The Reconciliation of Radical Black Ideology and Religion (Audio)

Part 1
Part 2

Over the past few weeks, probably months at this point, I’ve really been wrestling with what I believe spiritually/religiously (mainly Christian views, e.g. The Holy Trinity) and what I stand for politically (e.g. Black queer feminism & liberation). In the process, I’ve been digging into the work of James Cone, a Black liberation theologian, and some Deloris Williams, a womanist theologian, as their work kind of wrestles with the same questions.

Cone and Williams really rebel against what we’re taught in terms of questioning God and the Bible. Their work, in large part, is all about posing major questions and outright disagreeing with Biblical text and the way they’re taught. In my readings, I’ve been reminded of the common phrase disseminated by the church of not questioning God. Usually refers to the scripture that “God is not the author of confusion”. But if we’re keeping it a buck, life is hella confusing. Especially when you’re trying to apply classical texts to contemporary issues – such as white supremacist violence – it is very confusing and I have questions!

I think the “God is not the author of confusion” text has been weaponized. For me, I don’t think that scripture should be used to dissuade people from asking questions of God and the people that claim to represent Them. I think what is trying to be communicated, or what should be communicated, is that if we have questions, we should ask them to get clarity. It shouldn’t be “don’t question God”, it should be “ask the questions to get some clarity/perspective.”

Also, any time we’re talking about the Christian faith and the interpretation of the text, there must be an interrogation of white supremacist ideology & teaching. The Bible has been used to justify white supremacist violence for centuries. So when you tell people not to question God, it sounds a lot like a justification for oppression, marginalization, and violence. And for the people experiencing it not be question or fight against it.

The reconciliation between religion, Black [radical] thought, and white supremacy is tough and layered. Fellow Cleveland creative and friend Robin Blake (@hyperiusblake), who is also a Buddhist, thought we would benefit from having this conversation publicly. We originally recorded the videos on August 2, 2020. Because of high demand, the videos have been converted to audio and posted to this site to be shared widely.

Our Facebook live “public chats” take place every Monday at 6:00 p.m. Hope you pop in sometimes!

Modern Love is a love story to heteronormativity

I have a confession – I’m a sucker for a good love story. 

When I knew that I wanted to be a writer, and share my writing with the world, I had an idea of writing a long-form piece on love. I had the idea of interviewing different couples and partnerships ranging in race, age, gender, religion. I wanted old folks who have been together for a long time. I wanted monogamous and non-monogamous couples. I wanted partnerships wit more than two partners. I wanted to experience, and report, the different ways love, romantic love specifically, could exist.

That was a few years ago and that piece has not been written. I don’t know if it ever will be. But what I do know is that the piece I dreamed of writing is what Amazon Prime’s original series Modern Love could have been – an exploration of the vastness of love and partnership. Instead, what we got is regurgitated tropes of romance imbued with cis-white-heteronormative narratives.

I don’t completely understand my fascination with love and partnership. I’ve never been the type to daydream my wedding or write the initials of my crush in my notebook. Maybe it’s because I know I’ll probably never experience the love my grandparents have. Or, maybe it’s because love, in all its forms, is the “purest, most concerned thing” as one of the narrators exclaimed in episode 2 of the series. I guess, what interesting to me, chiefly, is the different routes we take to end up at one goal – to give love and be able to receive in a way that is healthy and honest.

I watched the eight-episode series twice through. The first time was simply to enjoy the series. There was quite a buzz surrounding the series, portraying itself to be a “new kind of love story.” And as we know by now, I loves me a love story. But as I made my way to the episodes a second time, my eyebrows raised in confusion and my eyes rolled in annoyance at the sheer white heteronormativity of it all. 

The concept of modernity is to do away with old things and bring about something new that augments uniqueness, inclusion, and equality. Modern Love is neither unique nor inclusive, but offers recycled age-old tropes of the romantic genre and sets it to pretty music. A few things stood out to me:

  1. Aside from one couple, every couple in Modern Love is cisgender and heterosexual (note: just because a cis man and a cis women are a couple doesn’t mean that they’re heterosexual, queerness presents in many forms, but the series gave us no reason to believe that the characters were anything but cisgender and heterosexual so that’s what I’m going with). 
  2. There were no women of color as a love interest in the entire series. They are only in supporting roles (with very little lines) to their white women counterparts. (note: There needs to be a conversation about how the romance/rom-com genres have perpetuated the colonial notion of the gentle innocence of white womanhood)
  3. There were men of color included, but outside of Dev Patel’s character, they all lack agency. Their only significance is tied to the development of their white partners.


