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In our latest dialogue with hetero Brothers, The Gatekeepers Collective and Codify Art, a queer POC artists collective, looked at the role of Buck Breaking during slavery as the potential root of anti-homosexual perspectives among African descended people in a conversation billed as, Buck Breaking & the Myth of Homophobia Among Black People.

As a point of departure for the dialogue, participants watched a video excerpt of a film titled Hidden Colors 4 treating on buck breaking, the practice in which slave holders and overseers (beginning in the Middle Passage), publicly sodomized enslaved African men, in many instances before the entire community, including the African men’s wives and children towards ‘breaking’ them.

In response to the video, participants were asked to take a few minutes to write their reactions.  Then, they reported:

“It’s like, I’m a man having sex with another man…”

“Rape is not about sex, it’s about power…”

“If I was home, I would have turned the TV off…It raises my pulse and [blood] pressure…It enraged me…A lot of the problems that Black men are having today [come from this kind of abuse]…A culture can’t recover from this [level of violence] in one or two generations…What kind of monsters would behave in this way?...I have two grandchildren…I don’t know if I want them to see this…[At the same time] this kind of knowledge can promote healing…”

“It was disgusting…It makes my blood boil…Rape is about power…”

“I have a healthy skepticism…I’m not convinced that this was systematic…”

“It makes a lot of sense…I love this documentary series…I think about Quentin Tarantino films…Django [Unchained] and Pulp Fiction…He always uses issues and images that re-traumatize Black people…It made me think of prison rape…”

Facilitator says, “That makes sense, inasmuch as prison is the modern plantation…”

“Tragic…tragedy…[It] makes sense [as a reinforcement of] white masculinity…”

“If you have a rapist [and a person who’s being raped], it’s sex to the rapist…”

“For me, it get’s back to, we didn’t have rights…”

Facilitator says, “Yes… looked at from the perspective of the prevailing social order, because we were deemed property, as distinct from people, the rape of the Africans wasn’t considered rape at all…They were exercising their rights over their property…which only intensified the dehumanization and humiliation of the enslaved Africans…”

“They knew we were people…”

“History is the story we tell ourselves about ourselves…Black people are the product of rape in America…and the trauma gets passed on [from one generation to the next]…”

Facilitator says, “We rarely talk about slavery…And, in those instances when we do deign to talk about it, the conversation rarely extends beyond the [truism] about our mothers having been raped…But, in a patriarchal society…that is, a society wherein manhood is defined in terms of power, control, and domination over others…and which is undergirded by misogyny…we dare not talk about the fact that homosexuality wasn’t invented at the turn of the 20th Century with [Sigmund] Freud…It has existed throughout nature, and from time immemorial…And, our fathers were used as objects of abuse and of pleasure, the same as our mothers….perhaps making this the ultimate humiliation…”

Black people are the product of rape in America…[And] The trauma gets passed on…”

“The lineage of the homophobia… We’re carrying this traumatized DNA, and that’s a real and present danger…Your representation of self is a way to access power…And, if [I perceive] the White man is the pinnacle [then] I have to do what he does…[In this construction] being feminine is going to lower my social capital…”

“White gay maleness is powerful now…They wield a lot of power…unlike gay people of color…”

“It’s purely about power…not about desire necessarily… Present day…The football player that was killed in the road rage [incident]…[For] the one who shot him, it was about power…”

Facilitator asks, “Hetero Brothers, do you believe Buck Breaking might be the root of some of the most visceral contempt and even hatred towards homosexuals and homosexuality among Black people?”

“I guess, yes…But, it doesn’t have to be…This is a new time…a new era…a lot of people don’t like change…I don’t know what we [have to do to change people’s perspective]…’

“I have this theory about religion and hierarchy… Most of us have been trained that, to get to heaven…[for there to be] a heaven, there has to be a hell…Hierarchy…Women and homosexuals have to fit in…There has to be somebody below…”

“I feel like this is a good lens on this binary…Good person/bad person…gay/straight…I don’t know that there is anything we do that is not about power…Heterosexual identity is a dominant identity, but not necessarily a supported identity…As a dark-skinned Black man in high school, if they said I was gay, I was enraged….I said, “NOOOOOOOOO!!!!”…They couldn’t take away my one privilege…You have to get to a point where you can do that introspection to see who you are and who you want to be…”

“How do we know this history is real? …That this really happened?...”

Facilitator says, “You’re looking for what is called primary source materials [to verify the alleged violations]…”

 “I think it’s real…The idea of literature delegitimizing history [is dangerous]…[As if] If it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen…We should be able to accept the truths that are told, and ancestral [legacies, including] memory…I work in technology, and look at language as the oldest technology…”

“[But, there’s a danger that] it leaves the door open to anybody being able to say anything…Trump was clocked at lying more than 70% of the time…”

“My parents got remarried back in the early ‘90s and I was a young teen, and my dad said that in church, ‘I remember Mothers Day being the most attended day, and Fathers Day being the least attended day’…[There was an urgent push to] get fathers back to being the heads of their households…”

“[I question the reliability of] These translations of these stories, and these folk[s]y stories…”

Facilitator says, “it’s vital that we remember that, not only is ours is an oral tradition, meaning, that was the primary means by which we passed on our history but, for the first few hundred years here, reading and writing were criminal offenses for Africans…And, it is highly unlikely that slaveholders or overseers would have documented their barbarity, cum savagery…”

“The White man has a method to tell his history…you have to use your tools…[I wonder] if you should look to their traditions for people to tell [you] who you are…”

“I don’t think it’s productive to see ourselves as totally other…”

“We’re talking about a people who had no literacy…There was no way for them to read [or write]…”

“You can feel vibrations from intrinsic truth…Look at all the people we’ve held up as truth tellers…We’re being asked to look internally to have [faith in our innate capacity to discern truth]…”

Facilitator says, “The challenge in talking about this stuff is that it involves risking acknowledging… that is, revisiting…our having been utterly powerless…and having been violated in savage fashion in the face of our powerlessness…This is dangerous duty, and we have been courageous here…We are particularly indebted to our hetero Brothers for having had the courage to march their hetero ass asses up in here…” [Laughter] “The question is, do we think this exploration can be [a] useful [healing device] for more of the community?”

[The community agree, and commit to continuing the dialogue.]


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