115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Queering Blackness/Racializing Queerness

Elena Kiesling, Independent Scholar

Queerness generates its most powerful critique when speaking from a marginalized position which acknowledges the material realities of intersectional experiences that include race, gender, sexuality, and class. As an originally radical anti-identitarian ideal, born amid the coalitional struggle against HIV/AIDS it has, however, recently struggled with its own intersectional profile.

Proposal: 

Queering Blackness/Racializing Queerness

 

Queerness generates its most powerful critique when speaking from a marginalized position which acknowledges the material realities of intersectional experiences that include race, gender, sexuality, and class. As an originally radical anti-identitarian ideal, born amid the coalitional struggle against HIV/AIDS it has, however, recently struggled with its own intersectional profile. Queerness is often embedded within a homonormative, neoliberal political framework, synonymous with a commitment to same-sex marriage and equal rights     

rather than a coalitional and intersectional politics that speaks to those on the margins. Within such a framework, queerness struggles to recognize the different implications of identity for white queers versus people of color, especially for blacks.

This paper revisits the intricate relationship between blackness and queerness in order to offer a broader vision that is both a challenge and a promise to queerness as it is currently centering whiteness, middle-classness, and used as an evaluative tool to compare the U.S.’s level of modernity to other, presumably less modern nation-states. It takes a closer look at where and how blackness and queerness must meet in order to create properly angled attacks on heteronormative systems of power functioning through the taxonomy of racialized, gendered, sexualized, and classed behaviors. Cathy Cohen's understanding of blackness as queerness functions as the starting point for understanding what queerness must mean, especially in an unstable, post-Obama political environment, if it wants to honor its coalitional beginnings and account for black lives.

Queerness is now reclaimed and mobilized within the movement for black lives, especially in the work of Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter, in addition to brave scholarly work within a Queer of Color Critique and a vast array of work from popular culture (film, literature) counters the prevailing assumption of blackness as straight and queerness as white. This paper examines the conflicting relationship between queerness and identity against the background of these examples. It argues that queerness, as an ideological ideal and analytical tool, needs to account for intersectional, lived experiences and requires a version of queerness that is critical of the racist assumptions of the state, not complicit with it. Only then can queerness develop its most forceful critique of the present.