Writings, Essays, Lyrics, Musings, Commentary . . .

Article #22: What's The Difference Between Being Black And Being Gay???? ... When You're Black You Don't Have To Tell Your Mother

It has been a long, long time since I've written an article. And, it's been even longer since I've written a song. Needless to say, I've been consumed with the new act and. . . the new CD, "Neo-Classic Blues." (For a sample, go to the "recordings" page.) So, apologies to my regular readers, but I hope the CD more than compensates.

Aside from the CD, there's been a whole lot shaking. I'll spare you the details of the past six months -- except for one outstanding incident. . . outstanding and NOT in a good way. To understand the impact of the incident, I must go back in time to set the stage.

In 1960, the sit-in movement came to Fredericksburg, VA. I was sixteen years old and full of youthful optimism. We held mass meetings, NAACP Youth Chapter meetings, and mock sit-ins to learn the lessons of passive resistance. When the first day fell, we all had immense fear, but proudly we walked into Woolworth's, Grant's, Newberry's and People's Drug Store. (Remember, there were no McDonalds -- these were the fast food establishments.) We also picketed outside. We made signs nailed to wooden poles. (Remember, there were no magic markers, no quick-print facilities.) (See photo on the bio page.) We sat in for many months -- organized schedules, organized rides. (Remember, few people had cars or phones and there was no public transportation.)

We were passive and we were polite -- even when called "niggers" and "coons" and "sambo." We were scared when the darkness fell and we exited, surrounded by throngs of whites chanting "come out coons, come out coons!" But we were undaunted and ever so optimistic that our actions would prove to all the world that we were no longer INFERIOR -- as I'd been told during all my formative years. Not by my parents, not by my community, but by life.

By the end of the summer, all stores except for People's desegregated their lunch counters. We'd really hit them in their pocketbooks. Even the theaters, where we had to sit in the balcony and eat the stale popcorn, agreed to desegregate. Yet, as these walls fell, I came to realize that racism ran much deeper than a lunch counter stool.

The following year, I left home to go to school in Boston. Even more racism -- though covert. Then on to New York City where the racism was illuminated by an example like the supermarket meat in Harlem compared to that in downtown supermarkets.

My passivity had done no good. I embraced the Black Power Movement. Songs like the dirge-like "We Shall Overcome" was replaced with the strong chant of "Ungawah.. black power.. bang-bang.. beep-beep!!" (Just say that phrase aloud 2 or 3 times and you will feel the power.) Malcolm X became my hero; Angela Davis, my shero. I stopped straightening my hair. I was given an African name by a Yoruba priest. I was no longer ashamed of my blackness. I would "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud!"

At this same time, the Vietnam War was growing. I helped to organize the very first demonstration against the war at Columbia University. SNCC and SDS were on campus, I was with friends working on the outside. (See photo on bio page.) The protests against the war grew and grew and grew.

Then one day (I forget the year, but probably ‘67 or ‘68), we organized a massive march to the United Nations with hundreds of thousands of people from all over New York. I was with the Harlem delegation. As we approached the UN, doing a step something like South Africa's toy-toy, and chanting our "ungawah" chant, a wedge of cops on horse back came galloping at us -- wildly swinging billy-clubs. We ran in every direction. I ran toward a building to keep the horses from getting close. The fellow right behind me caught a massive blow to his head. He crumbled with blood streaming down his face. People ran out of their shoes. Cries and screams!! Shrieks!!

There was blood everywhere. I ducked into a subway station. Had change enough to board a train to I don't know where. I rode and rode with my heart in my mouth. I knew no one. All my friends and fellow marchers were lost to me. At some point, I gathered my wits and took a train back to Harlem. Thank God I had some money with me.

The next day, I read the New York Times. There was no mention of the bloody scene, no mention of the divergent segments of the city coming together, and a huge underestimation of the size of the crowd. It was then and there that I vowed that marches were useless, that too many people from Mississippi to NYC had been injured or killed in vain, that there had to be other ways for my people, and all oppressed people, to gain equal rights in this world.

From that place in my life, I decided to become a teacher. I also embraced the blues (the poor person's psychiatrist). Later, often via Saffire, I would primarily encourage women to rid the yoke of oppression. There were other ways to strive for liberation. . . not by marching and being beaten.

Fast forward to 2004. . . and I'm still a nigger. A new nigger -- so to speak. Of course, the struggle is not really the same. Of course, there are vast differences. But oppression is still oppression and now, instead of removing it FROM the constitution, people are working to put oppression IN the constitution. PEOPLE ARE HARD AT WORK TO LEGALIZE HATRED. People are hard at work to prevent me from growing old with the one I love and sharing the material things we have acquired together. I AM MORE MARRIED NOW THAN WHEN I WAS MARRIED.

Just living an honest life is not enough. Just treating others as you want to be treated is not enough. Silence means consent and I have to start somewhere. What can I do to let the world know that I will not be silent. I will not take it. I will not allow the dogma of others to deem me INFERIOR ever again.

This date I do know: April 15, 2004. I took back my vow. I became a marcher again. I became a protester again. I carefully made my sign (but with magic markers this time). It boldly read "SAME TAXES, SAME RIGHTS!" I boldly carried it back and forth in front of the downtown post office. As last minute tax payers dropped off their forms, they saw us. They saw us with our heads held high. I will never be INFERIOR again.

Seems to me that the issue is so clear. All those people who are vehemently oppressing gays and lesbians are doing so in the name of religion. Yet there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. How can they put their religion on me, how can they put their judgment on me? THEY DO IT THE VERY SAME WAY THE KLAN DID -- THEY BOTH USE THE BIBLE TO SANCTION BLACK/GAY-LESBIAN HATRED.

Now my state, Virginia, is putting some of the most vicious, hate-filled legislation into effect on July 1. There is another protest on June 30. I will be there. I was asked to lead the singing of "We Shall Overcome." While I felt honored to be asked, and while I am not ashamed to sing it loud, that still is not MY song. I'm still not down with the dirge. I'm ready to create a new "ungawah!" chant and then follow that with "Going to the chapel and we're gonna get ma-a-a-rried."

As my friend Barrelhouse Bonni would say:

Pray for Peace,
Work for Justice,
Boogie for Survival!
Vowing to look hatred in the face,

June, 2004

PS Don't forget to make a financial contribution to some organization working to end oppression. Every dollar is important.