On the final day of Black History Month, the creme de la creme of negrodom and blackness converged on the city of Los Angeles to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of Tavis Smiley's State of the Black Union. Admittedly, I used to be a fan of Tavis Smiley. I thought he had some great things to say (which I thought he would actually act upon) and when I heard about this gathering of Black America's best and brightest (term loosely used) I thought this would be a great thing. Upon further review, the SOBU turned out to be a supped-up version of the now defunct Black Expo. Some things never change.
Like all people I evolved (read - shook myself from my stupor) and that evolution resulted in my questioning of the courses of actions taken by our self-appointed and community acquiesced leaders. 10 years ago black people had problems and the SOBU was purported to be a formal meeting documenting those problems. The SOBU was also supposed to be a forum in which solutions to those problems, accompanied by action steps to address those problem (i.e. covenant with Black America) were vetted. It's 2009 and just in case you haven't been watching, black folks still have problems.
I try not to think of us in collective terms, but old habits are very hard to break. Is it a wonderful and historic thing that we have our nation's first black president? Absolutely! Is it a beautiful thing to see a black first family who isn't some figment of our imagination or families who haven't insulated themselves from the rest of us because they believe in the classism perpetuated by white hierarchies? It's a great thing and I'm glad for it. However, the majority of the collective hasn't gone to college, much less professional school. Doesn't make them bad or abnormal. The rates are in accordance with any group whose systematic and legalized oppression made things that way... and as they are. So please don't get too pissy with me for not recognizing our collective progress even if what I'm recognizing are the successes of individuals. I don't see the progress of black gays; the lack of presence at the SOBU confirms it. I digress though.
The purpose of this post is the beginning of a discussion about the colossal failure of the SOBU and to talk about the typical and peculiar absence of discussions related to the State of Black GLBT folks. Aside from some random patronizing quote by Cornel West, where was the Black LGBT representation on any of the panels? And please don't attribute homosexuality to some academic who people assume may be down, because they don't count. I'm talking about full, unfettered, representation (What kind of Community Report does one need VIP tix for?) I was expecting to see the usual suspects, Kieth Boykin, Jasmyne Cannick, Phil Wilson... hell, ANYONE would have sufficed - (then I probably would be bitching about the lack of substantiative conversation). It's not as if there weren't topics that could have been brought up. In the past year LGBTs have been thrown under the bus by every group - even those groups thought to have been allies. Black LGBT folks caught hell from our heterosexual, churchgoing counterparts for being against Prop 8 and the larger, predominately white gay community for the actions of our heterosexual churchgoing counterparts. HIV/AIDS is still rampant among young black gay men and even higher among Black women, not a single doctor on any SOBU panel mentioned ANYTHING useful about HIV/AIDS.
As a matter of fact Tye Tribbett, a homophobic gospel singer performed at one the SOBU events. If that doesn't speak volumes about how little the black community values us, I have no idea what does. (Hold this thought though... I'll be writing another post in the future about homosexual homophobes.)
Even with the purposed and deliberate exclusion of Black LGBT folks, the SOBU has stated NOTHING new and has done nothing different. I was expecting this SOBU to be different. Turns out that the SOBU is nothing ore than a meeting for Tavis to peddle his books. I see this as a pattern in our community. Symbolic, showbiz, public displays of activism are wonderful as long as no real work is ever done. Some blacks folks are still waiting on the second coming of M.L. King and some believed that to be Barack Obama. The masses aren't any wiser and the adoption of this single messianic leader ideology is infecting younger generations.
So what should Black LGBT people do? Should we unify? Should we work to identify a person or group of persons we deem capable of articulating our positions? What if we don't agree with that person? Should we form our own SOBGU or attempt to be included with the rest of the SOBU? Do we even know what our problems are or what we want?
I have ideas and I'll start posting them soon. However, I am listening.
Danielle Belton aka The Black Snob gives the SOBU a very thorough review.