The discussion of Blackness has been prominent lately.
It isn’t just about blackness, but it’s about who gets to claim and lay refuge to blackness. Reflecting on the death of black trans women and the crux of my black queer existence, I realized that blackness isn’t my claim. It is me. In every way possible I am blackness, and I am made in the image of my ancestors.
When I think about Blackness I think about the resiliency that comes from my people. Black people who were taken from their homes, withstood an emotionally and mentally damaging journey across the Atlantic, arrived to a new country to forced labor and survived.
I am a part of that people, of that culture. However, other black people do not see that. They do not see my black queerness as resilient, and that is an issue.
When I think back to all of the activist spaces that I have frequented, all of the workshops I have done and all of the black queer people I have met, I instantly connect with the fact that we have been surviving. Black queer folks have been marginalized and oppressed. We are not straight; we are not in the gender binary; and we are not white.
We have no connection to the mainstream culture or the mainstream ideas of “freedom” and safety. We have instinctively learned to survive and thrive on our own.
Robin D.G Kelly explains it best in Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination. Kelly (2002) writes,
“The work of these movements taken as a whole interrogates what is “normal”; shows us how the state and official culture polices our behavior with regard to sexuality, gender roles, and social relationships; and encourages us to construct a politics rooted in desire.”
Kelly speaks to something that black queer folks have been doing since our existence on this earth. Kelly speaks to what Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, James Baldwin, Sylvester, The Queen of Disco and many other black queer greats were doing: creating worlds where their blackness and queerness and desires came together and making them a reality by sharing them with others through community.
The reality is that black queerness and the worlds we create to survive are not only rooted in desire, but also rooted in survival. Survival of oppressive systems, survival of death, survival of pain, and survival of the problematic people who look like us.
The argument should not be centered on who can claim blackness and claim the culture created by many of ancestors, but who understands the importance of these different sexual and gendered identities and how they have indeed impacted the resilience of blackness.
So, to my black queer peoples: stay strong. Be resilient. Revel in your blackness. Most importantly, make sure you are creating worlds and sharing them with others so we can continue to exist and thrive.
Tyrell Cooper is a black gender non-conforming queer person (pronouns they/them/their) from Virginia. They have spent the last five years splitting time between academia and activism, with ach space being crucial to the development and shape of their personal and political views.
Tyrell has done workshops around gender, sexuality, and race relations as well as academic conferences dealing with the same topics. Currently, they are working on a Women Studies degree at Old Dominion University and managing a website, BlackGNCfree.