There is one episode that solidified Modern Love’s commitment to a white-centric, heteronormative narrative. “Hers Was A World Of One” follows a gay couple Tobin (Andrew Scott) and Andy (Brandon Kyle Goodman) who plan to adopt Karla’s (Olivia Cooke) unborn baby. As all of the episodes are, this episode was adapted from an essay that was written about a true journey that of the writer and activist Dan Savage experienced. However, the series makes some drastic challenges to the narrative that cheapen the story and highlights its commitment to more conventional narratives. While Savage’s piece was chronicling a very difficult journey of adoption and wanting his son to have a relationship with his wayward mother, Modern Love’s spin on the tale seems to be nothing more than a white man’s redemption story by focusing on Tobin’s relationship to 1) having children in general 2) the tumultuous relationship with the child’s mother. NPR writes that it is a “reductive” take on the narrative.

The episode is further complicated given the racial dynamic of the couple. Tobin and Andy are in an interracial couple – Tobin, the main character, being white and Andy being Black (Dan Savage and his partner [Terry Miller] are both white). Andy has no real agency outside of his connection to Tobin in the episode. He is present but rarely says anything of substance. The audience is even left questioning what Andy does for a living. Tobin is by Karla’s side as she gives birth while Andy is in the waiting room. In the final scene of the episode, the child is now a toddler and Tobin is by her bedside telling her a story while Andy is in the corner reading one of the child’s books. All these moments may seem innocuous, but further, speak to an underdeveloped Black character who has no agency without the partnership he shares with his white counterpart. This is also reflected in episode 3, “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am” with Gary Carr, starring opposite of Anne Hathaway, a Black male lead in the episode who the audience knows nothing about except that he’s handsome and like peaches.

Furthermore, while I understand that this is adapted from a true tale, when the only queer narrative is one that perpetuates the idea of assimilation into heteronormative, dominate culture by gays feeling “incomplete” without raising children, Modern Love’s commitment to heteronormative storytelling feels pretty deliberate. 

Modern Love has many feel-good moments. I found myself smiling and tearing up at certain moments. But in this current political climate, it is impossible to depoliticize art. Especially when said art is purporting itself to operate under the guise of modernity. Activist and author bell hooks understood the importance of images and how representation dictated social and cultural currency. In her book Race and Representation, she challenges us to “rethink” the ways to write and talk about representation in order to challenge systems of oppression – for there is a direct correlation between the media and images we consume and the maintenance of dominant culture. Under a president and administration where so many people have been othered, it would have been nice to follow narratives that challenged the status quo instead of reinforcing it.


Book review: Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis

Literature and fields of study have often overlooked, or altogether erased, the presence and impact of Black gay men in socio-political movements and ideologies. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) and African-American disciplines have both neglected to give proper credit to Black gay men’s contributions to their respective fields. Kevin J. Mumford’s Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis is his answer to the erasure of adequate recognition. Mumford asserts that LGBT historiography has contributed to the evolution of gay male organizations, neighborhoods, and identity construction but neglects the Black gay male experience. Although, a shift does take place in the post Stonewall era of the 1970s and 1980s. The historiography begins to merge critical race theory and queer theory to delineate the interdependence of race, class, and gender concerning their impact of identity, community, and liberation movements. However, the white-centered gay narratives still persisted in literature, the academy, liberation movements, and more.

Additionally, with the exception of the Harlem Renaissance, African-American history has also perpetually overlooked the presence and contributions of Black gay men. Mumford accredits this erasure to the vast history of demonized Black eroticism. From slave importation to Reconstruction to the civil rights movement to the AIDS crisis, the answer to this negative connotation with Black sexuality is the image of respectability. In accordance with respectability politics lays the assertion of the traditional Black family. This rise of respectability politics erased Black queer spaces, censored same-sex and gender non-normative media, and ultimately killed the Black queer community and culture that was beginning to form in the 1970s and 1980s. For example, the famous Black-owned magazine Jet, unlike other magazines that catered to white audiences, routinely challenged the negative connotations associated with sexual, gendered, and racial biases in the 1950s. Jet ran stories of interracial marriages and Black queerness, neither of which were acceptable at the time because of white conservatism and Black respectability. However, by the mid-1960s, Jet became increasingly more conservative and the discussion surrounding racial, sexual, and gendered queerness stopped and the focus on respectability politics and traditional heterosexual family structures in Black communities emerged.  Mumford attempts to unearth why the reliance on respectability contributed to the erasure of Black homosexuality.

