Queer Places Conference 2017, at The Ohio State University: ‘Nobody Was Dreaming About Me’: Black Women and Black Queer Men Breaking Down the Walls of Division Between Race, Gender, and Sexuality

Moonlight_(2016_film)

Title: “‘Nobody Was Dreaming About Me’: Black Women and Black Queer Men Breaking Down the Walls of Division Between Race, Gender, and Sexuality”

Presenter: Keelyn Bradley, PhD Student in the Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought Division at The European Graduate School

 Conference: Queer Places, Practices, and Lives III  The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH–May 12-13, 2017; Panel: Activating The Visual Arts

Introduction

In recent years, I have found myself having conversations with people who pride themselves on being knowledgeable about black popular culture and life but who have no familiarity with the names or works associated with the art-based activism that Essex Hemphill in his introduction for Brother To Brother: New Writings By Black Gay Men (the second installment of the groundbreaking anthology In The Life, edited by Joseph Beam) describes as the black gay and lesbian renaissance (Hemphill, xlviii). What is even more surprising at this time—when the concept of homonationalism seems to have paradigmatically altered the transdisciplinary landscape of postcolonial studies—is that there is an entire generation of twenty-something SGL/AGL (Same-Gender/All-Gender Loving) and LGBTQI identified people who draw a blank whenever I refer to Marlon Riggs’ groundbreaking documentary Tongues Untied (1989), which was inspired by a community of activists and artists engaged in the movement for treatment and awareness of HIV/AIDS. In the few times that I have read or heard mention of the Riggs’ film in a recent public forum, its significance is usually cited as filmic/video experimentation that pushes the boundaries of documentary form. Almost never mentioned is how the visual poetry of Tongues operates as a biopolitical statement as well as a meditation on intercommunal violence. Emblematic of much of the politically charged artistic work that comes out of the black queer liberation and HIV/AIDS activist movements, the film attempts to deal with the knotted nexus of black gay male experience, addressing the cultural dissonance of identity politics (race, sexuality, gender, class, ethnicity, religion, and HIV-status) and the inner turmoil of an embodiment defined by the dynamic multiplicity of difference

The rhizomatic art-activism of this black queer renaissance is an intervention to the intercommunal violence which operates within a neocolonialism that black cis- and trans women, men, and gender nonconforming suffer, albeit in different ways, as a heteropatriarchal order of corporeality and psychic desire imposes regimes of gender and sexuality. Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex (LGBTQI) peoples as well as those blacks who alternatively define themselves as Same-Gender & All-Gender Loving (SGL/AGL), in resistance to white homonationalism and neoliberalism, have been informed by the language, politics, and radical critical thought of black lesbian/queer feminists who developed an intersectional discourse which came out of a multi-dimensional analysis of black womanhood in coalitions with other black feminists and women of color lesbian/queer feminists.

Black cis- & trans women, men, and gender nonconforming peoples continue to suffer and die from disproportionately high rates of infection with HIV/AIDS. Bringing attention to the disappearance-in-plain-sight of countless disenfranchised black and queer bodies and the ‘open secret’ surrounding the specter of this performative erasure of life that is often represented as though it were an unreal possibility, I will briefly present how the aestheticization of silence in the destructive becoming of black queer desire erupts in an onto-epistemological reconstruction of black masculinity and radical black queer feminist thought. As part of a larger project, a general thought circulating throughout this paper is that black bodies are virtual geographies of biopower on which to map the residual tropes constituting the private/public sphere of citizenship; and that black queer bodies are violently marked as sites of psychosocial and biological experimentation in the reconstitution of a public/private ‘self’ disconnected and dissociated from a political body capable of ecstasy.

I. How To Slay A Dragon Under Moonlight

The policing of black love and desire in the film Moonlight is predicated on a wounded black masculinity that never heals.[1] A coming of age story set in the late 1980’s in an impoverished district of Miami, Florida, Liberty City, Moonlight centers primarily on the maturation of a poor black boy, Chiron, who is neglected by his drug addicted mother and continually confronted with physical, verbal, and psychological violence as he tries to make sense of his sexual identity amid a bleak world. The screen is controlled by a neoliberal humanist aesthetic that arrests the chaotic beauty of life and alienates black creativity. This alienation makes black queer survival a rare event. In other words, we cannot understand difference that cannot be conceived as Other; and to this extent—as a negation of the contradiction—difference is radicalized only as an appearance of resolved identity. Even as the dream image of the undulating ocean and receding shoreline under vast blue sky act as mytho-poetic refrain, the film cannot admit new multiplicities of becoming.[2] In Moonlight, black queer flesh is a pornographic object disconnected from love (affirmation/care)[3] in the most profound sense. Disconnected from experiences or traditions of freedom and joy necessary for building life affirming networks, Chiron dwells in those places Essex Hemphill refers to as “the occupied territories”—the divided realm of a public/private self disconnected and dissociated from a body “familiar with ecstasy.” Hemphill’s poetic statement that: “You are not to touch/anyone of your own sex/or outside of your race/then talk about it,/photograph it,/write it down in explicit details…/the erogenous zones are not demilitarized” implies a very real problem for political agency when physical and emotional borders of desire are discursively policed (Hemphill, 80-1).

