Growing up in the 90s, Black representation on TV was diverse enough to make me believe I didn’t have to just be a ball player or drug dealer. I could go to outer space like Whoopi inStar Trek: The Next Generation, attend an HBCU like the kids on A Different World, solve mysteries like Jamal did on Ghost Writer, or sign to Bad Boy Records and be a music superstar – this one was a LEGIT goal of mine. I had options.
Fast-forward to 2019; I’m older, a little wiser and a lot more handsome. I find my adult-self still looking for not necessarily professional touchstones but personal ones. If it was solely a matter of career, I’d be all set. The arena for Black creatives is wide open in just about every category: music, movies, television, literature/writing. The list is long and dazzling, filled with people who entertain us, move us, and inspire us.
But when I start to look for inspiration for Black love, specifically Black male queer love?
While we are seeing more Black queer characters on our TV screens, most often they’re with a white partner. Shows like The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Sex Educationand Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidtall feature a Black Gay lead with a non-Black love interest. Think about how rare it is to see a Black queer male couple on your screen. ExcludingEmpire(and we can thank Jussie Smollett for saying “fuck no”to his character having a white boyfriend, how far back does your mind have to travel? In 2012 there was Kaldrick and Christopher on The L.A. Complex, but if you’re looking for a non-abusive depiction, you have to go even farther back to 2006 and Noah’s Arc. Thirteen years. Think about the underlying (or perhaps blatant) message this sends. Black men loving each other is unacceptable, not marketable and unpalatable.Take the popular Netflix series Dear White People. The storyline of the only male Black Gay lead, Lionel (portrayed by actor DeRon Horton), was initially handled well. His lovable geekiness quickly won over his college comrades and he was able to come to terms with his sexuality. The interesting thing is, none of this exploration or liberation included a Black love interest. While there was the freshman year crush on his Black (and very straight) roommate, the men young Lionel actually chose to pursue relationships with were all white or white-adjacent. In a show that’s all about in your face messaging, this particular message is crystal clear: It’s perfectly fine to lust after Black bodies, but loving Black people is never ideal.
The 2015 film “Blackbird” is almost an exact duplicate. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll save you the 90 or so minutes and tell you that basically it’s about a small-town Black gay teen who has an unrequited crush on his Black best friend, but finds sexual freedom with….wait for it…a white guy. It’d almost be comical if it wasn’t so oppressive and predictable, this constant presentation of interracial relationships as the Holy Grail, a white boyfriend as the alabaster key to the kingdom.
Interestingly enough, this phenomena has bled over into the personal lives of Black queer creatives as well. If you take a look at the list of visible Black gay male celebs, whose relationships are public, you’ll find that most are dating/married to white men. From RuPaul, to Broadway phenom Billy Porter, YouTube sensation Todrick Hall, Queer Eye’sKaramo Brown, director Lee Daniels, news pundit Don Lemon, creator ofDear White PeopleJustin Simien, Greenleafactor Benjamin Patterson, none of them have Black partners. Is procuring a white partner the real illuminati blood sacrifice, forsaking a Black partner for assurance of prosperity? I say that partly in jest, but we cannot ignore the fact that proximity to whiteness does aid one’s pursuit of success, especially in Hollywood. Yes, I’m sure if surveyed, you’d get the rehearsed answers of “love is love” and “it’s just who I fell in love with”. Could it be mere coincidence that so many from such a small community are swirling? I think not.
This illustrates why representationis so very important, on and off camera. Not only do we need Black people telling our stories, we need, Black people who believe and promote Black love to tell our stories. It shouldn’t be a reach or a difficult search. In a television landscape that has given us superheroes, talking animals and every iteration of magical storyline imaginable, quality Black queer stories shouldn’t be a tall order. Does a hashtag need to be started similar to #OscarSoWhite to get the proverbial ball rolling? #QueerLoveSoNeopolitan? Listen, that ice cream is trash and so is the notion of such a hashtag. No campaign needed, stop co-opting our love.
If I, an adult in my early 30s have to rack my brain for an example in the community I’m a part of, what of younger people? The ones still searching for their likenesses on film, in print, or just walking down the street. They’re being conditioned to believe that the brass ring is only worth attaining if held by a white hand.
An intersectional identity of being Black and gay has added stress, extra burdens. That deserves to be explored, depicted and discussed without a white gatekeeper. Now, more than ever, in this heightened media age, we should understand the power of the visual aspect of a thing. Black love exists, Black Queer love exists. We need to see it, feel it, recline in it. The power of it, the majesty of it, the sheer joy of it. Not only is it deserved but required.