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In Praise of non-Famous Black Women

15 Nov

As I ran on the treadmill this morning at Duke University, realizing that I am presently a doctoral student in the English program, preparing for my preliminary exams (some call them “comprehensive”) and teaching a course to a group of first years, I realized that I was literally not supposed to be there…on the treadmill…running…at Duke.  You see, while studying during my undergraduate days, I was horribly unprepared for the rigors of the institution, the culture shock that forced me to reconsider class – I thought I was “middle class” until I realized that my parents were much closer to less-than middle class; that money did not flow freely; that keeping up with the Joneses was simply silly for me.  I did not know how to survive, how to be happy.  I was a black, gay Pentecostal boy, founder of the New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir who couldn’t seem to get my life together.  Academically, I was flailing.  There was that one semester when my GPA reached the depths of a 1.3 for the semester.

But anyway.  I thought again today how my survival at the various universities I have attended – University of Pennsylvania, Emory University, and now Duke University – would not have been possible if it were not for the love, support and guidance of those whom are generally overlooked, whom the university thinks expendable and easily replaceable.  As  my Facebook status attested this morning: had it not been for the administrative staff – black women – at these universities (secretaries, housekeepers, front-desk staff, card-swipers at cafeterias, etc), I would not have been able to graduate.  I think the people who have helped me survive need to be praised, need to be cherished for their ongoing and unseen (and unwarranted) contributions to the universities.

This is not sophisticated prose.  This is me trying to say thank you.

There is one such Ms. NameRemoved at Penn who made sure I ate even when I had no meal plan because I could not afford one.  She would take my school ID, slide it in the machine upside down to give the appearance that it was a legit validation and entry into the cafeteria.  She had knowledge of the inner workings of the institution that she was able to flout and a love of others that she wanted to sustain.  I appreciate her and what I would think of under the rubric of “ministry” (for when I was hungry, she fed me…seriously).

There is one such Ms. Cora Ingrum, an unsung hero at Penn both in the Engineering School and in the larger university system.  The head of the office of minority programming, Ms. Ingrum spoke to my parents roughly once a week during my first year because they were concerned for my well-being.  She never worried me by telling me my parents were worried then.  She waited.  She encouraged me…daily.  She hugged me a lot.  She was so much more than an advisor and counselor.  She embodied (and still embodies) the type of love ethic that I long to display to my students today.  I left engineering as a discipline a very long time ago but I still am connected with Ms. Ingrum because she showed me how to move through university systems caring for others and self.

There is one such Ms. Donna Hampton.  Words, literally, could not describe who she was and is to me.  I’m pretty sure she’s the first person I ever shared my fictional writing with, the first person who allowed me to be gay and black and Christian and contradictory all at the same time, all while loving me and listening to me and making me think I had a voice that should be heard.  I would walk into the office at Penn, see her sitting and would talk to her for hours.  She was a therapist before I knew that therapy was a good thing and a friend that I never knew I needed.

There is one such Jennifer Stiles.  I would walk into Du Bois College House and talk to her for hours at night.  And I mean hours.  From 4 until midnight.  She taught me so much more about being human, about recognizing the connections we make with others, about being truthful and honest with self and others.  She made me laugh a lot, made me angry a lot and made me think all of the time.  That front desk at Du Bois recounts too many memories.

There is one such Jamila Garret-Bell.  The first club I ever went to in Atlanta was with Jamila and she still tells me how I exclaimed (I was drunk) “this McDonald’s is the FRESHEST McDonald’s I’ve ever had in my life!”  That to say that I felt really comfortable around Jamila.  I’m a talker and I would sit in the chair next to her desk at Candler and talk about everything and nothing.  She was one of the first people at the seminary to know that I liked dudes and she never judged me for it, which was something I expected around every corner because “jesus school” was so problematic to me.  She showed me how to be graceful and gracious, how to have poise and tact.  She showed me how to smile in the face of hardship and how to move forward.