AIDS-phobia and homo-thug respectability prevent the film from dealing with what continues to be (and certainly was during the period in which the film takes place) one of the greatest threats to black mortality, the disproportionately high rates of HIV infections and death among men and women of African descent. The “abyss is a tautology,” Eduord Glissant cautions. “[T]he entire ocean, the entire sea gently collapsing in the end into the pleasures of sand, make one vast beginning, but a beginning whose time is marked by these balls and chains gone green” (Glissant, 6). The film estranges the black queer who lives among those clouds, formed and unformed, always forming in the opacity of multiplicity that animates the imaginary (Glissant, 192).

A Pan-Africanism surfaces. At one point in the film, after having taught “Little” Chiron how to swim, Juan, a surrogate father figure, counsels, “Let me tell you somethin’: it’s black people everywhere, you remember that, okay? Ain’t no place in the world ain’t got no black people, we’s the first ones on this planet. I been here a long time. I’m from Cuba. Lotta black folks in Cuba, but you wouldn’t know it from being here though.” (Jenkins, Moonlight). Juan’s statement hints at a past beyond recent memory and future possibility beyond Chiron’s present horizon, but that nonetheless informs his being black in a world that is always already black. Additionally, his gesture to the estrangement of knowledge from the appearance of truth (“you wouldn’t know that from being here”), an epistemological critique of metaphysics as a barrier to the knowledge of the Other, invokes history as an ‘open secret’: a bifurcated racial politics among Miami’s conservative white Cuban American population and black Haitian refugees; and, disparities in a racialized U.S. immigration policy.[4]

When we consider that Haiti and Cuba have a double helix like relationship intertwined with the transatlantic slave trade and European exploitation of black labor in the Americas, it can be argued easily that divisiveness has been instilled and nurtured by official US policies aimed at cutting-off or stymying collaborations between members of the two groups, as an extension of its neo-colonialist power in the American hemisphere. The racism and xenophobia that configures the Haitian as the embodiment of disease and rampant contagion is not limited to fear of HIV/AIDS.[5] As the most successful mass slave revolt of the modern world, the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804) and subsequent founding of a free and independent state, Haiti is a symbol of liberation, anti-colonialism, and the overthrow of white supremacy.[6]

Sitting on the beach next to Chiron as they both look out toward the ocean, drawing parallels between their boyhoods, Juan recollects growing up as a young boy in Cuba. “This one time… I ran by this old, old lady, was just a runnin’ and a hollerin’ and cuttin’ a fool, boy. And this old lady, she stop me and she say to me, ‘Look at you…running around catching up all this light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You blue. That’s what I gone call you: Blue.’” Chiron asks, “So your name blue?”  After a moment of laughter, Juan draws in a long pause and then discloses, “At some point you gotta decide for yourself who you gon’ be. Can’t let nobody make that decision for you” (Jenkins, Moonlight). Juan’s divulging of this incident of potential misrecognition and distortion is an explanation of how reality is conditioned by the psychological boundary of thought as an expression of our concepts.[7]

Embedded in Juan’s story is an ontoepistemological critique that carries with it an ecopoetic potential of a coming to terms with internalized homophobia and racial self-hate that has fibril endurance with the survival resources and creativity of discontinuous tradition that Glissant refers to as “Relation’s imaginary,” difference that is accepted without being enfolded into legitimate filiation (Glissant, 5, 62).[8] This is a Pan Africanist tradition handed down through figures like Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois, Cyril Briggs, C.L.R James, Kwame Nkrumah, Paul Robeson, Léopold Senghor, Aimé Césaire, Bayard Rustin, Amílcar Cabral, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Kwame Ture, Amiri Baraka, and Kamau Brathwaite; and, its feminist queer origins via Anna Julia Cooper, Amy Jacques Garvey, Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Claudia Jones, Sun Ra, Audre Lorde, Sonia Sanchez, June Jordan, Bessie Head, Ifi Amadiume, Assata Shakur, Kuwasi Balagoon, Melvin Dixon, Dionne Brand, and Assotto Saint. As the outside within, a secret archive of tradition (the father)–the paternal order of being (Darwinism and Christianity)–the shadow archive, the anarchive: black queer/feminist heterogeneity, is assimilated, violently hidden as myth, if not all together annihilated, or singled out into ‘epic’ bipolarity (Glissant 49-50; Lippit 10-11).[9]

Moonlight is seeing the destruction of disappearance, invisibility threatened by void, light already a refraction of multiple surfaces, a broken existence of movement and relation. Blackness is the shadow archive of western humanism—a spatiotemporal existence of conflict and chaos regulated through a system of laws and science, an open-secret of impossible phenomena, the pain and shame of enlightenment. To see the black boy look blue is to witness a disappearance-in-plain-sight, a black body, black skin, catching light, the always destructive becoming (black boy becoming blue) that is already destructive (black boy disintegrating in light).

