Thursday, February 05, 2009

What Happened To Black Media Coverage Of The AA GLBT Community?

African American Transgender History-50's Style was recently linked to by Womanist Musings (thanks, Renee) and posted to Racialicious. (thanks, Latoya)

An interesting discussion developed in the comment thread on that blog centered for the most part on why the African-American media shifted from inclusive coverage in flagship magazines like EBONY, JET and HUE and Black newspapers with a national audience such as the Pittsburgh Courier to an almost total blackout on issues of African descended GLBT people.

Moni's going to share with you her thoughts on why it happened.

You'll notice that most of this coverage happened prior to December 1, 1955.

What's the significance of that date? It's the day Rosa Parks was arrested and the subsequent start of the Montgomery Bus Boycott that kicked off the African-American civil rights movement.

The messaging of that movement sought to deny segregationists any chance to use negative stereotypes of the African-American community to impede the progress or momentum toward freedom and equality. In the zeal to show that we're Americans 'just like you', the frank discussions and coverage of GLBT issues in Black owned media and newspapers that were taking place in the early 50's disappeared because of a reluctance to air the community's 'dirty laundry'.

I think you can guess what issues became considered the community's 'dirty laundry' as the Civil Rights Movement gathered steam during an era of McCarthyism and increased calls for Black gay peeps like Bayard Rustin to lower their profiles in a movement they helped organize, create strategies and provide funding for.

At the same time this debate was raging, the African American media shifted focus to covering the various civil rights campaigns, the tumultuous events of the 50's and 60's and documenting the 'First Black' historical breakthroughs of the 70's, 80's and 90's in various fields. I have no quarrel with that because if Black media hadn't done it, no one else would have.

At the same time, they were losing their most talented journalists who had intimate knowledge of the Black community due to integration opening up better paying opportunities formerly closed to them.

The consequences of that shift are the glaring examples of the 1965 Dewey's protest in Philadelphia wasn't covered by our media (or as of yet, haven't stumbled across a JET or EBONY that covered the event) and transsistah Avon Wilson being revealed in October 1966 as the first client of the John's Hopkins Gender Clinic being done by a New York Daily News gossip columnist.

The first article I spotted in an African-American publication on transgender issues was a 1979 JET story on Justina Williams, complete with correct pronouns 20 plus years before the AP Stylebook rules for covering transgender people came out. ESSENCE magazine, which focuses on African American women, published the only article I can recall on a transperson in 2006, and the magazine has been in publication since the 1970's.

The one thing that continues to irritate me is the complete blackout of news on African-American GLBT people in Black owned media publications. It's even more galling when you see these stories like the late Duanna Johnson's beating at the hands of Memphis cops or Isis King not getting the coverage they deserve in OUR media and it needs to change.

Since we can't seem to get a respectfully fair shake in mainstream media publications, it's past time that our stories be told in our media outlets that we African descended GLBT people support with our dollars. African descended GLBT people aren't going away and it's time our peeps knew more about us than the myths, lies and outright falsehoods being told about us for specious reasons.


Go Go Jo Jo said...

This is an issue very dear to me. I went into af-am studies and minored in the studies of women and gender because i wanted to do Black LGBT history.

it is painful the amount of information that exists that is not readily available to the broader community. i am particularly upset with mainstream Black media because i believe that their homophobic practices promote a very heterosexist ideal in the community.

what i can't understand is how, knowing that there *have* to be queer people in the media world (come on now, we're everywhere) this has been allowed to persist for so long.

i am times torn between my desire to work in journalism and try to change this situation and follow my personal nerdy passion into academia.

Monica Roberts said...

Jo Jo,
Do what your heart tells you.

Yes, it is mind boggling how much history we have lost, especially due to the early stages of the AIDS epidemic.

I think a lot of the reason for the media blackout is this 'dirty laundry' attitude that started during the Civil Rights movement and has been invoked to stifle discussion on any sensitive topic within our community for fear of making the community 'look bad'

BET took care of that, so if you can show booty shaking videos of scantily clad sistahs on a ostensibly Black owned network and not care about what message that sends, why should frank discussion on Black GLBT history and Black GLBT issues bother anybody?

gogojojo said...

I agree. Black media's hysteria about portraying "the best" of us means that many of the non-normative aspects of our culture go unexplored. For example I was watching TV1 a couple days before inauguration and they were playing one of the three million unofficial biographical documentaries created about President Obama this year. They made a *HUGE* deal about him identifying as Christian. No his mama wasn't and yeah he supposedly didn't always believe. But rest assured he loves Jesus now. Which is great I love Jesus too. But it makes it seem as if there are none of us darker brothers and sisters (seriously that is my new favorite way of describing Black people) who do not identify with that and/or do not care.

I just get so frustrated because so many people I knew in college would not get involved in community organizing (such as it was) because they were worried about what parts of themselves they would have to leave behind to become part of the monolithic blackness portrayed in the magazines and tv shows. Its a travesty in my opinion. I mean you could go back and read old issues of Ebony/Essence and never dream that the magazines would become what they are today.