Here within lays Mumford’s frustration and larger argument in Not Straight, Not White. Black gay men live in between worlds – estranged from homosocial environments (clubs, bars, intellectual frameworks, support networks, liberation movements) due to racism and excluded from Black spaces (liberation movements, the academy, politics, media, religious organizations and communities) due to homophobia. For example, Mumford dedicates the entire sixth chapter to writer and activist Joseph Beam. Beam is a product of the combining ideologies of post-Stonewall activism and Black feminist theory of the 1970s and 1980s. Beam is often unacknowledged and underappreciated, but he was a brilliant mind and a masterful writer. Beam’s work centered on community and Black gay culture; a community and culture he never experienced but longed for. In his most popular essay, “Brother to Brother: Words from the Heart,” he challenges all Black men, both gay and straight, to love and celebrate each other. It was a call for kinship and community that he believed lacked in Black spaces. Joseph Beam had a life long struggle of living between worlds. In a letter written to his friend Steve Smith, Beam wrote, “I keep searching for home. When I’m in Black neighborhoods, I feel safe in my Blackness, but know that I’m seen as queer and as a faggot. In white areas, I’m perceived as Black and therefore despicable. Where can I go where these large segments of self can come together and flourish?” (131). Beam struggled with loneliness is entire life. He died of AIDS complications alone in his Philadelphia apart; no one would have known he was gone had his landlord not found his body. Not even Beam’s mother knew that he had the virus. Beam is one of many Black gay that lived in between worlds, and like many other Black gay men, suffered in abandoned silenced. Beam was desperate to merge those two worlds, but his failed attempts resulted in loneliness and depression.

Mumford states that the LGBT identity has progressed and pioneered the collective understandings on how institutions (the state, courts, prisons, etc.) and political activities (far Left activists, right wing conservatives) work, but important questions concerning race are often avoided. In particular, Mumford specifies the role of racial representation, in gay pornography for example, the construction of masculinity, and the struggles to mitigate gay desire and identity with religious proclivities.

To answers these questions, and in “effort toward remaking Black gay history” (8), Mumford recounts the history of Black gay men from the 1950s to the 1990s. Following major movements such as the civil rights era, Black power movement, gay liberation movement, and AIDS activism, Mumford asserts the presence and immense impact of Black gay men in shaping politics, culture, activism, and community. Mumford explores how writers, activists, and performers repudiated negative stereotypes and sexual objectification. He profiled both lesser known and popular Black gay activist, writers and performers to argue for the “genealogy of black gayness and a collective past that deserve serious study and full recognition” (3). Included are Lorraine Hansberry, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Joseph Beam, Jason Holiday, Grant-Michael Fitzgerald, and James Tinney. Mumford elucidates on four pivotal decades that Black gay men were met with racism and homophobia, but also found community and inspired local and national change.

Not Straight, Not White was comprehensively well received. It was positively reviewed by numerous scholars, journalists and writers – including Daniel Rivers in Wiley Online Library,[1] George M. Johnson of America’s AIDS Magazine[2], and Charles Stephens of Lambda Literary[3]. It also won American Library Association’s Stonewall Book Awards in 2017. Not Straight, Not White is Mumford’s third book. He is currently a professor at University of Illinois where he teaches on race relations, African-American history, and the history of sexuality. Mumford believes that Not Straight, Not White is one of the first non-fiction books to concomitantly highlight both Black and gay identities[4].

Mumford does an excellent job of simultaneously illuminating the marginalization and empowerment of those that hold the intersecting identity of Black and gay. He strongly supports his argument will the use of his primary sources that include newspaper archives, pornography and film, government documents, personal papers, and more. He provides thorough historical evidence of Black gay men’s cultural and political impact in the past 50 years. Not Straight, Not White is a staple in African-America history, Queer history, Black Queer/Quare Studies, and Cultural history.

[1] Riley, “Kevin Mumford, Not Straight, Not White”.

[2] Johnson, “Not Straight, Not White: Review”.

[3] Stephen, “Not Straight, Not White”.

[4] Baudler, “Not Straight, Not White Highlights History of Black Gay Men”.

Citation: Mumford, Kevin J. Not Straight, Not White: Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2016

%d bloggers like this: