When will a high-profile African American “Come Out” as Black? When will Black people come out as united?
by Cleo Manago
Over the past several weeks, the mass-media-landscape (digital, print, television, radio) has been occupied with that NBA player Jason Collins “came out” as a gay identifying Black man. It was made into such a big deal that Collins received a personal phone call from President Barack Obama himself. In addition, he was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, and currently dons the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. Being that Oprah and President Obama are considered Black, to some, it may appear that they likely brought a Black [faced] spin to this topic. However, both parties are about as connected to everyday Black life and culture as was the cast of the T.V. sitcom “Friends.” That Jason Collins is a Black male in America, prototypically part of the most oppressed group in the nation, was treated as marginal. The big deal was his sexuality. This indicates the power and prowess of the essentially White gay community in this country.
Within Black communities nationally (at least in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York City, Atlanta, Chicago and Oakland, California – all places in which I visited last week and interviewed folks on this topic), including the [Black] press, the response to Collin’s announcement has been Luke-warm. Generally, this includes same-gender-loving (SGL) Black folks as well. Most do not seem to be particularly enthused or feel connected to this occurrence. A typical explanation, especially if you listen to “mainstream” (a code word for White) sources – be their pundit Black or White – would be because the Black community is particularly “homophobic.” That verdict, along with almost everything surrounding Collins’ “coming out” results from that White people continue to be the ones framing the stories. Resulting from their White dominance and privilege, even when Black folks in media discuss homosexuality, the White gay paradigm sets the tone for the narrative.
An example of this indoctrination and its effect on Black thinking is, In Collins’ Sports Illustrated editorial, he states that he wore the number 98 in 38 games while playing for the Boston Celtics and Washington Wizards. He apparently did this as a silent tribute to Matthew Shepard, the 21-year-old [White] gay college student who was beaten and left to die outside Laramie, Wyo. in October 1998. Though the [White] gay community had already paid proper, political and relentless tribute to Shepard, Collins too took it upon himself to “silently” continue that tribute. Like the [basically] White run media and gay community, Collins never [even silently] acknowledges or pays any tribute to Rashawn Brazell (19), Sakia Gunn (15), or Arthur J.R. Warren (26), all Black, all who, among others, died resulting from actual hate crimes. (It would later be discovered that Shepard did not die from a classic hate-crime, as he was the frequent illicit drug using and intimate partner of one of his killers).
Similarly, when [Black] CNN news anchor Don Lemon “came out” as gay identified, simultaneously, he released a memoir and dedicated it to Tyler Clementi. Clementi was an eighteen-year-old white gay Rutgers University student, who in September 2010 jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge. Lemon made this dedication in the wake of suicide deaths by Aiyisha Hassan (20) and Joseph Jefferson (26) – two same-gender-loving (SGL) Black youth, among many, who were both otherwise ignored.
It appears that if you are Black and in the limelight, you can be rewarded for coming out as a “gay,” but could lose it all if coming out as or in direct support of Black people (Eric LaSalle, former star of the E.R. NBC television series, and Dave Chappelle, former star of the Dave Chappelle Show are examples of people who did “come out” as Black, then were completely removed from the media-landscape). A high profile African-American “coming out” as Black (meaning in clear, unwavering, unequivocal support of advancing Black struggle and illuminating the disruptive impact of colonialism) almost never happens.
Diverted by Black patriarchal and reactionary based hyper-masculinity and manhood anxiety among so-called Black Nationalists; and European, Victorian Era, Christianity based beliefs among Black people, the community can be split on the issue of homosexuality. Among Black Nationalists, many claim homosexuality is not African (as if filling foster homes with abandoned Black children, and mortuaries and prisons with troubled Black males is less problematic or more “African”). The religious say homosexuality is forbidden by God (Yet, the amount of homosexual priests and activity within many religions make San Francisco look like a celibate monastery). Ironically, the architects of these perspectives are White. In fact, the architects of anti-homosexual/gay legislation, hate, propaganda and pro-“gay” resistance in America, and abroad are White men.
A White woman named Anita Bryant began the high profile anti-gay movement in America. One of the symptoms of colonialism is some Black/African people buy into the views of White men. ALL of the hard-core anti-gay leaders in America and the Western world are White, and they lead the way on gay/homosexual hate. A few include George Bush (either one, take your pick), Rush Limbaugh, Scott Lively (who spreads anti-homosexual viciousness throughout Africa), Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, Michael Sheridan, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps Sr. the late Jerry Falwell and many more. All have (or had in Jerry Falwell’s case) much more influence than practically any Black person anywhere in the nation.
So, again, the agendas of White people and conflicts have contaminated the capacity for Black people to take care of Black business, and prioritize the protection and advancement of Black life and sovereignty. Even on the topic of homosexuality, a divide and conquer strategy among Africans has had great impact.
History, circumstance, the long-term and brutal mistreatment of Black people, and the disruption of Black thinking through colonial confusion should result in the interrogation of everything that comes our way. Yet, we must make sure that in doing this we are not dismissing or harming each other, especially our children. Rashawn Brazell, Sakia Gunn, Arthur J.R. Warren, Aiyisha Hassan and Joseph Jefferson were African youth anguished by their perceived lack of options for nurturing and support. Recent history has shown that our young people could not have depended on the “coming out” of “famous” SGL Black people to be affirmed. Does this advance Black people? As a diverse African family, we need each other, and to have each other’s back.
The second question is: When will Black people “come out” as united? The answer is, when we decide to. We decide in the process of organizing and struggling for our rights and overall freedom. This is why we have the International Peoples Democratic Uhuru Movement (INPDUM), to give the masses of people the ability to come together, to not only make that decision, but to act on it. INPDUM’s RNDP states that “We are opposed to and committed to struggle against any denial of rights and any oppression of Africans because of sexual orientation.” SGL Africans no longer have to be or feel unsupported, and with few to no options for affirmation, human-rights, social and political change. INPDUM is calling on SGL Africans who are interested in the advancement of the rights of SGLBT Africans (and all Africans) to join the SGL Commission and for Africans in general to join INPDUM.
Cleo Manago is a sociopolitical analyst, popular speaker, behavioral health specialist, social architect, writer, and documentarian specializing in Black behavioral health, and [Black] intra-community cultural unification, and Black self-conceptual development. He is the founder/CEO of the AmASSI National Centers for Wellness, Education & Culture, & founder & national organizer of the Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), a human-rights, educational, anti-oppression & advocacy organization dedicated to dismantling barriers to well-being; dignity; self-respect & protection of diverse Black men.