- Black Queer Identity Matrix: Towards an Integrated Queer of Color Framework by Sheena C. Howard
Many critics have argued that the contemporary mainstream LGBTQ movement reproduces a dominant narrative that focuses on a limited heteronormative set of legislative debates that tends to minimize the unique concerns of LGBTQ communities of color. The widely advocated quests for marriage equality, the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” within the U.S. military, and the push for LGBTQ health-care initiatives have taken center stage in the post-Bush political landscape. Related to this, the “queering” of academic scholarship has instigated new debates regarding the erasure of minoritized identities (i.e., people of color, trans and gender nonconforming people) as the term “queer” has often been employed uncritically as a catchall for nonheteronormative identifications. Within this social, political, and intellectual climate, Sheena C. Howard presents a theory of an “integrated identity framework” in Black Queer Identity Matrix: Towards an Integrated Queer of Color Framework. Introduced as a response to popular political activism and academic scholarship that excludes black lesbian females’ lived experiences, Howard’s construction of intersectionality as an analytical praxis is timely and will prove foundational for new lines of thought. In order to better understand the absence (or omission) of certain voices within mainstream LGBTQ political projects and the related conflict in feminist and queer studies scholarship, what is needed is a framework for analysis that recognizes the interlocking nature of identities without centering the most seemingly salient political issues at a given historical moment. Utilizing autoethnography, ethnographic case studies, and theories of identity, Black Queer Identity Matrix provides a framework for understanding the black lesbian through a “paradigmatic inquiry around the intersections of gender, sexual orientation, and race-ethnicity” (xv).
Black Queer Identity Matrix begins the work of conceptualizing black lesbian identification by marking the historically oppressed categories of gender, sexuality, [End Page 230] and race that construct this identity as a “triple jeopardy minority.” Divided into four complementary sections, the book first addresses intersectionality and the matrix of domination as theories that rely on understanding uniquely situated ways of knowing derived from the experience of multiple interlocking oppressions. In this context, black lesbians are recognized as viable agents of change within systems of power that seek to deny their very existence. By examining the political impact of structural inequalities in the debate surrounding LGBTQ access to health care, Howard demonstrates an application of intersectional analysis that does not hierarchize one identity over another while also exploring the implications of economic class stratification. Chapter 2 introduces a queer of color critique—a methodology developed by Roderick Ferguson—responsive to queer theory’s use of rhetoric that “deems identifications as fictitious” and ultimately privileges whiteness.1 Howard posits that quare theory, a critical approach to queer theory formulated by E. Patrick Johnson, more adequately examines how nonnormative sexualities complicate the political projects of mainstream LGBTQ as well as race/ethnicity-centered activism and scholarship.2 Quare theory recognizes history, culture, and performance as key contextual concerns in academic and political transformative social projects. Howard interrogates some notable fissures within LGBTQ community organizing that limit engagement for people of color. She concludes this section with an argument for the inclusion of the specialized feminist interventions of black feminist thought and womanism that buttress the methodological structure of the proposed framework. The first two chapters ground the reader in the historical and political context that frame Howard’s reading of case studies as the material links applicable theories.
Chapters 3 and 4 shift focus to the core promise of Black Queer Identity Matrix—conceptualizing black lesbian experiences in the United States. To this end, Howard uses what she terms “photo feedback analysis” (39) to highlight the lived realities of black lesbian females such that “participants are able to describe their multiple intersecting identities without being forced to disaggregate identities” (40). This exploratory research method is a first attempt at applying an intersectionality-based methodology designed...