There is one such Ayanna Abi Kyles.  What could I say?  She did (and does) mean the world to me and I am forever grateful for encountering her, her love, her ministry.  I truly do believe Ayanna is the embodiment of self-love and exudes this with her dealings with other people.  If I’d sit and talk to Jamila for an hour, I’d leave her chair to go talk to Ayanna for hours more.  Ayanna saw in me worth and value that I could not see in myself.  Ayanna saw in me the desire to love others when I could not recognize myself in the mirror.  She would listen to me recount heartbreak after heartbreak, would allow me to be despondent, would let me be sad.  Ayanna would press against me when I was wrong (and I was wrong much of the time; most of the time?) but would never leave me thinking I was irredeemable.  She always let me know that she had my back, that she loved me and was there for me.  And when I was set to graduate from seminary, she told me that she wanted to be the one to present me with the stole during the “Sacred Worth” commencement ceremony because she wanted to honor and acknowledge the erotic life-world in which I exist and to give me strength for the world to come.

These stories, of course, are the tip of the iceberg.  I could say too much more about each of these women.  I post here because they enact for me what it means to be feminist, what it means to be womanist.  They are love, joy, peace, long-suffering in the flesh and they dwell among us.  They are the social world of the university that, many could attest, all others to survive.

Someone should write this book.  The book about auxiliary staff at colleges and universities whose kind smiles, warm hellos, and “meet me at this time in my office to discuss your financial aid” with a wink and nod allowed us to persist.

So this is an invitation.  Tell your story.  Pay homage.

I am interested in a project, quite literally, that lets us tell our story and lets us share our stories with those who have so effected us.  I am interested in having them tell their stories to us.  I am interested in critical dialogue because there is knowledge that they have that we need; they shared it with us implicitly and it’d be great to be explicit.

Some ideas:

  • contacting the university alumni/ae publication and request space to share these types of stories; maybe a special edition
  • an edited volume of sorts; collecting and sharing
  • something like the New Orleans Neighborhood Story Sharing Project ( – localized, small, intimate but does the same work of collecting story and sharing with others
  • something else?

What are your thoughts?


(Not) About Jamal Parris: A Premature Critique of BlackQueer Conservatism

21 Oct

this is a repost of some things i am thinking through and have been for some time now.  lest we forget that the eddie long “scandal” is far from resolved, that conversation needs to be ongoing and intentional.

So this is the weird me. Trying to think about my continual relationship and disavowal of what is called the Black Church and what I call BlackChristianity. Personal in reflection by some more general claims, hoping to get somewhere with this theorizing. So as much as I write against a certain BlackQueer conservatism, I write against myself.  This is a follow-up to another piece titled “(Not) About Eddie Long: BlackQueerness and Social Life” written shortly after the news of the lawsuits against Long first broke.

A claim: BlackQueerness is the condition of possibility for imagining a new world. Its seemingly erroneous underside: BlackChristianity cannot kill this possibility and a place like New Birth may be especially productive for imagination. Given the fascination with Eddie Long and his particular alleged infractions, it seems that mainstream media has been fairly successful with depicting him as a tragic figure, hypocritical of course, monstrous as well. Because I am not particularly fond of him in general, reading about the alleged acts was not surprising, and most certainly sad. But to linger in this moment as a crisis of BlackChristianity – by simplistic assertions about the seeming erratic, excessive homophobia of the Black Church – is to reproduce narratives of blackness as excess and, thus, dangerous, criminal, fugitive. Blackness might be all of these things, but unlike most news reports, I think this is cause for celebration. To continue to read the conspicuous consumption of New Birth’s tragic “David with five stones” as a special case of abuse of masculine power is to quite literally dance over the ways violent masculinist power is reproduced in the quotidian, mundane, ordinary, everyday occurrences of life. If some of us can continue to step in the name of love without flinching while claiming Long’s account as a more seriously egregious fault reproduces narratives of queerness as some extra-ordinary, non-quotidian erotics that is hella problematic.