Black boys in moonlight interrupt the aesthetic sensibility of the western world, the ideals of enlightenment; an eruption of a hypothetical black subjectivity into ghostly appearance, dead subject matter. It is a crime scene, this casualty of black male ‘performativity,’ swept up in “an interrogation of the bodies of the dead but also an endless stigmatizing trauma of the revisionary,” and circulatory western thought concerning ‘self/other’ existences in the world that affect a certain kind of pleasure (Baker 32). This intoxicating aesthetic of death and dying—a black body in moonlight—often goes unregistered as an unintelligible question of being disembodied from practices of feeling, the absence of language and thought for the nonsensible materializing into unfreedom that Houston Baker describes as “zones of black disappearance” (Baker). It is not enough to call this pain trauma, which would be non-humanist humanism or anti-humanism: some form of Marxism, psychoanalysis, or poststructuralism.[10] The black boy who is blue is alienated in such a way that difference is nonsensible outside abyss, which necessitates a destructive becoming.

The Black boy is Blue (boy) is another tautology, like Marx’s tautology: ‘The Negro is a Negro,’ to discuss the ‘transitoriness’ of labor-time as property (Marx-Engels, 207);[11] or like Nietzsche’s re-description and elaboration of such a tautology when he discusses the case of Negro suffering—the pain of “Negroes (taken as representatives of prehistoric man–)” was a “pain that did not hurt”—as a means of addressing the sublimation of pain as a form of sublation in modern civilization (Nietzsche, 68). Tautologies bring attention to the teleological structure of historical conceptualizations of race and the way in which the racialized figure functions as a conceptual means for the historical reproduction of ‘new’ conceptualizations of racism, in relation to humanist and non-humanist modes of aesthetic. The tautological, Derrida points out, is a violent demonstration of deferring, an aesthetic technique of power, suppression or repression in politics or law (Derrida, 78-9). A tautology is a triumph or failure of understanding to grasp difference, a dialectical conquest that requires legitimate filiation, a closed circle of violence.

To move beyond the confines of this tautological circle (a relation of nonbeing to being), this abyss–a never ending hell, a fixed ontology that Fanon declares as a condition of having “no ontological resistance” (Fanon, 110)–and into Relation with a multiplicity of potential worlds, we have to follow a different route of thought, what Glissant referred to as a detour, diversion, or distraction (Glissant 68, 216), to animate the imaginary, the contaminant of sameness or “difference-with preference sameness” (as Toni Cade Bambara refers to it, 147). This kind of orientation involves developing what Gloria Anzaldua referred to as “la facultad…an acute awareness mediated by the part of the psyche that does not speak…the faces of feelings, that is behind which feelings reside/hide” (Anzaldua, 60); or, what Audre Lorde referred to as the erotic, an acuteness of becoming that “is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings…the psychic and emotional components” of flesh[12] (Lorde, 54-5).

When we begin to think and speak in a language no longer predicated on standards that require that we devalue our multiple experiences, stories, and cultures to fit into the social order establishment, we can begin the transformational work of becoming ourselves. Black queer survival requires that we learn, as Lorde, says, “to stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of [acceptability]…to make common cause with those Others identified as outside the structures in order to seek a world in which we can all flourish” (Lorde, 112). In order “to survive the mouth of the dragon we call America,” Lorde urges, “we have to learn the first vital lesson—that we were never meant to survive” (Lorde, The Cancer Journals, 42). This means recognition of the distortion at play in modes of affective thinking which articulate difference in terms–via word, image, sound, touch, and movement—that limit and restrict the human capacity for love and social justice to those life standards determined predominantly by an aesthetics of power and economy. It is only through free and autonomous connections that affirm self-complexity and the self-complexity of Others, a kind of queer marronage of radical fugitivity (flight), that we can begin to confront the terrors we face on a daily basis and that prevent us from achieving the abolition of injustice and the peace and love we so desperately hunger.

II. Black Men Loving Black Men Is A Revolutionary Act: HIV/AIDS And Art-Based Activism[13]

In the late 1980’s landscape of mostly white hetero- and homonormative influenced queer imagery, works by black queer film and video artists were screened-out, rendered virtually invisible. During this period of black queer invisibility, the film and video work of Marlon Riggs (along with Isaac Julien), ironically, were some of the most widely known of a strand of independent film/video defined as New Queer Cinema. In fact, Tongues along with documentaries like Looking for Langston (1989) and Paris Is Burning (1990), ushered in the New Queer Cinema movement.

