Yes Sir, No Sir: Assimilation Is NOT What Black Gays Need

Dear Assimilationists,

I have a profound wish that this word, this thought would just die.  Assimilation is not the answer; it never has been and never will be. What you celebrate as the assimilation of black gay people into gay culture (or straight culture? I am not sure because that was never entirely clear), I mourn. If this is truly happening, then I want someone to craft an eulogy for the ball kids, the bulldaggers, the punks…us black diamonds.

What are the benefits of assimilation? You tell me I “should want to assimilate,” but why? Why should I want to assimilate into a culture that has oppressed me and mine? Have you never read Audre Lorde? Don’t you know by now to beware the master’s tool belt? What would this assimilation look like? Would the standards of beauty and desirability become blonder and bluer? Would those of us with lighter skin become a greater commodity and those of us with skin deep and dark a greater fetish for white men’s oral fixation?  And why is automatically on us to assimilate? Oh, that’s right – because they earn the right to be simply appropriate. They get to take a move and present it to us, so that a little black boy coming of age in 1990s U.K. can look on the screen and see a woman with bleached blonde hair spin, and say to himself “That is just amazing,” only to find out 10 years later that it was never her move; it was ours, the black and the brown – and she dared to take it, present it as her own, and name drop white posts throughout her little ditty. They get to tell today’s boys and girls to have a kiki and never acknowledge the dictionary they combed through was not pink but lavender and urban. How am I supposed to assimilate into this; the balance is so “im—.”

Assimilation is a fantasy. Not mine because I would wake in a cold sweat if it ever truly became true, but what you are calling a dream is a fantasy. Dreams are attainable. What Dr. King spoke of is attainable, and it does not necessarily point to assimilation. Demanding that any person of color or I be judged based upon the content of our character and not the color of our skin does not translate into us needing to assimilate. Have you never read Raisin in the Sun? Black people were excellent before the Civil Rights Movement. Blacks were excellent in Africa. Blacks are excellent today. Black were brilliant before they ever saw their first white man.

Have you never read George Chauncey or Richard Dyer? Queers were gathering before Stonewall, we were performing our identity decades before, and while I know Michel Foucault would take issue with this, the law had to respond to us; they had to define us. No, Dr. King was not necessarily pointing to some assimilationist fantasy but rather he was pointing to the world waking up and realizing his children’s excellence. He wasn’t instructing his to children mold themselves into some white standard of excellence because that is what assimilation is.  Sorry to tell you but, yeah sometimes the dictionary is just wrong. Assimilation is adhering to the standards and practices set by the oppressing group. You achieve it when they feel that you are nonthreatening to them. When they have beat, whipped, lynched, spat, kicked, handcuffed, and shot the black out of you.

I need my black gay clubs. I need my black queer poetry places. I need my black gay parties where we talk only about the black and brown contestants drag racing. I need my black queer online communities to retreat to and figure out what was up with the brother from Get on The Bus calling that white boy a “faggot.”  I need spaces that make white boys feel uncomfortable and out of place when they step inside because it is my space and not theirs. I need a space where dreads are not just okay or respectable but fucking desirable; a place for people who know that the divas we must revere are Whitney, Mariah, Janet, Diana, Patti, Tina, as well as Bey (and we know Rihanna is on trial/probation). I need a space where we don’t need a song to tell us what a kiki is because we have been holding them for decades.

When I visited my brother in DC he took me to a gay club. It was his way of showing me that he was/is comfortable with my sexuality. I was touched and looked forward to the night out with him and his friends. He had done research, asked around to find out what was the best club. When we arrived at the location I was visually impressed. It was a three level club and we just don’t have three-level gay clubs in little STL, but once we stepped inside I was immediately disappointed and felt guilty. I felt guilty because my loving brother went out of his way and asked the wrong people what a good gay club was. It was a postcard gay club: pretty blonde boys, brunettes, and a sea of dark haired Irish and Germans looking blokes but very few black or latino boys. The music was either techno or club mixes of every top 40 song at the time. It was not my space. I did not dance. I just walked around. It was not my space.  On our way back to Georgetown we passed a club blasting urban music with drums, horns and pulling rhythms. I turned and looked and smiled. I saw some of the kids entering. I tapped on my brother’s shoulder and told him, “That is my kind of club.” He was shocked because the people he had asked for help had not envisioned a gay like me, a run-of-the-mill black gay boy.

We black gay and queer people do not need to “start standing up” because we have been standing for years. Have you not heard Essex Hemphill read? Did you not get your letter from Marlon? We have been snapping and shouting for decades. Did you get lost in the smoke looking for your lily and jade? Did you sleep through James’ bedtime stories? We have been here.  We do not need to “start showing up” because we have been coming to and leading the meetings for years. Did you miss Pat Parker’s last sermon? It was a movement.  If we are all equal then why do I need to assimilate into any culture other than my own? My black queer culture. Outside of two worlds that I can see and others I can’t even reach, but my God it is beautiful. All this purple here, it is beautiful.

A Punk.