Queerying the Color of My Love
I suppose it was inevitable. I thought as much when I was writing the previous post as well as the open letter to Ebony magazine. I expected someone to “go there,” but to my surprise no one did. (At least not that I heard.) Then the National Black Justice Coalition was kind enough to republish my Father's Day Post and include it in their email newsletter along with the EDGE article on Father's day for which I was interviewed.
I wasn't surprised when I got an email (which I won't quote directly here, since I didn't ask the author's permission) basically saying “I was with you right up until I saw that your partner is white,” and going on to lament that there were so many black gay men like me who found love outside of our race instead with another black man.
The irony that just last week we celebrated the Loving v. Virginia decision, in light of the resonance with marriage equality, wasn't lost on me. But I guess some people only begrudgingly “celebrated” a case that decriminalized something they'd like to discourage anyway. And the reality that another interracial couple was at the heart of the Supreme Court decision that overturned state sodomy laws probably causes a few of the same people to grind their teeth a bit. After all, if you're gay and you've got a problem with interracial relationships, it's got to be at least a little bothersome that interracial couples originated the Supreme Court decisions that have made it possible to even discuss marriage equality.
Like I said, I don't usually “go there,” because it's a familiar, rocky road that doesn't lead anywhere. It's a mindset that's so “West Side Story” to me (think of Anita's song, “One of your own kind, stick to your own kind”), but the truth is we haven't left it behind.
It's come up a couple of times recently. The first time, I stayed out of it because I decided it didn't directly involve me when a series of posts cropped up on black blogs about black female/white male couples. I became aware of it when I saw this post at Jack and Jill Politics, point out various posts about the phenomenon, including African American Political Pundit:
AAPP says: It would appear the choice of white partners by African American women and men reflects a corrosive lack of self-respect and is rooted in slavery.
Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Why?
There are many things that keep our African American brothers and sisters from coming together as a people. I learned this long ago.
1. Color – Hue of skin – We have issues deep rooted in American slavery.
2. Region – South vs North, East vs. West, etc.
3. Class – Poor, Middle Class and affluent society, Baltimore, DC, The Philadelphia Negro issues are still relevant today.
4. Race – Some of what has been talked about recently in on the AfroSpear and other African American blog sites.
Essentially, the argument was concerning whether black women should marry white men and had heated up to the point that one blogger was asked not only to make a statement but to remove another blog from her blogroll.
Last week I received an e-mail from a well-meaning reader who asked me to dedicate 30 seconds of my next radio show to say the following: “ I Do Not Hate Black Men.” Apparently some of his “fellow bloggers” have indicated that I hate black men because I included a linkin my blog roll. In fact, a few minutes ago, the blogger herself asked me to remove her site from the blog roll because she didn’t want me to become bogged down dealing with those behind the shadow campaign to silence her. I explained to her that at this point she’s actually irrelevant . This isn’t about one person. The Montgomery Bus Boycott was bigger than Rosa Parks. Brown vs. Board of Education was bigger than little Linda Brown. It’s the principle of the matter. Black bloggers OUGHT to be able to blog without having to disavow another blogger. Are you kidding me?
Unfortunately, a whole lot of people aren't kidding on this, and I can't pretend it doesn't have anything to do with me.
A few weeks ago, there was a discussion on the LGBTPOC listserve about Marlon Riggs' documentary Tongues Untied being released in an enhanced DVD edition. Riggs' documentary, which raised controversy when it was aired on PBS in 1991, was a life-changing moment for me, as it was the closest I'd ever come to seeing my life represented and even affirmed in that medium. (I was especially tickled by the fact that Riggs apparently grew up in the same neighborhood as me, and preceded me to Hephzibah Elementary School.)
I held my breath because I figured I knew where the discussion would very soon go, and it wasn't long before someone spoke about having “a problem” with Riggs, because he had a white partner. It wasn't long and it wasn't a surprise. Riggs himself left that part of his life out of the documentary, because he knew that he'd end up having to make a very different (and much longer) film, and because he knew people would have problems with it, as this San Francisco Examiner article about his last film, Black Is… Black Ain't.
