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Callaloo 23.1 (2000) 290-312

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Camping The Dirty Dozens:
The Queer Resources of Black Nationalist Invective

Marlon B. Ross

Part 2: Plum Nelly: New Essays in Black Queer Studies

In attempting to grasp the relation between people of African descent and same-sexuality, the handful of historians, critics, activists, and social scientists who have touched on the subject have focused on one of two approaches. Either they have attempted to uncloset the lives of famous individuals of African descent who might be suspected of having, at some point, harbored same-sexual desire or engaged in same-sexual activity. Or they have attempted to expose the homophobia at work in the literatures of and histories on African-American life and culture. These works take on the important task of pointing out how evidence of African-American same-sexuality has been suppressed and how, when acknowledged, the admission of black homosexuality tends to be accompanied by distancing anxiety. Such sympathetic treatments of African-American homosexuality most frequently assume an identity schism--as struggle, competition, misalliance--between gayness and blackness. By proving how an individual can belong to both identities at once, they attempt to overcome the paradigm of competing black and gay identities by demonstrating an intersection, interface, or duality between them, a double consciousness not dissimilar from W.E.B. Du Bois's productive theory of a "twoness" at strife in being Negro and American. 1

In "'Black Gay Male' Discourse: Reading Race and Sexuality Between the Lines," for instance, Arthur Flannigan-Saint-Aubin offers a critique of Essex Hemphill's Brother to Brother anthology by arguing that it fails to grasp the asymmetry of multiple oppressions even as they "interface in many complex ways" (475). Using the queer theory strategy of reading between the lines and across binaries, Flannigan-Saint-Aubin attempts to "postulate blackgaymale theory as positionality": "Even if one rejects the notion of an essential 'gayness' or an essential 'blackness,' one can still claim the complex of sexuality and ethnicity as a locus of difference from which to think, to act, and to create" (489). Like other recent writers who have employed queer theory to complicate our discussions of African-American same-sexuality, Flannigan-Saint-Aubin relies on a notion of identity difference to try to get at the difficult problem of racial and sexual variation. 2 While helping us to rethink the rigidities of identity, such interventions tend to adopt two strategies that, as Diana Fuss points out, are essential to poststructuralist gender, race, and sexuality theories: "positing the reader as a site of differences" and "the notion of the reading process as a negotiation amongst discursive subject-positions which the reader, as social subject, may or may not choose to fill" (Essentially Speaking 34). Conceptualizing cultural identity as a site or position or space occupied differently by different bodies or as a performance that inhabits the vessel of the body in different ways, these theories necessarily encounter obstacles in attempting to think through and beyond identity as a structure or system of interlocking blocks like so many Lego pieces fitted together. [End Page 290]

Although it is impossible to "evacuate" totally the grounding of cultural identity in spatial metaphor, we might be able to disrupt this spatializing tendency, at least temporarily, by thinking of cultural identification as a temporal process that enables and constrains subjectivity by offering up resources for affiliating with, while also disaffiliating against, particular social groupings, which themselves are constantly being revised over time by individuals' reconstitution of them. 3 Rather than theorizing identity solely as cultural contiguity in relation to others who originate from the same (i.e., identical) social space or as a system of bodily performances determined by the range of roles inhabited in relation to a larger social body, we can consider the ways in which individuals, discourses, and social groupings constantly revise themselves by identifying with and also against traditions based on the material (physical, economic, institutional) and symbolic (linguistic, ideological, cultural) resources extant, absent, or hidden within historically changing practices and forms moving within and...


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