How Shall We Be Seen?

by Mashaun D. Simon

How does one enter into this conversation regarding issues of racial justice, sexual identity and religious belief? I mean, seriously?         

Over the course of roughly a year, I have found myself having this conversation internally. Events like Jason Collins’ “coming out,” the Supreme Court’s ruling for marriage equality the day after deciding a section of the Voting Rights Act is no longer needed, and the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin have caused a lot of internal conflict for me, a 34-year-old, African American male, born and raised in the South. 

How can I speak when one part of me celebrates and another part of my identity mourns?

I consider myself to be a thinker, a young scholar if you will. As I process this internal struggle with all of my identities – my same gender loving self, my black self, my male self, and my Christian self – I find myself searching out scholarship on the topic. What I have come to find is a lack of research: while some articles exist, there is no discussion on a grand scale.

How is this the case? Why isn’t anyone writing about these struggles? How many individuals, with the same internal and identity struggles as I, find themselves asking: “Where do I fit in this world; in all of this?”

I wonder.

More than a century ago, historian and activist W.E.B. DuBois developed the concept of “double consciousness” in his book, The Souls of Black Folk. Some describe this term as a theory of otherness, while others have attempted to explain the realities of double consciousness as an African American struggle to reconcile blackness with American-ness. Through this theory, DuBois articulates an internal identity struggle that was occurring for blacks in his time. 

Many suggest the struggle of “double consciousness” persists today for African Americans: I know this to be true.

In addition, I suggest that black, male; Christian and same-gender loving (i.e. black gay males) individuals struggle today with a consciousness that is even further compounded.

In his article, “Killing the Messenger: Religious Black Gay Men’s Neutralization of Anti-Gay Messages,” Richard Pitt, professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University, writes about the struggles black gay men experience as a result of anti-gay theological sermonizing and doctrines.

Through his research, Pitt points out that most black gay Christians create coping mechanisms to reconcile their identity struggles while also staying true to their religious roots. Some of the men he interviewed admitted they either leave their church to find more affirming places of worship or they abandon religion altogether. Others “refute the negative” messages and others remove the negative church leaders as authorities on the topic.

Marcus Anthony Hunter, professor of Sociology at Yale also speaks to this topic in his article, “All the Gays are White and all the Blacks are Straight: Black Gay Men, Identity, and Community” he points out that historically, research on the topics of racial and sexual identity have been approached as separate endeavors.

Hunter utilizes the debate surrounding Prop 8 and the black vote as his backdrop, and he suggests the finger pointing that followed the loss ignored the interests and diversity of the black community:

“[Q]uestions about whether black LGBT individuals identified with Proposition 8 as an important political issue went unexplored, and instead debates that positioned a notion of homogenous black vote dominated the discourse.”

Roger Sneed, religion professor at Furman University, also contributes to this conversation in his article, “Like Fire Shut Up in Our Bones: Religion & Spirituality in Black Gay Men’s Literature.” Sneed critiques black liberation theology for failing to include the realities of black gay men in the discussion of issues of racism and theology. He believes black gay male literature does what the black church and black theology experts fail to do, adding this literature not only speaks to experience of black gays but also makes their existence visible.

Cornel West said it best in one of his books, “Black life ought not be interpreted solely in terms of race.” This is especially true for those of us who reside in several different societal classifications.

Throughout my life, I have done what some of the subjects admitted to in Hunter’s research – vacillating between differing identities based on my assimilation needs.

I find myself speaking from my black identity in some circles, while speaking from my LGBT voice in other instances.

What does this mean for me and about me as God’s creation? Why doesn’t there exist a space where I am able to fully be all of me, at one time, in one place? And what does it say about a God who would allow such internal struggle emotionally, spiritually and mentally?

I have come to identify this struggle as muting in a way. Society has muted black, same-gender loving and Christian men. We have allowed ourselves to be muted.

And in reality, there are no quick fixes. In reality, there are no simple solutions. In reality, there is no place for us in this world. In reality, we have to find and create a space or we will continue to be ignored by the black community, the overall LGBT community, the religious community and society as a whole.

There are black gay men making major strides in all walks of life.

These men are excelling in entertainment and media, in politics and business, and in religion and theology. However, we still do not see many of us because we have been muted. We have been ignored.

Why? The reasons are not really that important. Granted, there are some deeply rooted and religious motivators to these realities. But sitting around and pointing fingers at others for what they did, or did not do, is not really productive.

They know what they have done; we all know. And we know what we have allowed.

But what are we going to do about it? How are we as black, same-gender loving, Christian men going to combat the epidemic of muting in society by the very communities in which we hold some portion of membership?

How are we going to be seen?

I admit I do not know, exactly. But I am open to suggestions.

Photo via flickr user

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