So to ask a tough question: are there ways in which intense, intentional homophobic rhetoric can create the condition of possibility for social life? Or, more directly, does the zone of homophobia remove the agency of the person subjected to such virulent rhetoric? Though I fully recognize the problematics of such declarations – they are inconsistent with biblical notions of loving neighbor as self; they are hateful and display a lack of finesse when exegeting biblical text – rather than focus on the condition of the institution in which homophobia is a part and parcel, I would like to think about how life exists in that space, how people create a space in the horrible confinement. Does the oral rhetoric become the occasion for “opaque acts” that are “dark points of possibility” for agential enactment?[1] This is important to consider because the Black Church is a space where a lot of queer folks exist. And we do not only lament the fact that we are queer. We feel sad, yes. Melancholy, certainly. Feel the rhetoric is fucked up, of course. But we also laugh and dance in the spirit, we wink and nod at each other secretly, we exchange glances and phone numbers, we talk late into the night and have sex early in the morning.  All of this contradiction and complicatedness exists and is a sign of fecund, fertile life.

I have spent time trying to convince people to leave their churches because of the homophobia. Many will not. As much pain is there, there is also pleasure. The ability to have pleasure in the spaces that try to make it impossible is important. For me to desire everyone to leave the zone where they have pleasure isn’t too queer at all. Rather, that desire is just as Victorian and Puritanical as Evangelical Christians wanting to kick us out. So on the one hand, the homophobic rhetoric is supposed to subject queer folks to feelings of hurt, shame, loss, abandonment. And though it may do this, it just as often fails. Something like Moten would say: the consent we cannot give to hearing the rhetoric we can, still, withhold. We have the capacity to withhold in us a certain consent to the theological, emotional, psychical violence we are made to endure. And having the capacity to withhold, we have something in us that persists.

So I wonder if notions of self-hatred are not rhetorics of subjection, telling people what they are supposed to feel, giving them a path (right on out the church; to an “affirming” space) previous to their having felt any hatred of self at all. I mean, I was definitely confused as hell about my libidinal drive when I was a teenager. I definitely wanted to be saved and thought being gay was a sin. But I didn’t hate myself. I thought I had a future. There was a theology of “struggle” animating my relationship with my sexuality. I always thought that I could be delivered and, so, life was in abeyance. Life was in that suspended space between the libido of the present and the deliverance to come. We give a lot of attention to notions of deliverance as problematic and struggle as bullshit. But what about that space in the middle where all sorts of creativity is invoked for one to name oneself, for one to build relationships with others, for folks to think a way out altogether. Having a problematic theology of struggle was, at least for me, the condition of possibility to think I had a future with unbounded prospects. Theology of struggle let me suspend the worry about changing as a necessity today, let me put it off for some undetermined future. It created a space for me to exist. So another question: are affirming spaces always (if even primarily) safe? And are safe spaces always (even if primarily) affirming?

Popular media depictions of homophobia evacuate any possible agential potentiality, rendering intimacy in these particular zones of contact pathological and impossible concurrently. The homophobic rhetoric of BlackChristianity constrains us with no possibility for movement, for contestation, for resistance (and this is not a romance of resistance). But I wonders if self-hatred is the only way to be self-critical, if self-hatred is the only possibility for remaining in a problematic space. Having read a variety of critiques of the Black Church as an institution, usually in the form of missives telling people to escape the backwardness of the institution, I wonder about the anxiety animating these ideologies. There seems to be a particular worry about the impossible pleasure in the spaces that are deemed homophobic, a critique of enjoyment. We’ve gotta ask, though, “why do you like it here?” And, given the way the performative behaviors of what “Black Church” means (the dancing, sweating, long services, loud singing, hand-clapping, foot-stomping, etc.) are very often physically exhausting, embodied actions, I am speculating about how a liberal critique of the Black Church at some interesting nodal points parallels and revises the rhetoric of persistent critiques against queer people. Are there classist and elitist strains grounding the critique of the Black Church?

