Author: Black groups can ignore issues of sexuality

Janette Neuwahl

Growing up in the small town of Belton, S.C., Dwight McBride was what he would call a “Bible boy.” When his mother quoted scripture to him, he “would quote it right back to her,” but with his own interpretation.

McBride, chairman of Northwestern’s African American Studies department, gave some of those interpretations, as well as his thoughts on life as a gay black man, to a group of about 10 students at the Black House Tuesday night.

McBride’s early Bible interpretations led him to a graduate-school dissertation about how people used Bible passages to both condemn and support the abolition of slavery.

From the thesis, McBride wrote a book. He then began to investigate a more contemporary issue: how the Bible addresses homosexuality, focusing on the black perspective.

Since his graduate studies at UCLA, McBride has published two books about black gay issues, one called “James Baldwin Now” and a 2002 work he co-edited called “Black Like Us: A Century of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual African-American Fiction.”

“Black people, black history and the black community are complicated,” McBride said Tuesday night. “If we can begin with that … then we can ask different sets of questions as we come to these matters.”

McBride’s dialogue with students Tuesday night was one of more than 30 events scheduled for Black History Month by the Office of African American Student Affairs.

“People need to understand that African-Americans and blacks come from all spectrums,” said Carretta Cooke, director of NU’s Office of African American Student Affairs. “Dwight’s book gives us a perspective of black gay and lesbian thought in literature, so I thought bringing him here this evening would begin a dialogue about these issues.”

McBride spoke about the unaccepting nature of the black community toward homosexuality. Often the greater need to be part of a “coalition” of people pushes blacks to mask their true identities, silencing discussions about aberrations from the norm, McBride said.

“We have to become more responsible about the negative work that this does and has done to us as a race of people,” he said. “I worry about the rate at which black people are killing each other, because we allow homophobia and other mechanisms to prevent us from having an honest conversation about homosexuality.”

McBride acknowledged the difficulty of separating race from sexuality, which “Black Like Us” explores in its excerpts from various gay black writers. But, as homosexuality becomes less taboo in politics, McBride said strides are being made in the evolving canon of literature.

“This is a battle gay and lesbian people will win because: One, we’re right, and two, it’s an issue of inevitability,” he said. “People will get on board, or the train will run over them … Now we have a black queer running a department here, what’s next?”

Some audience members were from NU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transsexual Support Network, while others said they were just interested in McBride’s literary research.

“I appreciated the way he located the motivation for black queer studies not in theory, but in the day-to-day life of black people, which made it urgent because it’s what people need to be talking about now more than ever,” said Antonia Randolph, a sociology graduate student.