Photo of Taylor Bennett courtesy of Twitter.
Sharing God: Myles E. Johnson On Homophobia in Hip-Hop, The Black Church + Faith
Photo of Taylor Bennett and ILoveMakonnen courtesy of Twitter.
"Have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church, I brought in with me [and] I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God." — Alice Walker
There are plenty of black queer people that I have grown to love who found their first heartbreak in the House of the Lord. It is a humiliating heartbreak. It is a heartbreak that happens with the preacher in the pulpit and the onlookers shouting in tongues shaming how others might choose to use theirs.
I have known many black queer people that are no longer here because they decided to crucify themselves in their closets. I did not grow up in the church, I have only visited. However, I would still consider myself theist because of all the black queer people that have habitually shared God with me throughout my life.
Near the end of January, the inters-of-nets were aflame with conversation surrounding Kim Burrell's comments condemning the homosexual spirit that was ravishing so many people across God's green earth. It is important to note that like domination practices itself, what Burrell said was not necessarily unique or new. Either way, it went public. The weaponization of Christianity against the queer body and life is not unique to black people, but just like all other forms of domination, it does become radicalized and different in the black community.
It is not more or less intense, but it is special.
This is to say, to be rejected by the church as a black queer person is not to just be rejected by God, but the world that holds the birth of Rock 'N Roll, blues, jazz; where Whitney Houston found her voice and the place that dreamed up Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Homophobia in the black community isn't necessarily more or less, but it is unique. And like most unique things, it changes how other things are accepted and experienced.
Photo of Kim Burrell and Eddie Long courtesy of Twitter.
I was bombarded with phone calls when Bishop Eddie Long died. All from black queer men. All of them were feeling an extreme amount of guilt because of the relief they felt once they discovered Eddie Long had passed. The tragedy of death can turn into relief when trauma is attached to the body. I spent most of my day working through these emotions with these queer black men. The question I found myself asking most often was when exactly would trauma stop skewing our reality? When will death be something to mourn or community be something to desire?
Trauma manipulates how everything touches us. It puts filters over events; tragic deaths bring relief. The idea of community can bring terror and anxiety especially when you know those that you are to be communing with see you as a pervert and an abomination. The trauma brought on by expressed bigotry (and those that know better, but silently observe and allow) has stolen something from the black queer soul and consciousness. I speak directly to the people who have been robbed, routinely.
There is no way to truly know how long the black church will wrestle with the acceptance of the queer experience. There is no way to predict if there will ever be a space where deep, black, community-centered spiritual practices will be accepting of all genders and sexualities that rebel against the ones we were colonized into abiding by. It is my best bet that the answer will not live inside one revolutionary moment that will transform the black religious person that practices queerphobia for forever. Instead, it lives in tiny opportunities that we face as black people every day. We choose, in small ways, the kind of black community we want to exist in by what we advocate for, what we reject and what we ignore.
When rappers like ILoveMakonnen and Taylor Bennett (the brother of Grammy Award winning rapper, Chance The Rapper) publicly revealed their sexuality, it has to be consumed as more than news about celebrated public figures. It has to be consumed as an opportunity to practice the change we theorize about. If gender and sexuality inclusion can happen in such a deeply patriarchal cultural landscape like hip-hop, it tells us that it can happen in all communities rooted in black community and participation.
My hope in my lifetime is to not see a mass rejection of black participation in homophobia and the continuous weaponization of Christianity against people that fail patriarchal standards.
Photo of Taylor Bennett courtesy of Twitter.
I am not that full of faith, though. My hope aside, as queer folks become more visible and vocal, I feel that black folks who know better will do better. Not just in private, but do better in the pulpit, on stage, and on other media platforms. Hip-hop and the black spiritual space are places that I respect and hold dear. However, I do not romanticize this decolonized perfection that probably will never happen as long as we exist in America in these spaces. In my wildest of dreams, I do not dream of an overhaul of the ideas and practices our bodies have been conditioned into believing and perpetuating.
I just want us to do better. Take one step forward, then another. Take one small risk, then a bigger one. If you know what is good, also practice and speak into existence what is good. Outside of this just being seen as the liberation of black sexuality and gender; I see these conversations and actions as the work of "practicing what you preach," even when the preacher refuses to do the same. Like a prayer, this can be a small habit that infiltrates all of our lives and may actually manifest the black world that I'm not quite faithful enough to even imagine.
They say it only takes faith the size of a mustard seed and I may very well be able to muster that up if it helps push us to a space where black people can come together to not weaponize or find God, but share God.