While not a filmmaker, Audre Lorde’s theory of silence, in “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” and her theory of eros, in “Uses of the Erotic: Erotic as Power,” are particularly important to black queer feminist thought, media, and activism. The conceptualization of silence as a form of communicative power and action and its metaphorization as disease (in the case of Lorde, cancer) provided black gay men practicing critical feminist thought with an epistemological resource to critique the internalization of white phallocentrism, homophobia, and heterosexism within black and African diasporic discourses premised on a normative ideology of political and cultural resistance. Particularly important in this regard was her close relationship with Joseph Beam, editor and contributor to In The Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986), the first widely published anthology of writing by black gay men.

Taking as their intellectual and political model the radical Black feminist/lesbian and Third World/Women of Color feminist movements—coming into being as the effectiveness of civil rights and black power defined by the late sixties and early seventies seemed blunted with an inversion of white supremacist patriarchal aesthetic commercialization of the central themes of racial equality and black liberation—many of the men featured in Tongues, most especially the poet/essayist, Essex Hemphill, and filmmaker/activist, Marlon Riggs, expounded on a structural analysis of inequality that extracted concepts from black Marxist and black nationalist theory (specifically, the socialist critique of capitalism, labor, commodification, and dialectical power) in an attempt to further radical black/queer/feminist liberation discourse.

With an ensemble of black gay men’s performative expression (through poetry, music, spoken word/rap, and dance) intertwined with journalistic images of black gay life, the collective experience of alienation (personal and political) presented in the film disrupts the narrative conventions of documentary subjectivity. The use of first person mytho-poetic, self-reflexive communal voice throughout the cinematic movement of Tongues addresses issues of racism, sexism, compulsory heterosexuality, gender non-conformity, socio-economic class, sexual normativity, and AIDS-phobia at a time when black communities struggling with the pandemic of HIV/AIDS are being confronted with structural inequality as a real matter of life and death.

Its direct approach in confronting the creative and sociocultural limitations of representation accounts for an Artaudian discomfort, a kind of visual and emotional chaos built into the aesthetic structure of the film. Themes run through the film’s political aesthetic like constellations (a term that for Benjamin, who borrows it from Brecht’s treatise on epic theater and expounds on it, means something slightly different from Adorno’s delineation that questions the degree to which the object as thought-model can completely express autonomy without expressing its alienation—anti-value or potential non-value as commodity). Very much in the Benjaminian sense of a constellation as a transient moment of commodity reproduction that emerges out of fragmentation of particulars, Tongues is an aesthetic representation of individual subjectivity that comes out of a kind of historical ontology of difference. Riggs’ use of what Benjamin refers to as a “thought-image” (Dinkbild), fragments or constellations of dialectical thought that emerge from poetic tension between the conceptualization and figuration of thought and history, allow for an imagining of poetic language in the unfolding of cinematic time. In this way, the poetic vision of the video film penetrates the veil of psychic disorientation and political alienation we can see elaborated in Frantz Fanon’s Dying Colonialism and articulates a haunting silence surrounding the matter of black mortality.

The result of a collective of black gay men and women artists and activists, like Essex Hemphil (poet/essayist/activist)—who were at the time confronting race and class discrimination within a majority white gay liberation movement, especially as it pertained to disparities in the allocation of public health resources and the lack of attention given to the disproportionate rate at which the AIDS crisis was devastating black communities—the film is a progenitor of new and social media in that it sustains a dialogue that exceeds the visual and narrative field of the frame to deal with what bell hooks refers to as “racialized shame,” particularly as it affects black gay peoples. Further developing the groundwork of queer intersectionality mapped by artists and thinkers like Bruce Nugent, James Baldwin, and Audre Lorde, Riggs’ filmmaking utilizes logics and technologies related to racial and sexual shame in order to inspire a public discourse about how an embodied politics of resistance and radical acceptance of self-difference can generate a community of change agents; thereby making Tongues one of the earliest examples of social networking and virality, and the mother code of social media activism like the Twitter campaign #BlackLivesMatter.

During the height of death tolls resulting from AIDS related illness (in the late 1980’s through the 1990’s), black bodies (already socially and morally debased and banished) become corporeal sites on which to explore what Foucault, in Technologies of the Self, refers to as operations of self-mastery or self-transformation that challenge the limits of individual facticity and autonomy. As HIV/AIDS activism develops out of networks of the gay liberation movement, new technologies of self-understanding and self-surveillance—in terms of safe sex: t-cell count, viral load, and transmission of infection through bodily fluids—require that private sex acts be considered as a mode of public health and that bodies be identified as positive or negative, human or less human, perhaps anti-human (a potential threat to life, a carrier of death). The individual transmission of HIV, its virality, cannot be dissociated from the material conditions of black existence and the perversity of white supremacist capitalist patriarchy propagated by the state in such a way that renders black bodies perpetually on the edge of life and death to such an extent that the black body is no longer merely invisible but continuously vanishing. If you can imagine—a life that is constantly appearing-and-disappearing, like a distorted signal, wave, pulse of light/life, heaving breath.