A Pew Research poll found that Atheists and Agnostics have more “knowledge” of religions than “believers.” Notwithstanding the fact that I do not find standardized tests regarding religion less biased than I do the SAT or GRE, what really intrigued me is the initial reaction by many non-religious folks on Facebook and Twitter. I imagined those non-believers printing the research findings and walking in the streets dancing, singing, laughing. I also imagined believers printing the findings and having bonfires. The polling data, of course, is taken to be truth; it is text believed to represent flesh. One’s gotta have a lot of faith in the truth claims the poll data is making. But more than that, I am intrigued by the ways strained knowledge comes to stand in for those who are knowledgeable. Declarations of the backwardness of these religious folks were rampant. If they only knew more, they’d behave differently. This means that religion is some sensual, bodily, primitivist thing and non-belief is a cerebral thing. But is religion merely about facts and figures? Nothing of community building or relationality? Nothing of prayer? Nothing of transcendence? I mention this research because the Black Protestants polled scored second lowest on all accounts.

Problematic, though, is the idea that knowledge is merely a cerebral thing, that religion is not as much about feeling as it is about facts. And I think the feeling is scary as hell…because it can be so pleasurable. As much as the Black Church offends us (and for many reasons, “it” should), at least some of the anxiety about it, I think is created by a seeming need to shore up against the sensuousness it offers (this, of course, could be said for all religious tradition). I can think about this with relation to Black Pentecostalism. Once I became “enlightened” and “knowledgeable,” enjoyment became so problematic. So I critiqued and wrote against other people’s enjoyment and pleasure in the space that was so problematic. Rather than asking about the effort and intentionality of pleasure in the most impossible of places, I wanted to curtail the possibility for pleasure in others. And that’s not cool. My particular anxiety made me wary of the space itself, not because of knowledge, but because of feeling. Hearing a Hammond B-3 organ still gets me. The arpeggios and bass runs, the notes at the high register and the pace of shout music began to worry me because not only could I not easily explain what it does to me, I would feel compelled to dance along with others.

So maybe instead of forcing people to leave spaces prematurely, we can think about the effort with which people sustain themselves in the most impossible of conditions. Or ask why is it pleasurable to exist there, in that contradiction of rhetorics and incongruous behaviors? What knowledge is carried in heads, in hearts, that allow for this sort of enunciation of personhood. Jamal Parris is one of the young men who alleges that Eddie Long coerced young men into erotic relationships, exploiting power by way of material possessions. Listening to Parris, he calls Long a monster, says that he still loves him and wishes he could forget the scent of his cologne. He declares that he is not gay but confused. Are these declarations homophobic? Hypocritical? Or are they declarations about the limits of language that cannot fully describe a relationship that didn’t feel right?

New words are necessary to indict the words which we tend to describe issues of power, religion, erotics. New worlds can be created in the midst of and in response to the given, known, hurtful worlds. It’s sorta like when a preacher is up talking and the musician is “padding” behind her or him, playing “nothing music” softly (for a PERFECT example, People may be giving attention to the preacher but they very well may be engaged in an underground conversation taking place in plain view. Phones that allow for text messaging, Twitter and Facebook just make more apparent the fact of communication that have always gone on while preachers ain’t sayin nothin, while the organist is padding softly and necessarily backgrounding sound. There is social life occurring right below the surface that emerges because of the apparentness of the surface. How can we attend to this sociality? How can we think feeling as a mode of knowledge? BlackQueerness can get us there.

[1] Brooks, D. (2006). Bodies in dissent : spectacular performances of race and freedom, 1850-1910. Durham, Duke University Press.

On the possibilities for beauty; for love.

27 Sep

We live in a hurting and hurtful world.  News reports abound, of course, that makes nihilism a quotidian way of life.  But more than that, it is a viable option for moving through times that give us so little reason to smile, to love, to have joy.  But the beat drops and you see folks nodding their head in a hooptie in the hood.  You see a kid running, laughing, with the biggest smile on his, her or hir face.  And you begin to wonder.  And feel, maybe just slightly, wonderful.  There is beauty in the world, in this world.  Not because of what we do, what we create or our life situation; there is beauty because we are here, because we exist, because we are.