“Black Is . . . Black Ain't” presents an appeal for both pluralism and unity. It is also a chronicle of Marlon Riggs' death. From his hospital bed, Riggs tells the camera that he knows there will come a day when he will go home, “and I want my mother and my grandmother and Jack to be there to hold my hand and rub my head and feet and let me die.”
When he first watched the movie, Jack Vincent recalls thinking, “Who's Jack? I mean, you've met big mama, you've met mama. Which one's Jack?” Vincent, who was Riggs' domestic partner for 15 years, does not appear in “Black Is . . . Black Ain't.”
On National Coming Out Day, in 1991, Riggs and Vincent, who is white, registered for domestic partnership status in Berkeley. In an article in the East Bay Express, Riggs was quoted as saying, “For me it's a recognition of what we define as family. It's an acknowledgment.”
…It may well appear as a glaring omission that Riggs' status as someone in an inter-racial relationship is not included in the list. Indeed, who one sleeps with has often been used as a litmus test of blackness within the community. Vincent recalls that they got tremendous heat for being a bi-racial couple. The complication of being both in an interracial relationship and gay, said Vincent, “is squared. It's double the trouble.” Still, throughout all of Riggs' very personal projects, he never commented on his own interracial relationship on screen.
No one can know for sure why Vincent does not appear in any of his lover's films. Those close to Riggs have opined that Riggs himself may not have been ready to address this issue in his work. Perhaps he was simply politically savvy enough to comprehend that one too many can of worms might tarnish his message. Sadly, Riggs may have been well aware of what, in the current social climate, the traffic could bear. It's very likely that he knew he could not be all things to all people and still be an effective voice.
More than ten years later, it's apparently still something of a political litmus test, and one that I'm always aware of when I speak out in some high profile way as a black gay man and a father in a same-sex relationship. I don't put myself in anywhere near the same category as Riggs, or even approaching his level, but I can understand the burden of having to make that choice every time you speak up, knowing that you'll get some hostility for making it.
And the hostility is real. When people ask us if we've been on the receiving end of hostility as a same-sex couple, I have to admit that the hostility we've encountered has pretty much always been from African-Amerians and exclusively directed at me. (In fact, it's like my husband isn't even here.) I made a conscious decision to be “out” about being in an interracial relationship, and knew going in that it would probably mean “getting some heat.” Though it wasn't much, I did get some. And i don't know how many other people thought the same thing but just didn't bother to send an email.
I could say a lot of things about it, but I've already said them before.
At bottom, it’s impossible if not also unwise, to make hard-fast rules about how anyone or everyone should go about choosing a mate. After all, according to some people I should be married to a woman, but I know down to my bones that’s not a possibility for me, if I want to be happy. I have the audacity to think I deserve happiness, whatever the color of the wrapper it comes in.
The reactions we’ve gotten to our being an interracial couple—at least the overt reactions—seem to come exclusively from African Americans, and have always been negative and/or hostile. In every case, the full force of their derision and anger have been directed at me, not my husband. The first couple of times it shocked me, then it pissed me off, finaly it just makes me tired.
What I’ve found is that being a black gay man in a relationship with a white man seems to inspire a degree of resentment in some other black gay men. That resentment usually manifests itself as hostility. And, frankly, I’m just too tired to fight. I no longer offer excuses or explanations for whom I love. If people can’t accept it, then they don’t have to be a part of my life. It’s that simple.
If people are saddened that I have love in my life that happens to be with a man of a different race, they need not be saddened on my account. I'm quite happy. The day I came out as a gay man was also the day I stopped owing anyone an explanation or an apology for whom I love.
What saddens me is that, too often, people are more interested in who I'm with than what I can bring — and want to bring — to the table to help our community. What saddens me is that before I can offer my head, my heart, and my hands to help I either have to apologize for, explain, or argue about whom I love. What saddens me is that some people think I cannot be pro-black or pro-African unless my partner is the same race.
Apparently, that's what matters most to some people.