Tongues Untied continues to be relevant political grassroots art. For many African diasporic peoples, whose dehumanization through colonialist and imperialist histories of enslavement and legal segregation entails an imposed order of sexual violence against their bodies, regulation of desire is a form of political terrorism. At this present moment of American empire, there are so many instances where the sociopolitical stratification of racism involves the assemblage and disassembling of black bodies into occupied territories. The film discloses the particular images of Rigg’s autobiographical narrative much in the way Fanon’s veiled Algerian woman (who already appears as a reflection of internal and external war), is engaged in a praxis of “combat breathing” to resist the incomprehensible violence that structures of colonialism commit against flesh (the psychohistorical body).[14] Riggs’ his-story of ‘coming-out’/‘in the life’ [a term black SGLBTQI peoples use to refer to the orientation of being interconnected by a shared experience of racial and sexual Otherness—living a marginalized subjectivity] after he himself tests HIV-positive (considered a death sentence at the time) makes visible the history of other black gay men whose lives are defined by a socially formulaic silence that equals (=) death and invisibility. Riggs’ HIV-infected black body presents an occasion to theorize ‘black bodily experience’ because his body forces us to bear witness to this devastating disease. At risk is society’s evaluation of life in its fragility, what Judith Butler refers to as the “grievability of the precariousness of life itself.”[15] The fact that this life cannot be recognized, because it is black and disenfranchised, requires that black queers who alternatively define themselves as same-gender loving (SGL), in resistance to white homonormativity and assimilationist politics, adapt thought-practices of subaltern agency that displace authoritarian regimes of flesh and embodiment.

III. Computer Blue: Open-Ended Reflections

The ‘test’ like war is naturalized in what Avital Ronell, in the Test Drive, identifies as a “ghostless futurity” (Ronell, 208-10).  All experimentation to preserve health, vitality, all attempts to overcome the conformity of established norms, are suspended in reaction to the threat of an unknown attack against the body, the modern political metaphor of homeland or fatherland.  Testing, as Ronell explains, is a perpetuation of violence when the aim of technology is to project a passable result that simulates “an already regulated norm” rather than a reference point of “interruption and reinterpretation,” an experimentation to question the recurring code of scientific paradoxes.  The test could be a coded message in the form of a health service bulletin, a grainy black and white poster placed cleverly above a paper towel dispenser in a men’s public restroom on the east side of Cleveland. I recognize the violent code embedded in the misappropriation of ‘cool aesthetic,’ a prefiguration of black urban lexicon. Encouraging HIV testing, the health notice features a photograph of two attractive young men of color: (Black or Afro-Latinx–each noticeably of a slightly different Brown/Black complexion and hair texture type), whose faces, in frontal view, partially cropped, together resemble a figural depiction of a silhouetted profile, a gestalt vase. Text fills the negative space between the two male figures. It reads: “Brother, however you/ get down, whatever/ you claim to be, / I won’t discriminate, /you’re all the same to me. /Sincerely, H.I.V..”  Then, at the bottom of the ad, the text reads: “Free H.I.V. Testing by appointment/CSU Health and Wellness Center.”

The face, Deleuze and Guattari insist, is an encrypted code, part of a system of holes and walls (0 & 1)’s that through a process of corporeal overcoding [a regime of absences and values] produce a screen—assumption of normative social ontology (an abstract, color-blind individual)—that operates as malware, a partial “order of reasons” that render the eyes useless to see beyond the “image of the known” (Deleuze and Guattari, 170-1).  The two faces of the young men, “degrees of deviance of the White-Man face,” resemble none of the meaning we might extract from the images elicited by the text, the presumptive egalitarianism of equality. Instead, criminalization is encoded in aesthetic sameness: “…you’re all the same to me;” a police lineup of potential suspected infection.

The use of black cool in the public health ad acts as a kind of photorealism that depicts a type of authentic black masculinity. In this way, it is a facial recognition test: as proxy for racial profiling, a simulacrum of ‘black male’ identity reflected in the PSA (Public Service Announcement) and projected by a message of danger in the form of an artificial remedy, a pharmakon, purporting to provide an effective aid to curtailing the transmission of HIV. This is the point at which bodily identity (voice, skin, hair, soma, sex/organs…) breaks down. It is interesting, then, how similarly to what we see in something like The Marquise of O, a typographical ‘voice’ is the means of testing identity as True or False in the PSA. At one point, Kleist explains that it is because of the trickiness of light that aural over ocular is selected as the reliable instrument of testing. This is particularly interesting in today’s era of Facebook and Auto-tune. Kleist is getting at something that is very central to the Homeric construction of the aural body elucidated in Adriana Cavarero’s book, For More Than One Voice.

