- Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality
In Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch, Dwight A. McBride synthesizes black, feminist, and queer studies to interrogate black male subjectivity in political, popular, and academic arenas. The collection, comprised of ten essays, marks another entry in the slowly growing corpus of scholarship dedicated to integrating sexuality and race into black and queer studies, respectively. This is a pressing and timely cause to be sure—one that cannot be achieved through glancing gestures to the "quartet of race, gender, sexuality, and class" (8). Instead, McBride argues that risks must be taken, disciplines transcended, and personal experiences revealed for, in the phrasing of Essex Hemphill, "the ass-splitting truth to be told" (qtd. in McBride 37).
Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch does indeed transcend disciplinary genres, with rhetorical styles ranging from scholarly to confessional. Written in three sections, the essays are organized around "Queer Black Thought," "Race and Sexuality on Occasion," and "Straight Black Talk." The essays in "Queer Black Thought," including the provocative title essay, demonstrate ways of reading cultural texts within the black queer theoretical framework McBride lays out in the preface and introduction. The four brief commentaries in "Race and Sexuality on Occasion" focus on political issues where race, gender, sexuality, and class intersect. Finally, "Straight Black Talk" examines how academic rhetorics of race obscure black gays and lesbians.
Inspired by Robert Reid-Pharr's Black Gay Man (2001) and Gary Fisher's Gary in Your Pocket (edited by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, 1996), McBride discloses his own personal experiences of race and sexuality throughout most of these essays. In the most revealing essay of the collection, "It's a White Man's World," McBride theorizes his sexual encounters with white men to measure the "currency" of black men's bodies in the "gay marketplace of desire" (104). Connecting these experiences to gay pornographic films and personal ads, McBride argues persuasively that black men's bodies are objectified and that black men are valued when they fulfill white fantasies of stereotypical black sexuality and masculinity.
The essay works so well because, in politicizing desire, McBride redresses [End Page 223] one of his major disagreements with queer theory—that "the realm of desire for queer theorists seems to represent the possibility for a kind of idealized freedom and liberality" (101). This is an important point for queer scholars interested in theorizing how sexual subjectivities are structured by race and privilege. But while McBride's work offers insight for queer theory, he unequivocally frames himself as a "race man," personally and politically invested in "transforming African American studies" (2). As the current chair of African American Studies at Northwestern University, McBride's perspectives as an administrator and faculty member reveal the persistent institutional and ideological obstacles to black studies in academia.
The ideological qualms McBride raises with the "old paradigms for race work" stem from its blindness towards black gays and lesbians (3). For example, McBride argues in "Straight Black Studies" that scholarship on James Baldwin has tended to reduce him to one identity, rather than understand his racial, sexual, and other identities in concert with one another. McBride's reading of Baldwin scholarship advances his claim that a black queer "critical sensibility" is urgently needed to challenge monolithic representations within African American studies that often collapse "differences of gender, class and sexuality into a homogenous, hegemonic black subjectivity" (39, 57). While this monolithic representation may have been politically expedient to the institutionalization of African American studies within white academia, it now restricts a diverse representation of black subjectivity in the academy.
McBride also attempts to redress this narrowed view of black subjectivity by interspersing his own personal accounts throughout the cultural analyses in Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch. In his essay on Anita Hill, McBride references Patricia Williams' The Alchemy of Race and Rights (1992) to argue convincingly that "[t]o be ideologically white is to be able to speak and to 'know.' It is not the ability...