Editor’s note: During Black History Month, the focus is usually on historical figures who loomed larger than life, paving the way for the progress we experience today. But black history isn’t just about telling stories of our past. History is being made every day and has been made throughout our lives; it’s not just in books. It walks among us. So this month, The Root is asking a group of writers to tell us about the personal and pivotal events from their own lifetimes in a series we call My Black History. Writer Michael Arceneaux is 32 years old but moisturizes and listens to Beyoncé regularly.
My Mama, the Heavyweight Champion of the World
I didn’t grow up with a lot in terms of money, but my mother never raised me to think I couldn’t be anything that I wanted to be. She made sure I went to black doctors and black dentists—something that I didn’t realize was a feat for some black folks until college. Even if she couldn’t afford to put me in the black private school she hoped to, I still went to public schools that had smart black teachers who pushed me to reach my fullest potential.
So, thank you, Mama. I’m sorry I don’t like vagina and have yet to produce additional grandchildren for you, but hey, I am not a self-loathing black man. Praise the Lord.
Black Night at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo
I am from Houston, so even if that’s majorly just West Louisiana to much of my bloodline, there is no escaping the cowboy sprinkles spread across the city. For those unfamiliar, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is exactly as described—plus a carnival outside where you can get turkey legs, fried shrimp, lots of barbecue, and diabetes-inducing treats like fried Oreos, fried Twinkies and fried cheesecake. Don’t make that face: Fried cheesecake is worth the insulin.
Talk yo’ shit if you want, but I have seen the following over my life: Luther Vandross, Monica, Brian McKnight (actually, we left early, but still), Destiny’s Child, Mary J. Blige, Kool and the Gang, and Beyoncé.
You have not lived until you’ve congregated with 70,000 black folks watching cowboys, bulls and other wildebeests while shimmying with aunties to black-ass performers.
The Ruff Ryders-Cash Money Tour
N-word with an a!
I wish someone had told me when I started high school that there was a way to leave the state of Texas for higher education if I really planned for it. But I didn’t think it was possible. After all, I wasn’t nobody’s Huxtable. However, a very attractive man who was a recruiter from Hampton (think light-skinned, ’90s-R&B-singer bae) convinced me that I could, in fact, leave my senior.
It was the most diverse place I’ve ever been as I got to see every inch of who we are as a people.
Read the rest at The Root.
At a time when our nation has elected a demagogue as its 45th president, now more than ever black people must ask themselves, “How do we get free?” How do we prevent the hatred of us that literally built this country, and still permeates it, from destroying our peace of mind, our sense of self-worth, and our spirits? There are many ways to get there, but companionship feels like a temporary fix—something that may feel good in the moment but ultimately is a distraction to the fight that matters most.
A conversation about equality focused solely in the context of attraction is as appetizing to me—a black country boy from the South—as unseasoned chicken. A debate about racial progress tied mostly to interracial relationships feels as fruitless as ordering a virgin daiquiri at a taqueria. Love is beautiful, but it is far more limited than many seem to recognize.
That is not to sound insensitive to the pain that comes with being rejected for no other reason than the hue of your skin. Nor does it suggest that those who have to contend with sexual racism should just shut up and move on. By all means, put folks in their place about their preferences. Point those who only seem to see beauty in whiteness to a racist bias.
But know this: We are more than our bodies. We are bigger than our desires. We need to find value in ourselves independent of others, especially those who have no idea what it’s like to be us.
Read the rest at Out.
More often than not, when I am asked what it was like being gay in the South, it is met with certain expectations. You can tell the person asking is likely anticipating me to offer a dramatic pause—perhaps one long enough to let a single tear fall down my face—before ultimately saying something that fits into their stereotypical presumptions. Maybe they expect me to tell a story about being shoved down by a gang of overalls-wearing homophobes on a hog farm, too. Who knows, but based on reactions, I typically don’t offer the response they’re seeking.
As someone who is also Black (and not having “transcended race”), I am used to this; it is very much akin to the falsehood that Black folks have some monopoly on homophobia. Much like that issue, homophobia in the South is not all that different at its core than it is anywhere else. If nothing else, perhaps it is unique in its delivery.
That said, when one says “the South,” specifics are required.
I am from Houston, Texas, with both sides of my family largely hailing from Louisiana. Texas is a nation unto itself and while Houston is southern, the rest? Eh, not so much. Similarly, you can’t expect major southern cities like Houston, New Orleans, Atlanta, or Miami to be the same as towns in Mississippi or Alabama. The reality is, while I chose to wait until I was a 21-year-old intern in New York City to admit to myself and my friends that I was gay, I could have easily done so in high school.
At the time, many of my friends were sneaking into gay and lesbian clubs where they were free to be themselves. One club in particular was called Big Yo’s. I never made it there—and though everyone comes out on their own schedules—a part of me wishes I was. It was always described to me as a fun, joyous place where people were allowed to live as individuals—a feat often unallowed in every other space of their lives. Rappers like Trina would perform at the clubs because (surprise, surprise) some people knew early on that money is money and that all people—even those defying heteronormativity and rigid gender binaries—are just people.
Years later, relatives would tell me about their drives to New Orleans to see groundbreaking queer rap artists like Katey Red perform. Some would join Katey Red onstage to twerk the night away. For all the current chatter about where hip hop needs to go in terms of allowing more LGBT representation, a fun fact is that this has long been happening in the South.
This same joy I’ve heard and seen in cities like Houston and New Orleans also exists in other places like Atlanta, and yes, Orlando.
The thing about us southern folk is while bigotry might be directly in our faces and heard at higher volumes, we have always found a way to bounce pass it—literally and figuratively. And the thing about hearing prejudice at its bluntest delivery is that it does not mean you are any safer in places where it is conveyed in softer tones. Donald Trump is a bigot and xenophobe, but he is nothing more than a reflection of the Republican Party, and in many ways, America.
Read the rest at Complex.
Michael Arceneaux: hooks is entitled to her opinion; I’m entitled to mine
As great a fan of Beyoncé as I am, I know no one is above criticism. Still, I find it equally fascinating and frustrating that bell hooks – the same person who once wrote so gleefully about Lil’ Kim and now champions the likes of Emma Watson – can in turn be so contemptuous about Beyoncé, and in separates cases, artists like Nicki Minaj.
hooks’ continuous condemnation of femininity is a petty critique gussied up with academic pretension. The idea that being ultra feminine is anti-intellectual is more damaging and reductive a sentiment than anything shown in Lemonade.
It’s also mighty rich for a woman who labeled Beyoncé a “terrorist” to now complain about female violence. By the way, when you’re as controlled an act as Beyoncé is, there’s something to be said about her allowing herself to publicly show that level of anger.
And someone who sells books and gives speeches at premier universities should also know that just because something is designed to make money doesn’t inherently mean it is corrupt or compromised. Then there is the reality that how we hurt and how we heal vary. This was her way and art is not intended to discuss such matters in absolutes. I imagine the same goes for Beyoncé’s ideas of feminism, the celebration of women, and femininity in general. bell hooks is free to continue feeling otherwise, but I’m glad the rest of us are not bound to.
You can read the entire roundtable over at Feministing.