First, bringing attention to the stark contrast between the “privileged deafness” in Kafka’s parable, which features an ignorant comedienne-like Odysseus accidentally thwarting the seductive powers of the Sirens, juxtaposed against Adorno and Horkeimer’s invocation of Odysseus as the prime example of the self-conscious character of the “rational and logocentric subject” of enlightenment, Cavarero goes onto discuss the “mortal risk” faced by such a subject engaged in the technologies of self-mastery.  Even while attempting to disambiguate the dominant narrative of enlightenment as the renunciation of myth for reason and provide a clearer depiction of the symbiotic relation of myth embedded in enlightenment, Cavarero argues, Adorno and Horkheimer affect a split between speech and phone. The Sirens are destined to “represent a primitive ‘physical force’” and ultimately alienated from the “art of narration…limited to raising their melodius voices in nonsemantic seduction” (Cavarero, 110; 111-2).

Similar to the authorial privilege embedded in Odysseus’s (Homer’s) narration of the Sirens, always already corrupted by the heuristic value of rhetoric, the black queer/same-gender loving (SGL) man is displaced continuously as the boundary between public and private.  As a dimension of performative interpretation, the black queer/SGL man is neither being nor non-being, “neither living nor dead, present nor absent” but a spectralization of the black body which is already what Derrida identifies as “simulacrum of simulacra without end” (Derrida, Spectres of Marx, 50-1; 126-7)

Works Cited

Anzaldua, Gloria, Borderlands/La Frontera (San Francisco: Aunt Lute, 1987).

Baker, Houston, Turning South Again: Re-Thinking Modernism/Re-Reading Booker T. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).

Casey, Matthew, “From Haiti & Cuba and Back: Haitians’’ Experience of Migration, Labor & Return (1900-1940), PhD Dissertation, History (University of Pittsburgh, 2012).

Cavarero, Adriana, For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2005).

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia.

Derrida, Jacques, Specters of Marx trans Peggy Kamuf (New York: Routledge, 1994).

The Beast & the Sovereign, Vol. 1 trans. Geoffrey Bennington (Chicago: The University       of Chicago Press, 2001).

Engels, Friedrich & Marx, Karl, “Wage Labour & Capital,” The Marx-Engels Reader (ed Robert C. Tucker (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978).

Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks trans. Charles Lam Markmann (New York: Grove Press, 1967).

Dying Colonialism trans. Haakon Chevalier (New York: Grove Press, 1965).

Ferrer, Ada, Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba & Haiti in the Age of Revolution (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Glissant, Edouard, Poetics of Relation trans. Betsy Wing (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997).

Lippit, Akira Mizuta, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005).

Lorde, Audre, The Cancer Journals: Special Edition (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1997).

Sister Outsider: Essays & Speeches (Berkeley: Crossing Press, 1984).

Nietzsche, Friedrich, On the Genealogy of Morals & Ecce Homo trans. Walter Kaufman (New York: Anchor Books, 1990).

Moonlight, Dir. Barry Jenkins with Trevante Rhodes, Janelle Monae, Naomie Harris and Mahershala Ali. Lionsgate, 2016.

Ranciere, Jacques, The Politics of Aesthetics, trans. Gabriel Rockhill (London: Bloomsbury, 2004).

Ronell, Avital, The Test Drive, (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2005).

World Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Disparities in U.S. Immigration Policy toward Haiti and Cuba: A Legacy to be Continued?” June 24, 2010 (http://www.coha.org/disparities-in-u-s-immigration-policy-toward-haiti-and-cuba-a-legacy-to-be-continued/).

[1] My articulation of policing is intended as an inflection of Jacques Ranciere’s use of the idea of police order as part of his aesthetic regime of political philosophy. The idea of the police is key to Ranciere’s conceptualization of politics as aesthetics, the ‘distribution of the sensible,’ how we come to perceive the world through our bodies. He uses the police, any hierarchical ordering, to make the distinction between the political normative usually ascribed as politics—consensus within the juridical—and the politics of disruption and interruption—dissensus—which involves the ‘inadmissible’ act (Ranciere, 19-21; Chambers, 41-3).

[2] Here, I am referring to the determinism encoded in the Hegelian ‘event,’ begebenheit. The sense in which identity is determined at the exclusion of the difference unthought (Cole, 68).