I remember the sermon I preached at Metro State Women’s Prison in Atlanta, GA in 2005.  Women locked up, behind bars, behind walls…away from family, with khaki colored prison uniforms, white socks and sneakers on.  To consider life within the compressed space of the prison is to think about the possibility for joy in the most constrained environments.  To think about the life, love and laughter there is to elucidate for me how there is the possibility for something new in situations that are rather horrific.  To linger in the condition of imprisonment would make us miss the humanity of the women altogether.  What can we learn from the incessant desire to remake the world, even in the confines of constraint?  The sermon I preached – “You Are Beautiful” – resonates with me even, if not especially, today because I do not think we hear it often enough.  So here, right now, to you, I say: you are beautiful.

In the biblical book of Genesis – that space where things began, where things were spoken, where things were called forth – is a simple mythic declaration from the deity figure: “let us make humankind after our image and in our likeness.”  Surely, this seems simple at first blush until we consider the context in which this initially oral tale was told.  Israel was a captive group, always in danger of being stolen from their land into diverse places and put to work.  The Egypt narrative – where they were enslaved and forced to labor – is one such space to consider.  Other religious traditions in existence during the time this Hebrew biblical story was being told posited that only the king or chief or leader was created in the image of the Divine.  As such, the status of the individual was the condition of possibility for beauty.

Beauty – in the way of image and likeness – is conferred upon us all.  Thus, the narrative of “let us make humankind after our image and in our likeness” democratizes the notion of beauty.  This beauty is not a function of what one does or what one’s labors produce.  Beauty is not limited to those who have a particular class, gendered or ethnic status but is opened up to all created being. Beauty resides in the very fact that you are an idea, an idea that exists…here.  Now.

To begin again.

In Beloved, Baby Suggs preaches in the clearing – the compressed space of the wilderness, the far far away, distant land – always in danger of being violated because the bodies populating the worship service were constantly surveilled.  It was there in that place that she told the people to laugh, cry and dance, to love their hands and hearts.  If there was a confession of faith it was in this: say that you love yourself.  Indeed, that is the prize.  Loving yourself indulges your beauty.

Loving yourself in the face of impossibility is the prize, it is the knowledge of beauty in the world of refusal.  There is a gap between love and the things deemed possible.  In that gap is desire for relationality, for love, for remaking the world.  In the gap between the fact of enslavement and the idea of freedom are those dancing, moaning bodies to whom Baby Suggs preaches.  In the space between the fact of imprisonment and the idea of liberation are the women of Metro State Women’s prison, having social, sexual, erotic lives when the prison would preclude this potential.  Evident is that we can inhabit multiple worlds simultaneously.  The world we perceive quickly  is not the only one available.  There is beauty in the world…this world.

I have been obsessing over the bass lines in songs lately because they do what I wish to do: extend the beat with playfulness, by the pluck of the string.  The virtuosity with which bass players perform is a primary example of the sorta play that intrigues me (listen to Musiq’s “Until” for an example:  Running and jumping and descending the scales, sometimes in succession, others in atonal intervals.  In between the bass notes plucked is, I think, the desire to stretch the meaning of that very infinitesimal pluck of the string, the hope that the vibration of the string which we hear can be ongoing, that it will allow us to linger just a little while longer.  I want to be in between these notes, to look around a bit, to explore possibilities unbounded, possibilities abounding.

Love, in my opinion, allows us to relate to one another.  It is what caused Harriet Tubman to think of freedom as a fundamentally social thing: she missed the people with whom she lived and laughed, felt pleasure as well as pain.  Freedom was a spiritual thing, and a community experience.  To be in New York alone was not freedom.  To escape with others…that was freedom.  Freedom was not in the place of New York.  Rather, it was in the space, in the between, in the movement back and forth.  Freedom was in her love, in her loving movements, in her loving escapes.  Freedom was in her capacity to have emotion and to find ways to enact them.

