To Love Completely…Posted: November 17, 2010
My dear friend, comrade, and brother from another mother Jamal sent this picture to me a little while ago, and I instantly fell in love with it, and its depiction of Black, queer, woman love. Jamal also has a very important blog that celebrates Black, queer, radical perspectives and art. It’s called …Or does it Explode and you can find it on my blog roll to the right. Please check it out!!!
When I look at this picture I see the excitement in these women’s faces. I think about what they are doing, and how they have met each other. What time of the year it is. I imagine that it is a fall day, where the sun is shining and the air is fresh but slightly chill allowing for long sleeves and hats. I imagine that the air is sweet and fresh and full of ends and new beginnings that makes you want to get into some adventures… and maybe a little lovemaking. I imagine that these black women have their own woman loving community that is queer and straight, and together they have the strength and courage to love fearlessly despite the regulations on love that this system places on us. I love the subtleness of the affection that allows me to queer this picture. The way their fingers are barely intertwined. I love the secret looks in their expressions; almost mischievous, which signifies to me that they all know what they are doing is risky and serious. I almost see fear in the woman to the rights eyes, and that reminds me that despite the love and fun that is conveyed in this picture love does not come easy under capital.
Who you love and how you love has never been a choice that is free for everyone. From the development of the heteronormative family for White people admidst the rape and breeding of slave women to today with the liberal gay marriage movement, which seeks to spread bourgeois values for gays too, the era of capitalism has ushered in a period of severe regulation of love and sexuality. The gay marriage movement and the resistance to Proposition 8 has brought marriage and love back into the discourse of civil rights. Personally, I think the gay marriage movement is problematic and not the direction we should be moving in for liberation. That said, do I support prop 8? HELL NO! I don’t think it is right to pass laws that limit peoples rights and take them away. But I think a real liberatory struggle should be moving away from assimilation and acceptance within an oppressive system. While affluent gay white men in the Castro enroll in Human Rights Campaign (HRC) visa cards, the New Jersey 4, four working class women of color, were locked up with sentences ranging from 3-11 years for defending themselves against homophobic, sexual assault. None of these women had a prior criminal record. Where was their campaign? Where was their parade? Where was their float admidst all the corporate sponsored floats during pride. These women served jail time for two years just for being gay, working-class and women of color. They charged them with a gang assault. SO because they are young (age range 19-24), women of color then they must be in a gang. It must not be possible for men on the street to attack a young woman when she refuses his sexual advances? I think not. All women know how vulnerable we are just walking down the street; we know how angry men get when we turn them down; and we all know how assault and violence is real. Just recently when a guy asked me for my number on the street and I said no his response was ‘then fuck you bitch.’ He said it so angrily that it frightened me. What happend to the NJ 4 is real, and a daily thing. Why didn’t the contemporary gay movement, whose roots are planted in the radicalism of the Gay Liberation Front and echo bygone slogans of “Out of the Bars into the Streets” and “Smash the Church, Smash the State”, take up the cause of the injustice these women were served at the hands of this unjust system? Because the mainstream movement has degenerated into liberal attempts to fight for equality in marriage and in the military; two patriarchal and homophobic areas.
I do want to emphasize that my critiques are on the mainstream, middle-class, white male gay movement. There are amazing radical, queers of color spaces holding it down with similar critiques. Ultimately I still feel like there is a necessity for a more holistic queer movement that really takes issues of class, race and sexuality seriously.
Queer love has been policed by this system for years now, because of how threatening it is to the heterosexual family, which Capital has always needed to force women to reproduce and exploit all their unpaid labor of taking care of the home, the children and their husband. But it is not only queer love that has been regulated. Race has also played a role in such policing from the time of slavery when slaves were not able to freely choose their own partners. Some did and they were able to come up with their own traditions and ceremonies, such as the jumping of the broom. But others, especially the women, were punished for engaging in relationships with partners of their choice. After slavery the rise of Jim Crow led to a system of apartheid in the south that separated the races. Until 1967, there were numerous race-based legal restrictions on marriage that outlawed interracial relationships. This was overturned in the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia , where Mildred Loving (a black woman) and her husband Richard Perry Loving (a white man), fought against the ban in Virginia prohibiting a White person from being in a relationship with a non-White person. In 1959 they got married in the District of Columbia to avoid the ban. But were later charged with violating it once the police broke into their home in hopes of catching them in a sexual act. DISGUSTING. They pleaded guilty and got sentenced to a year in prison. A YEAR! Just for being in love. They got out of it by moving to the District of Columbia. Can you believe that? They had to completely uproot their life and move to another place to avoid serving prison time for being married. In 1963 the American Civil Liberties Union took up their case and in 1967 the US Supreme court declared anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. There is a quote from Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of her case, which I found on wikipedia that is quite beautiful so I am going to re-post it here:
“Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.
I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
That’s what loving should be about, but not under this system, which has proven time and time again that it doesn’t care about the creativity and desire of its people. All that matters is the work and value they can extract from people and if that means limiting who they get to love if they get to love at all then so be it. This brings me back to this original photograph and the necessity for queer people, especially queer women of color, to invent a queer past that is full of amazing, talented queer Black women. I can’t know for sure if the Black women in this photograph were queer, but it gives me a sense of comfort to think that they are. When you live in a system that silences you, censors you, makes it nearly impossible for you to survive you find strength knowing that you are a part of a larger community going through the same thing. I know that queer Black women have always existed, but unlike straight White men, I am not surrounded by them in my everyday life. I have to search hard to seek them out, and sometimes I even have to invent them. This is why Black lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye’s film Watermelon Woman is so important to the queer woman of color community, because she is trying to stake out a history denied to us in order to give us inspiration and strength to keep on surviving. It is personally important to me, because I still aspire to become a filmmaker. There is a serious lacking of women filmmakers, and an even more serious lacking of Black women filmmakers, and to top it all off there is an even more serious lacking of queer Black women filmmakers. It took me awhile to love this film, because the acting is cheesy and there are a lot of racial stereotypes that were off putting for me. But then one day something just clicked and I got it. I began to relate to Dunye as a Queer Black woman searching for a history and a past. To understand as an oppressed person that you come from a history of others like you gives you strength in a way that you never thought it would, and that is why Watermelon Woman is special. And that is why this photograph is special, and touches my heart and gives me hope that one day we will all be able to love completely. <3