By Brielle Lord and Dr. Christina Jackson
“It’s never a safe space entirely, in a black community,” Sa’Miyah, a student at Stockton University, offers in a panel discussion on Affirming Black LGBTQ lives. This September, the Black Lives Matter AC group reconvened to discuss the minority within the minority—and the experience of sexuality defining how safe one feels within a movement for black lives. As a community, the group addressed what is often looked at as a taboo topic, with what one panelist defined as operating as a “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” in the black community.
Dr. Christina Jackson, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University and core member of the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter, opened the forum by reinforcing and restating the first three guiding principles of the movement: the freedom and justice for black lives, being transgender and queer affirming, and confronting the heteronormative ideas within the movement. Three panelists from South Jersey, including AIDS activist Travis Love, Sa’Miyah Wright and Jade, both Stockton students, offered insight on some of our forum’s guiding questions: What do the Transgender and Queer Affirming principles mean to you? What ways have the LGBTQ community within the black community been oppressed? What does safe space look and feel like in the black community? In what ways can we stop the systematic violence and oppression against Black LGBTQ people?
Being the Minority Within The Minority
The needs of the queer community within the black community are an integral part in fighting for black lives. The movement for black lives only makes advances justly if it also fights for equity of the minority within the minority. When the question, “Which black lives matter?” surfaces, the implied answer is often, “heteronormative, respectable, straight black lives matter.” Usually gender non-conforming and queer blacks are left out of the conversation. Addressing this bias, Travis Love drew on his experience advocating HIV prevention in Newark and the value of including those that do not fit the heteronormative mold in the struggle for social justice. “If we are going to fight these systems, we need to address our internalized phobias. If we do not, whose black lives are we saying matter?” Jade noted that part of Black Lives Matter organizing should make central recognition of the full spectrum of black people, including those who do not fit the norm. Part of this process is also about making space for the full gendered and sexual expression of the community, because as Travis said, “the more marginalized you are, the less space you have to feel comfortable.”
More Visibility Does Not Equal Justice and Access: Examining Our Own Phobias
In the question and answer portion, Dr. Jackson posed a question about the increased visibility of the LGBTQ struggle overall and it’s affect on the black community. Travis implored that visibility does not equal justice in the LGBTQ community. Cisgender privilege– one that comes from your biological sex being consistent with your gender– allows for the celebration and validation of self-expression of heteronormative people, but not queer black people. The celebration of queer blacks should be treated as an expansion of the norm, rather then as an exception. The panelists encouraged us to reflect on our own phobias and understand our own privileges. Being anti-gay comes down to the fear of what one doesn’t know. The LGBTQ world becoming more visible in the media is positive, but doesn’t affect systematic change. Within the black community, as Jade suggested, addressing respectability politics can help by encouraging those to be fearless and be themselves instead of the drive to “look appropriate.”
The community forum left with the understanding that we must all reflect more on ourselves individually to question the process of how much we normalize ourselves while making less space for “others” within our movement. This conversation was a springboard for further action.
Our next forum, Black Women and Black Families: Gender, Health and Well-Being will be on Saturday, October 15th from 2pm to 4pm at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City, New Jersey. All are welcome. Check out our Facebook.
Save the date. On Saturday, November 19th, as a community, we will reflect on all of our forums over the past year by connecting all forms of violence, sudden as well as slow, that impact black lives. We will discuss action steps for how to continue to implement practical and policy changes that demonstrate how black lives matter.
About the Authors:
Brielle Lord is a graduating senior Sociology and Anthropology major at Stockton University, working with the Office of Service-Learning as a Bonner Leader. She is from the southern New Jersey town of Atco, and a current resident of Galloway. Previously, she has worked with Dr. Nazia Kazi, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Stockton University, to bring a documentary film screening on immigration in the United States and a dialogue to Stockton University for community members. She has also worked on a project for the oral history of Stockton students and alumni, creating a space for undergraduate students to mentor incoming and new freshmen. Brielle has also worked with the South Jersey Syria Reflief Project and the Narenj Tree Foundation to coordinate funds and donations at the University through the Office of Service-Learning. She is now completing an internship and fieldwork under Dr. Christina Jackson, Assitant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University, working with Black Lives AC and integrating serve-learning into the classroom.
Dr. Christina Jackson is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stockton University who participates in community work in both Atlantic City and Philadelphia. She is also a core team member of the Black Lives Matter Atlantic City chapter helping to facilitate monthly forums with community residents. Dr. Jackson teaches classes and conducts research on inequality, urban places, gender, social movements and the politics of redevelopment and gentrification. She is an avid supporter of integrating service learning into her teaching pedagogy. She is a board member of a girls’ leadership camp and year long program called Camp Sojourner based in West Philadelphia.
About Black Lives Matter AC:
Black Lives Matter AC was organized by a coalition of community organizations in and around Atlantic City that meets monthly at Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City to bring together people across lines of race, religion, age, gender, economic & educational levels, in order to learn and listen to one another. We honor the future through our youth, creating space for arts, culture, and local ministry to guide youth away from gangs and toward the arts. Various speakers present on topics, so we better understand the underlying systems of oppressions which people of color have inherited and which white Euro-Americans have often taken for granted. Since November, we have covered areas such as domestic violence, the prison industrial complex, housing, the current state takeover of Atlantic City, and more. We provide safe and facilitated space for people to begin listening to one another’s stories, to build trust, and to foster relationships that lead to organizing and building projects for change. Our goal is to create relationships where none existed, and then to allow the process of creativity and cooperation to flourish for good, so that the future of Atlantic City and Atlantic County is enhanced for as many people as possible, starting with our children.