions that make a Black gay vernacular necessary are the same as those that underlie the development of all languages. There has been, and remains, a need for Black gay people to communicate with each other, removed from the gaze of heterosexual gaze. The vernacular employed by Black gays does not need to be validated by outsiders because our participation in it, and continued invention of it, is all the validation that is needed.
Like all languages, there are certain issues that pop up in Black Gay Vernacular. There are many within the Black Gay Community who rightfully contest the usage of certain words and expressions, I being one such person. I have called into question the use of popular word “fish,” and many others take issue with the use of “girl.” I do, however, feel that these words can be used among familiars, such as a group of friends, but the issue comes into play when people use the word with those they are not familiar with.
In my opinion, the future of Black Gay Vernacular is bright. New words, phrases, and expressions are being created every day. Somewhere, a creative young gay is crafting term to express themselves and their friends, and this act represents the vitality of language.
Toni Morrison once wrote, “We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.” The language of the Black gay community remains one of the greatest measures of our lives, a reminder of our creativity, our insistence on expressing ourselves in a racist and homophobic society.
Many have contributed to the creation of a Black gay vernacular, but I would like to close by paying homage to one of the legendary queens of the Black gay community– Dorian Corey, of Paris Is Burning fame. I’ll never forget Dorian Corey sharing the etymology of the term “shade.” I celebrate you Dorian as I celebrate the Black Gay Vernacular that I so love.
For me, being a Black atheist means thinking critically about the role of religion in the lives of Black people. For far too long, few have written about the negative aspects of religion in Black life, preferring only to write about the positives aspects. Yes, religion was something that our ancestors called upon to help them navigate a White racist world that insisted on their inferiority. But, religion has also been the site of much brutality in the lives of Black people.
If we were to grade the role religion has played in Black life, particularly Judeo-Christianity, I would say that it has earned a “F.” There are simply too many instances of religion being both tool of liberation and tool of oppression in the lives of Blacks. For example, the bible was constantly utilized to justify the enslavement of Black people. I’m sorry, but an “F” average is simply not good enough for a religion that makes divine and/or supernatural claims. Surely, there should be a better track record for something that is ruled by an all-powerful god?
We have been told by the gatekeepers of Black History that religion, and religion alone, has gotten us over. We fail to take into account the secular ways that Black people have utilized in their dealings with a White racist society. For every Bishop Henry McNeal, there has been a Frederick Douglass. For every Sojourner Truth, there has been a Butterfly McQueen. While it is true that Blacks have utilized religion, it has not been the only thing that we have utilized, and our failure to recognize this stunts our collective growth, and undermines what we think we are capable of when addressing the problems that plague our communities.
I would suggest that there is a very real danger in Black people thinking we are nothing without religion. We, Black people, were a people before we were indoctrinated, and we will be someone afterwards. This is not to suggest that religion cannot be a useful tool for examining the issues facing Black people but, more often than not, it is usually a tool of conservatism holding Black people back.
Reverend Irene Monroe is a religious Black person that uses her role in organized religion to critically examine issues facing the Black community. She is not of the conservative ilk populated by Black exploiters like Eddie Long, Bernice King, and Harry Jackson. These pastors participate in the degradation of Black life by insisting that we are simple, lacking in complexity, and diversity. That we are a people only, and always, marked by conservatism. They fail to take into account the diversity of Black life, instead insisting on its monotony.
As enthralled as I am with Reverend Irene Monroe, as a Black atheist, I insist on making it known that religion, nor belief in god, are necessary in Black life. I am not of the belief that Blacks should embrace a form of cultural nihilism, because one can be atheist and very hopeful about the potential for positive transformation of Black life. I simply do not believe that Black people need religion. We absolutely need structures for coming together, and so often this has been the primary role of religion in Black life, but this can be achieved without religion and belief in god.
Black people need to find their legs, and I don’t think we are able to do that sufficiently by returning to the same old Judeo-Christian fables that we have so often turned to. It is time for us to get in touch with our own African cultural myths, and see what we can glean, for the better, from our diverse history. Do we need to hold these myths as truth in order to appreciate them, and learn from them? No, but I think we do need to at least be aware of them.
Many myths have plagued Black people in America. There have been racial myths that have insisted on our inferiority. There have been gender myths that have insisted on our inferiority. There has also been a religious myth, and in relation a god myth, that has insisted that we are nothing without it. I am calling for Black people to examine these myths, challenge these myths, and abandon these myths. Black thinkers like Sikivi Hutchinson and Norm Allen are leading the way, in our need to examine the many myths that plague Black life. The narratives of Blackness must be pushed forward in order to include something that isn’t always foregrounded on religion. We are, I truly believe, so much more than the religion that was, for the most part, forced upon us on our departure to this land.
We must examine the role of religion in Black life. This is not a necessary thing, but an urgent thing.