Relationships are the occasion for organizing and targeting toward specific objects, thoughts about love, happiness, joy, affection and care.  Emotion resides in us and is quickened when we meet someone towards whom we would like to explore the possibilities of expressing these feelings.  These emotions exist previous to their being enacted.  Love precedes the occasion or event, simply searching for a chance to be performed.  Our emotions exist as preface and many times there is the undesirable postlude (the break-up).  But we want the song.  The song is the in-between-ness that gives the chance for social interaction.

To love is to linger, to extend the feeling as long as possible.  Maybe this is why repetition in music is so powerful, why bent notes are so persuasive, why melisma is so enrapturing, why screams are so piercing.  These sounds go down, way down, deep down below the surface to infinite depths, exploring possibilities for life, love and liberty.

And Baby Suggs preached about love and beauty.  And in Genesis, we have a narrative about love and beauty.  We continually are reminded that even in the most horrible of conditions, love and beauty must be possible.  They are what allow us to relate to one another, what prompts our imagination toward the making of a new world.  So in this world of hurt and hurtfulness, love and beauty are not destroyed.  Rather, since they precede action and are organized according to situation, when they are compressed they are enacted creatively.

On Audience

8 Jul

*updated 7/11/10. the video was incorrect. see the correct video below*

To begin with an aside, a video:

I’m really not down with proselytizing and trying to get folks saved. No. The reason I am interested in this performance is because the singers are, of necessity, blind but there is a background noise – of hands clapping – that features only a female group. I want to be attentive to the gendered dynamics of such performance. On the one side, literally, there are male singers who cannot see the women occupying the other side of the stage. The women are there to applaud the actions of the men. It is this sort of gendered incongruence that I think is a feature of much black popular culture. The women in this performance serve as a repository, as an audience for the men who are blind (to them, to their posture) but nevertheless need the performance of the feminine for their own performance of song to cohere properly.  Of course, the genius of the “Blind Boys” was in the fact of their blindness, in the fact that we are an ableist world that privileges certain modes of bodily existence as normative.  This literal blindness was exploited by record companies who would utilize these voices while not paying the proper amounts of money.  I want to be attentive to the ways that blindness as a metaphor can work in the service of ableist normativity and say that this writing is against that sort of ableism.

As the necessarily constructed audience is female, I want to give attention to other constructions of audience. The problematic construction of audience that I detect in the performance of “Leaning” is the reason why I am bothered by Tyler Perry. The ways in which media constructs black audience has all sorts of resonances for the ways we think through and think about gender. So I want to offer a few words about how TP constructs his audiences and how a figure like Aaron McGruder – by way of the cartoon The Boondocks – works against these gendered problematics.

To begin again for the second time, another aside: when I talk to black women – if we’re on the phone, if we go to dinner, if we’re walking down the street – they often call me “girl…” you know, in that “sistergirlfriend” sort of way. Sometimes we’re talking about dating and relationships. Other times, we’re talking about food and football. But somehow, I – a male-identified, male-bodied subject – come to occupy the space of “girl” for these women with whom I am in such close relationship. What this hints at, for me at least, is that the ways in which “sistergirlfriend” is constructed has as much to do with the sorts of conversations that take place between folks as it does with the bodies who sit in front of or walk beside us. We don’t always agree but we converse. Because of the ease with which we can speak about issues, because of the comfort with knowing each other, because we glide in and out of a variety of topics, I can figure differently – as “girl”…and that’s real cool to me. (Though, I am always aware of the gendered dynamics of any conversational transaction between myself and women; I do not name this ease with relationship in order to declare that I am not still influenced by and must daily struggle against sexism, misogyny and patriarchy.) I name this relationship in order to recalibrate how gender and audience is conceived, not necessarily based on bodily construction but equally on the possibility for conversation between subjects.

