Delving below the surface

By |2017-10-31T05:27:32-04:00October 31st, 2017|Uncategorized|

By Terry Lynn Howcott, M.S.W.

{BOLD The Straight Black Pot and the Gay Black Kettle
2nd in a two part series on ‘The Down Low’}

I can’t overbear this with historical facts about Black people, but suffice it to say most of us shape livelihoods, rear children and survive a bombardment of obstacles with far less social provisions, allowances, resources and systemic favors than do most White people. We are supremely gifted critical thinkers and problem solvers no matter our individual lot in life, even though we and our ancestors work (and were enslaved) substantively harder to get meagerly rewarded (or uncompensated) for our work-ethic and our intellectual investment in this country. Our health may suffer, we may even be more self-destructive than folk born with numbered and laminated building blocks, but we prevail against staggering odds.
Many of us also know to take care of ourselves. We know that if we invest good love with our partners and spouses, our relationships will last forever. If we take one class after another, we’ll thrive if we never had a solitary person to model that transformation for us. We exercise and eat healthily giving us a chance to live long, productive lives. In caring for every one of our children, our families prosper and flourish.
If we understand the significance of investing in our relationships and loving ourselves by loving our bodies and families, why don’t many of us understand the do or die nature of investing in all of our own people and youth? Where is our collective insight that if we denigrate the value of any part of our whole, each of us suffers acute and far-reaching consequences?
No matter our attractional orientation, we’re hungry for a mutual meeting of the minds about our most shared challenge, that being racism. Black love is the cure for White supremacy. But, many Black gays learn early on that in being honest about ourselves – an alleged respected quality – we must struggle against an intense, wide-ranging bigotry. We champion against many racist White straight people, many racist White Gays (who either pamper or perpetrate racist behaviors) and then with some of our own people who commit homophobic hatefulness against us.
So I ask, if a flock of chocolate covered angels were given a mission to save Black people from our self-imposed divisions, who would they gather together to make that change? Would they seek great thinkers and doers who embrace and give love to our entire community, enhancing our collective ability to do greater things? Or would they wrap their wings around people who crusade against us and who only embrace select people – worsening our condition? Would they organize unity conferences around which open minded people would talk, share their concerns and learn some things they didn’t know about one another? Or would they instruct gays to stop being our natural born selves?
And then, how would the angels engage this absurd, contradictory indignation over many Black men denying their bisexuality? In talking with a cab driver a while back, I referred to us as people of “African descent” to which he neatly replied, “I ain’t no African.” He was as dark as a country night, and of course beautiful. When I questioned his sense of pride, he described the continent with a stunning lack of awareness. Africa was useless in his mind, with little more than a smattering of animals and the ever-stereotypical folk with no clothes. As I worked to expand his knowledge in a 15-minute ride his sense of self began to reverberate through the Plexiglas that kept him protected from me. At ride’s end, he said there would be no charge. I replied I’d prefer to pay him to learn more about Africa. We laughed, I was serious and paid him, and he drove away.
I implore heterosexual Black people to consider the cab driver. Juxtapose him with the difficulty of being proud of yourself when you’ve been misdirected to believe who you are is objectionable or of lesser quality. Consider admitting having trouble with your bills when social doctrine dictates wealth is the equivalent to success. How often do you reframe your beliefs to agree with others, or convey how you think rather than what you feel for fear of being judged? Who among us will pat our feet to a song we really don’t like because everybody is clapping to the beat?
Then, what are these relentless double standards all about? If your child revealed they had attractions for the same sex would you welcome their frankness or would you bully them to play Imaginary Heterosexual Person like a super action hero? Would you visibly cringe whenever they entered the house with a same sex acquaintance? Even if your child hasn’t said a word, do you say insensitive things about gays around them? Would you state proudly to your friends that your family member is a lesbian? And assuming some of you would lie, you have the audacity to instigate outrage that many of us don’t find it so easy to relax and be ourselves.
And finally, the down and low straight Black pot syndrome: If your family member expresses having feelings for the same sex, when do you think they’ll grasp that to earn your genuine love and acceptance, they’ll have to stop being themselves or find a deceptive way to indulge you. And how do you imagine he or she would do that? I’ll tell you how.
They’d overhaul your perceptions of them to satisfy your ignorance and leave you content. They’d give you a hallucination for your birthday, convincing you that the real them is all gone. And, folks, that hallucination Éyou know …the one you asked for? You then cunningly accept it as the “the Down Low” as if you were “Up and High,” when you in fact created the predicament.
THAT is what is so “down and low.” The straight Black pot is increasingly eager to oppress the gay Black kettle. The straight pot requires its young and middle aged people (its “future”), to “play house” in opposite sex relationships in order to earn Black love, acceptance, a space at the family reunion table, peach cobbler, loving late night giggles with their sisters and brothers – and a dance with their fathers. I see this condition as one of the most reprehensible travesties of this era in African American community. It is a Black on Black crime. While some of us agitate for anti-war, welfare rights, Black consciousness, and other activisms, they love justice for every OTHER one of us – as if that could ever work. You’d think someone actually bribed them to frustrate the work of the angels.
One of my favorite passages by bell hooks (who writes extensively on racism, sexism and homophobia) addresses this lackluster or conditional love for the wholeness of community in “Ethic of Love,” in Outlaw Culture. She says:
“I’ve been puzzled by powerful visionary Black male leaders who speak and act passionately in resistance to racist domination and accept and embrace sexist domination of women, by feminist White women working daily to eradicate sexism but who have major blind spots when it comes to acknowledging and resisting racism and white supremacist domination of the planet. Critically examining these blind spots, I conclude that many of us are motivated to move against domination solely when we feel our self-interest directly threatened. . . . The longing is not for a collective transformation of society, or an end to the politic of dominations, but rather simply for an end to what we feel is hurting us. This is why we desperately need an ethic of love to intervene in our self-centered longing for change… if we are only committed to an improvement in that politic of domination that we feel leads directly to our individual exploitation or oppression, we not only remain attached to the status quo but act in complicity with it, nurturing and maintaining those very systems of domination.”
Ms. hooks is simply saying some Black and other smart people, have forgotten to intertwine the totality and the fullness of the ethic of love in our analysis of each other, and that we have come to sleep with our own enemy to avoid that love. If love is the answer, and the highest of high is love, and if what the world needs now is love sweet love, and if we are not the ones to judge, then ya’ll better get started because many of you are movin’ mighty damned slow in the process.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.