Elevate Difference

Queer in Black and White: Interraciality, Same-Sex Desire and Contemporary African-American Culture

Stefanie Dunning takes the scalpel of reason to the twin sores of misogyny and homophobia that sometimes stain traditional notions of a black nationalist consciousness. The result is an intellectual illustration challenging “the notion that the black queer is "not black enough" and both examines and explains “the frequent representation of the interracial as a device signifying the ideas of nation, authenticity and blackness.” Dunning effectively answers a question that I, as a young black gay man, frequently ask: is it possible to be fully black, fully gay, and satisfy normative perceptions of traditional black masculinity simultaneously? Thankfully, one can find an affirmative answer and a stringent defense of a more comprehensive and inclusive characterization of those straddling multiple communities of origin within the text of Dunning's literary cultural exploration.

The act of loving a person of another ethnicity or miscegenation is a mental act and stance rather than something “that happens between bodies.” Once one accepts this as fact, it is easier to follow the use of “miscegephors,” or the points at which inter-raciality is used to “stage questions about race, ethnicity and belonging.” Dunning reviews miscegephorical use in music, television, and literature--including Ann Allen Shockley's Loving Her_, the first novel about a black lesbian; Me'Shell NdegeOcello's hip-hop volume Plantation Lullabies_, and Eldridge Cleaver's essay “Notes on a Native Son.” The pages and lyrics of these works provide the canvas for the discourse Dunning pursues. Cleaver's essay and its characterization of the “negro homosexual” as a constituent of another group outside of the black community are challenged by such representations as the relationship (fictional albeit) of Terry and Renay in Loving Her.

This challenge was put into the most stark relief when in Shockley's Loving Her, Dunning finds a juxtaposition between the parallel images of Renay, the recently single black mother with her new white lesbian lover, Terry. We see Renay doing the “little things,” the domestic chores that Terry refuses and Dunning cites the evocation of a black women “working” for a white woman rather than loving her as it meshed “perfectly with the traditional black servant's role.” Then, we witness Renay introducing Terry to soul food, slipping into dialect―using food and language―to act as an ethnic bridge within their interracial relationship. Dunning cites Barbara Smith's review of this scene as a central challenge to the notion that being black and being gay is the assumption of a “racially de-natured” state. Renay and Terry's relationship is not constructed on color-blind terms, and the circumstances of ethnic origin that each bring to the relationship are not eroded; rather, they are amplified.

Within the creative pieces Dunning highlights and the dialogue that each seemed to further, I found the opportunity to consider my own identity and my own personal struggle to associate equally with different communities of origin. Black gay and lesbian artists, such as those that authored the works reviewed by Dunning, are not threats to biological and cultural continuity, but in reality, are at the forefront of remaking “our conceptions of blackness.”

Written by: Brandon Copeland, October 17th 2009