[3] A love that is disengaged from its source of joy and care—being-there-in-becoming—becomes a euphemism for something else: sex, happiness, success, protection, domination. These new codes construct artificial boundaries (physical and psychological) for what is love. An elaborate illusion of separation and confusion—the mix of crime story and romance novel, horror and fantasy, we see on television and in the movies—reinforces the institutional restrictions and regulations of controlling norms. Love, then, becomes a code for self-censorship: an emotionally induced conscription to suppress any trace of contradictory desire.

[4] This double standard in U.S. immigration, epitomized by the contrast between the “wet foot/dry foot” practice of granting Cubans who flee the Castro dictatorship and make it to shore automatic permission for residency, on the one hand, while immediately returning Haitian refugees seeking asylum from several military coups and a brutal regime and ignoring a U.S.-Haiti treaty and international law that requires that asylum seekers be granted adequate protections, on the other. After the 2010 earthquake, rather than open its shores to assist the international community in temporarily relocating thousands of Haitians who had been affected by the disaster, the U.S. tightens its immigration restrictions pointing to Homeland Security laws and provisions instituted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks (World Council on Hemispheric Affairs, June 24, 2010).

[5] For more on this point see Paul Farmer, AIDS and Accusation: Haiti and the Geography of Blame (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006).

[6] Throughout history, political and economic accumulation around this symbiotic relationship between Cuba and Haiti becomes the basis of international agreements between European countries and the U.S. that have as much to do with domestic policies around issues concerning the institutionalization of black chattel-slavery as well as colonial expansion (Winthrop Jordan, White Over Black (NC Chapel Hill: Univ. North Carolina Press, 1968), 377-8). During the revolution, Haitian rebels, aided by the Spanish monarchy, often flee to Cuba to regroup and return with Cuban soldiers who assist the guerrilla army in their fight for independence. However, while slavery is unraveling in French occupied Haiti it is expanding in the Spanish colony of Cuba. Following the Haitian revolution many white plantation owners flee to Cuba kidnapping black Haitians whose slave labor help to reestablish fortunes based on a commercial agriculture of coffee and sugar, and intensify strategies of enslavement to prevent slave revolts (Ferrer, 83-5). Suffering from years of indemnity to France following revolution, whereby Haiti has had to compensate French settlers and plantation owners for their losses (which amounts to paying reparations for defeating their masters), Haiti has continually been dogged by debt and underdevelopment (which the United States has had a role in perpetuating) that has necessitated a persistent migratory labor to Cuba (Casey, 40-1).

[7] Here, my use of the term is informed by Deleuze and Guattari’s assertion that every concept has a multiplicity of history and a becoming. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, What is Philosophy? (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), 18.

[8] As Clevis Headley clarifies: “Glissant maintains that ‘Sameness is sublimated differences; Diversity is accepted difference’,” in “Glissant’ s Existential Ontology of Difference” from Theorizing Glissant eds. Jane Anna Gordon and Neil Roberts (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 79.

[9] Akira Mizuta Lippit, Atomic Light (Shadow Optics), commenting on a patriarchal tradition (forged by thinkers such as Derrida, Foucault, and Agamben) that exposes archival repression in western thought and those artifacts of death that are ritually buried and unspoken, writes: “The other archive, shadow and anarchive, preserves the history that has never been a history, a history before history, destroyed, as it were, before becoming history as such,” 12.

[10] Although I think his general line of argument is reactionary and as such overly determined by those master narratives that he seeks to undo,  I do accept his aim to shift and reframe the tradition of political philosophy that looks at theories of critical alterity and take seriously the deliberate caution that Alexander G. Weheliye, Habeus Viscus: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics and Black Feminist Theories of the Human (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014), 9-11, expresses: “…many invocations of posthumanism, whether in antihumanist post-structuralist theorizing or in current considerations of technology and animality, reinscribe the humanist subject (Man) as the personification of the human by insisting that this is the category to be overcome, rarely considering cultural and political formations outside the world of Man that might offer alternative versions of humanity. Moreover, posthumanism and animal studies isomorphically yoke humanity to the limited possessive individualism of Man, because these discourses also presume that we have now entered a stage in human development where all subjects have been granted equal access to western humanity and that this is, indeed, what we all want to overcome.”

