Thursday, November 13, 2008

Check myself

I wasn't gonna blog a new post till Saturday, Nov. 15. I am now in Chicago, where I just had a really great time conversing with students and talking about everything from the globalization of hip-hop conformity, to Prop 8, to the issues around downloading music. Smart kids. Gives me hope. But I was just checking email here at DePaul's library when I received a couple of heads-up letting me know Dan Savage had blogged one of my columns. I went over to his site and saw that he'd blogged about NOT the one in which he was called to the carpet for his part in fanning the flames of racial tension, but this one, in which the controversial symbolism of the KKK in full drag was used to critique the racist blow-back from Prop 8. Dan's commentary on the issue was simplistic and predictable and allows him to shout outrageous indignation while side-steeping introspection on his own bullshit. (Click here for the column.) I'd have completely ignored it all except for one thing, which made me jot the following as I was eating lunch a few minutes ago:

Well, if I'm going to be calling people out they name and holding folks accountable, I have to hold my own feet to the fire.

I fucked up.

Prologue: As someone who is both Negro and homosexual, I often use in my writing the terms of degradation that have been assigned to both those groups. I use them with humor, irony, adolescent flippancy. But I trust the intelligence of readers to "get" the words in the contexts in which I use them. And there is always context. And I make it clear in my writing that I am unapologetically and proudly both Black and gay, committed to fighting racism, homophobia, misogyny, the whole inter-related nine.

This is often (and understandably) misunderstood by some of the same folks with whom and for whom I am fighting.

My fellow Negroes often chastise me for using words like... well, Negro. Colored. Jigaboo.

My fellow faggots often chastise me for using words like... well, faggot. Cocksucker. Butt-pirate.

Folks who are neither gay nor Black will sometimes whine, "Why do you get to use those words and I don't?" (Answer: 1. Don't believe the hype. Ain't nobody stopping you from using 'em. Just know that there may be kunsuhkwinces an' rehpuh'rayshuns for using 'em when you ain't part of the group. 2. Why do you even want to use them?)

Ealier this week, when I came across the Quincy LeNear drawing used here, I jacked it and saved it to my hard-drive until I could blog about it. I saved the jpg under the title White Faggot Racism. I didn't even think about it, anymore than I would have if I'd found an image that I thought illustrated or critiqued black homophobia and might label it Jigaboo Homophobia. (I also needed to differentiate the pic from others in my folder under the series of Brazilian Faggot Orgy photos.) I bring this all up because when Savage right-click-saved the image from my blog onto his, it was the title I gave which came up on his computer. He made a pointed point of mentioning the jpg's label when he posted his column, and as a result I know I need to issue a couple of apologies.

1) To Quincy, who's publicly stated that he used the image he did precisely because it is controversial and he wanted to use the tweaked symbolic imagery of the KKK in hoods to critique the twined racism/privilege of many players (bloggers and posters) in the white gay blogosphere following the Prop 8 debacle. But he didn't label the jpg, I did, and he doesn't deserve any beef thrown his way because of what I did.

2) Anyone (gay, straight, male, female, whatever) who came across the image and commentary on Dan's page and processed it without being privy to any sort of context of either my politics or biography, and who came away thinking or feeling that I was anti-white or anti-gay. Neither is true. I don't expect everyone to co-sign the way I use this language and I completely understand that. But I do hope and trust that a provision and fleshing out of context would at least help you understand where I am coming from.

When Black folk have conversations about racial identity, what the terms are, what the language is, who gets to set the terms and control the language, it's often just presumed that there are no gay or lesbian folk in the mix.

When terms and conversations are held about LGBT identities, what the terms are, what the language is, who gets to set the terms and control the language, it's often just presumed that there are no people of color in the mix. (It's really telling to me that Savage omitted any context of me, my writing, or the conversation and comments on my blog about the image when he posted a link to my blog and then wrote his own commentary. Straight-up bitch move.)