And thus, Tyler Perry. We all know about and many lament the work he produces. Black women, for him it appears, are a monolithic group. They are either professionally successful but vindictive or professionally wanting but sweet. They are trifling or triumphant…all through the power of Jesus and a man who will serve as an erotic and romantic partner. His work is as homophobic as it is sexist, patriarchal and boring. Nuance is not the name of his game. TP constructs audience, it appears, based on lack: of a man, of success, of spiritual fulfillment. His construction of a female audience is the reproduction of the blind boys who sing and the seeing women who only clap. There is no transaction taking place – which is to say, there is no conversation between the blind boy (TP) and the mute but clappy audience.

As the uber-phallus, he gives women the images they want, or are supposed to want. Those who speak back are simply haters, or misguided or bourgeois. The only ones who figure for him are those who keep clapping as he keeps singing his song. Why is the construction of audience done in such a way to have TP performing and while the audience mutely claps along? What do these continual refrains mean when considering how gender is thought, how sexism, patriarchy and homophobia perpetuate? Normative ideology regarding women as receptacles is reproduced by these constructions of audience. We can clap but we can’t speak back. We can speak back but the ways we speak will be shut out because of the singing. And the blind boys will not see our posture because of the flashing lights of celebrity.

There has to be another way. I find Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks refreshing for just this reason. His construction of audience diverges from TP’s constructions because the audience – by way of his satire – are required to be critically distant to the work (as opposed to how TP dismisses critics). A cartoon that features anime styling and fight sequences, it could be argued (at least from one blogger’s point of view) that McGruder critiques the very sexist, patriarchal and homophobic folks that TP pacifies with his performances. Using the episode “Pause” (or, what has been affectionately dubbed “The Tyler Perry Episode”) as an example, McGruder’s usage of the phrase “no homo” and the term “pause” in the episode by the annoyingly sweet, misguided, faux-thug Riley as a declaration to distance himself from “gay sounding” phrases is a literal send-up of folks (from Cam’ron on down to Kanye) who use this sort of rhetoric. “How can I know you not gay if you don’t say ‘no homo’, Granddad” is what he says. Riley repeats these two phrases so much throughout the episode that they enter the realm of the ridiculous. The audience McGruder constructs must ask what the usage of these phrases mean by someone like Riley – a character whom many find humorous but silly – and then reflect on their own usage of such cornyass vitriol.  In other words, most people like Riley but few want to be Riley.  But Riley has literally exhausted all of the rhetorical possibility for explanations of “no homo” and “pause”; the explanations for such phrases he offers are evacuated of any coherence or depth.  For one to continue with this language means they have to figure out a way to do so without resorting to the types of rhetorical flourishes Riley proffers.  This is a difficult task.  McGruder allows his audience to think differently.

Of course, also in that episode are the ways in which Winston Jerome (TP?) slips between drag, effeminate and hypermasculine performance while still maintaining the language and sentiments of homophobia, sexism, patriarchy and religiosity. The plays produced by Winston Jerome in the episode force a consideration of the type of audience we are when we participate in his enterprise. Stretching Winston Jerome as a metaphor to his limits, the character implodes: hella sexist, homophobic and patriarchal while at the same time sometimes in drag, sometimes effeminate, sometimes hypermasculine, always in love with Jesus. Whereas TP constructs an audience that must sit, watch and clap along, McGruder creates a situation in which the audience cannot idly sit and watch but must create critical distance between themselves and all of the characters in order to assert their own personhood. That’s a lengthy way of saying that McGruder allows his audience to think, to challenge, to dissent.  Similar to the ways in which the audience must create critical distance between onself and depictions of Riley, audience must do likewise with depictions of Winston Jerome (or…TP).  The conflictual nature of ambivalence is protracted in such a way that in order to enjoy TP, one must figure out a way around the sexism, patriarchy, religiosity and homophobia found in those performances.

This is not to say that McGruder constructs a “masculine” audience. Rather, it is to say that McGruder’s audience has to engage listening practices in radically different ways than TP’s. We don’t just stand, listen and clap to the beat. We reorient it, we revise it, we refresh it.

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