[11] Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital,” where he makes the tautological statement, is widely understood to be the lecture in which he first animates his ‘alientated-labor’ thesis of capital by showing that the “capital-labor relationship” was self-destructive  and transitory; and, “Capital in embryo.” He does this, as Susan Buck-Morss and Angela Davis hint at, by engaging the figure of the Negro as the abstract quanitification of liberty and the individuation of labor-time as property (Marx-Engels Reader, 203; also see Angela Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete? (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2003), 44. Susan Buck-Morss is “reminded of Marx’s comment: ‘A Negro is a Negro’ as an explanation of Adorno’s use of Benjamin’s “microscopic analysis” for making possible philosophical statements about objective truth that were historically specific: philosophy as both “sedimented history” and the historical “transitoriness of particulars” that contain a general picture of the world, n100, 76. Buck-Morss, The Origin of Negative Dialectics: Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and the Frankfurt Institute (New York: The Free Press,  1977)

[12] Here is another inflection of flesh from Hortense Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book,” Diacritics, Vol. 17, No. 2, Culture and Countermemory: The “American” Connection (Summer, 1987), pp. 65-81. “The captive body, then, brings into focus a gathering of social realities as well as a metaphor for value so thoroughly interwoven in their literal and figurative emphases that distinctions between them are virtually useless. Even though the captive flesh/body has been ‘liberated,’ and no one need pretend that even the quotation marks do not matter, dominant symbolic activity, the ruling episteme that releases the dynamics of naming and valuation, remains grounded in the originating metaphors of captivity and mutilation so that it is as if neither time nor history, nor historiography and its topics, shows movement, as the human subject is ‘murdered’ over and over again by the passions of a bloodless and anonymous archaism, showing itself in endless disguise. Faulkner’s young Chick Mallison in The Mansion calls ‘it’ by other names-‘the ancient subterranean atavistic fear…’ (227).”

[13] While I agree with bell hooks’ assertion, in Salvation: Black People and Love (New York: William Morrow, 2001), 204, that black men loving black men is not necessarily a revolutionary act (not if that love is steeped in an oppressive capitalist patriarchy); and that there is a reservoir of silent childhood pain and self-hate (the stuff of Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Native Son) internalized by generations of black men which might need to be dealt with psychoanalytically (here, I am thinking of a Fanonian anti-psychoanalysis), I think for that very reason it is important to consider how black homosexual love is imagined on the cinematic screen. If we consider the formation of love in what Jacques Derrida has claimed is narcissistic reappropriation, a trace of self-appropriation in “the act” of love (a reflection of self-image in the Other), then we might understand how black gay men loving one another is already haunted by the spectres of racism and heterosexism.

The normative idealization of love functions as an intrinsic value of political community—a regulative idea of the legal tradition of western civilization. This is very apparent with the naturalization of difference and inequality in Aristotle’s rational treatment of slavery and female servitude, in Nicomachean Ethics. For Aristotle, the love bonds of friendship that exemplify the highest form of virtue and the common good—justice—are not possible for slaves and women who lack the intellectual capacity of self-mastery (ability to moderate desire, feelings of pleasure and pain) and thus incapable of mastering the practical wisdom necessary for rational action, determining what is in the best interest of the common good—the moral standard of virtue required for participation in the ideal polis. Black love, the act of black people loving themselves and others, confronts the regulatory disciplinary regimes and frameworks of discourse that the writer and cultural theorist, Toni Cade Bambara refers to as the institutionalization of “difference-with-preference sameness,” which indoctrinates the media and in turn makes it impossible to see, for instance, the way that militarism and surveillance depend on representations of discursive and material dichotomy

[14]Many queers of color, especially black queers who alternatively define themselves as same-gender loving (SGL) in resistance to white homonormativity and assimilationist politics, adapt thought-practices of subaltern agency that displace authoritarian regimes of flesh and embodiment. This anti-authoritarian displacement of hierarchical dichotomization is not unlike the epistemological uncertainty and ontological instability that emerges from Fanon’s concept of anti-colonial struggle against psychic disorientation and political alienation elaborated in Dying Colonialism. Fanon’s reterritorialization of the biopolitical occupation of Algeria as a psychosomatic landscape of veiled racialized immanence helps to generate a discussion about an ontological orientation of queer blackness that is at once concealment and transparency: an open secret. If blackness is already a kind of veiled humanity, a perceptual trickery which requires persons become entirely Other—through an altered existential reality (as much by a delimited phenotypical corporeality as the psychological constraint of perpetual trauma due to enslavement)—then queer blackness, like Fanon’s veiled Algerian woman (who already appears as a reflection of internal and external war), is a problem of incomprehensible violence committed against flesh (the psychohistorical body) which requires a praxis of “combat breathing” to resist structures of colonialism. Racism, gender, sexuality, and class are all open secrets of war; representative modes of being that do away with contradictions between form and content and arrest creative potential of counterculture and subculture movements toward revolution for the benefit of the state, 63.

[15] Judith Butler, Frames Of War (New York: Verso, 2009), 13. Butler argues for a precariousness that is not entirely apprehended, a ‘we’ that “does not, and cannot, recognize itself, that it is riven from the start, interrupted by alterity, as Levinas has said….” She does, however, think that ‘we’ ought to have a kind of groundwork that “underscores our radical substitutability and anonymity in relation both to certain socially facilitated modes of dying and death and to other socially conditioned modes of persisting and flourishing.” (14)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s