Both the African American and LGBT communities have folks in them who have championed the notion (either as conscious act or unconscious) of flipping the bird to history's bigotry by reclaiming and using historically degrading terms as a way of disempowering them or reconfiguring meaning. It is, to say the least, a controversial tack. Still. Being in both camps, I use both sets of words. I have friends of other races, and friends who are women, who similarly flip the terms that have been applied to their respective groups; I don't use those terms 'cause... it's not my place. Membership has its privileges.

I'm kicking myself for giving Savage Palin an easy out. (But he would have found one anyway.) I'm also kicking myself for not being more careful and thoughtful (I see you, Topher...) about the ways my own shorthand may be used to fan the flames of current controversies. It was stupid. Straight up.

7 comments:

Lisa C. Moore said...

Apology accepted.

ReggieH said...

First off, wow, you got Dan Savage's attention!

Second, I think your apology is fine...but then, perhaps a white gay person needs to let you know if it's enough (Ball in your court, Mr Savage). There IS a difference between blogging and shooting the shit in the living room, surrounded by people who 'get you'

Safe Journeys

EH said...

Yo Reggie,

First, I'on really care about getting Dan's attention. He's shown himself to be... well, exactly what he is. Anyone really paying attention to him over the years cannot be surprised. I'm already focusing on other things. And I know you know that, Negro...

As for this statement, "There IS a difference between blogging and shooting the shit in the living room, surrounded by people who 'get you.'" You are absolutely correct. Which is why I made the post in the first place. And I absolutely am down for dialogue with anyone who wants to engage. At least for a while. I'm moving off this topic real, real soon because as volatile as it is, it's both exhausting and boring... and I don't know that I have anything else to say on it.

butch said...

Hats off to you and your olympic engagement with this topic. For those who couldn't take the time to read enough of your highly nuanced writing to give you the benefit of the doubt, too bad for them.

As a white person who fancies myself progressive (with all the attendant anxiety around what that word means anymore), I am really saddened by this misguided backlash. There’s something missing, something substantive and deep that has been left unattended and that makes people regress to racial scapegoating and petty, bigoted crapthought.

I think that missing substance is humility. Beyond the various levels of acknowledging/admitting/objecting to/feeling guilty about/unlearning racism, there is a critical and personally painful process of reckoning that cannot be neatly resolved. A process of reckoning with an identity historically crafted out of violently wresting privilege from others. Which is no happy thought at all and one that many will run circles in politically correct vagueness to avoid. Humility is the acceptance that it will always feel unsettling in the presence of continued white supremacy and the absence of racial justice. Without humility, so-called progressives will scuttle back to willful ignorance whenever the shit hits the fan.

I’m off to a prop 8 protest today and seriously hoping the front is united.

EH said...

Butch,

Thank you for your own quite substantive feedback. Succinct, thickly smart writing. My favorite kind.

And MUCH appreciation for your presence in what has been a year of struggle and growth. Much appreciation.

E

Jack Curtis Dubowsky said...

I don't think you need to apologize.

The gays in CA are so worked up about losing on Prop 8 in part because public opinion research prior to the election had mistakenly indicated that Californians no longer supported marriage discrimination like they had in 2001. The gays desperately wanted to point a finger at someone, anyone. Even if it was illogical.

The real story is all the money that was poured into this from out of state, and the various advertising strategies that were used. As well as the strategies that No on 8 avoided, preferring bland, obtuse, insubstantial official television ads, which almost indicated they were afraid of their own issue!

The Brazilian Faggot Orgy photos... any chance any of them will make it to the blog?

James Earl said...

Ernest!

Been a long-time fan (and lurker). Had to come out of the shadows to thank you. You called it out, broke it down, and acknowledged your own misstep (even though it wasn't calculated). Oh, what's that? Insight, character, and integrity, three things Mr. Savage is greatly lacking. I will write it once again because it bares repeating: Fuck Dan Savage!

BTW, we may be blood; where your Hardy folk from? (LOL) Hope we get the opp to meet soon.

Your Brutha in the Word,

JEH