November 2011 Archives

What "Counts" as Queer

In his talk on Friday Yichiro Onishi presented his work on Abbey Lincoln's 1973 jazz recordings. Onishi offers a detailed personal, political, and cultural contextualization for recordings to claim that the tracks illustrate Lincoln's "aesthetic of radical black feminism." More specifically, Onishi used a queer of color critique (via Rod Ferguson) to read interviews with Lincoln, along side her vocalization of "Caged Birds" as a direct revolt against white heteropatriachy.

Although Onishi's presentation itself raised many questions for me, I was particularly intrigued by the "question and answer" discussion that followed his talk. Amy Kaminsky posed one of the first questions regarding Onishi's claim that Lincoln was standing in resistance to heteropatriachy in her embrace of polyamory. Although Onishi presented this stance as queer, Kaminsky was concerned because Lincoln made no direct reference to same-sex desire, but rather continued to express heterosexual desire, albeit in a polygamous form. After this comment, a number of other people responded including Edén Torres, Zenzele Isoke, Naomi Scheman, and Charlottee Albrecht. I would like to join this conversation, virtually, as well as use it as a starting point for my questions.

I agree with Edén's reading of Lincoln's statement of desire for "you and you and you" as a potential opening for same-sex desire. However, I would like to resist the notion that same-sex desire needs to be at the forefront of queerness. In fact, I would argue that same-sex desire does not have to be present at all in queerness. I agree with Onishi's reading of Lincoln as queer in that her embrace of polyamory stands in direct resistance to heteropatriachy. Furthermore, to agree with Brittany's post - the ambiguousness of Lincoln's statement itself makes it queer by refusaling the demanded intelligibility of heterpatriachy. Lastly, I agree completely with Zenzele's ascertain that Lincoln's queerness is rooted in disrupting the normalized white (hetero/monogamous) relationality. This is specifically clear in Onishi's presentation of Lincoln in that Onishi situates Lincoln's polyamory in the same historical moment as the release of the Moynihan Report.

The gender/sex of Lincoln's "you and you and you" potential partners is thus irrelevant to her queerness. It is queer for anyone to claim polyamory as their preferred structure of intimacy in a sociocultural (political) world that sees monogamy as the only "respectable" kind of relationality. (Something that is undoubtedly racialized and classed). Furthermore, for Lincoln as a woman of color this claim, without question, queers her in a post-Moynihan world. Race, just as much as desire, situates Lincoln as queer, radical, and powerful.

This conversation left me more aware then ever how much work queer theorists still have to do. Scholars like Rod Ferguson, Omi Tinsley, E. Patrick Johnson, Cheryl Clarke , to (re)name but a few, have done great work addressing race within queerness and queerness within race. As feminist scholars and thinkers we all too often claim and praise intersectionality within our work, but yet so often queerness moves unmarked as white leaving the queerness queers of color embody as marginalized or even worse misrecognized, or disregarded. My question is then, how can work like Onishi's, and the discussion that followed, help us all rethink/remember the possibilities of queer as an analytic which - by its very naming - refuses any form of standardization or boundedness?

Musical Activism, Black Feminism and Queerness

In Yuichiro Onishi's talk entitled Abbey Lincoln's Japan: Slave Art in the Creation of 1973 Albums" Onishi argued that Abby Lincoln's divorce from drummer Max Roach in 1970 did not defeat her intellectual or activist spirit, but rather gave her "the courage required to go on living in the present." Lincoln's hiatus to Japan during this time then signified a major shift in the artists concsiousness where she explored two things primarily. First, Lincoln challenged the notion that the enslaved did not speak back by recalling the importance of her ancestral past. Second, In this act of "monkery" (the act of self-searching through past exploration) Lincoln aimed to rethink and reorientate the Black families usage of the normative family model.

During the question and answer portion of the talk a number of interesting comments and questions arose, but the most intriguing came from Professor Amy Kaminsky. Kaminsky suggested that the author leave room for Lincoln's work to be interpreted as queer. In short, Kaminsky found that Onishi's reading of Lincoln's message as solely rooted in heterosexuality was limiting to the message that she believes Lincoln was trying to send in her music. Kaminsky was commenting specifically on an interview clip we watch where Lincoln talked about Polygamy in the African community and ended her comments by describing the multiple connections and linkages that should be possible, "with you, and you, and you and you."

Onishi was not 100% sure that he understood Kaminsky's comments, because he did not believe that Lincoln's reference to the "you" in the video clip made any reference to a specific gender desire. This however, is not the precursor for something being "defined" as queer (a specific gender notation), however I believe queerness does the exact opposite it relies on the ambiguity and unsureness that disrupts the heteronormative frame. But what I found interesting in Onishi and Professor Zenzele Isoke's comments back to Kaminsky was this idea that "queerness" in early Black feminist understandings was rooted in disrupting the normality of whiteness.

My question is then; How does important articles like Cathy Cohen's "Punks, Bulldaggers and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?" help further this claim? Or rather how has the use of "queer" by Black feminist scholars been pushing back on the exertion of power by an elite ideological frame that aims to police and control "unruly Black bodies?"

Response to Squires

Catherine Squires in her colloquium talk discussed her attempts to bring bell hooks to the discipline of Journalism and Mass Communication. She linked hooks' ideas of civility and political engagement to those of John Dewey and C. Wright Mills. Squires emphasized the idea of civility in an approach of 'what I can do for you', decentering the self and promoting 'civilized' exchange. I was curious about this discussion of civility and why hooks utilizes this term given its proximity to civility and the idea of 'civilization' (as opposed to barbarism) in western ideas of liberalism and democracy. I wondered what Squires' own understandings, critiques, and interventions are regarding this. While I appreciate efforts that seek to encourage discussion between traditional disciplines and feminist studies, in utilizing the terms of debate of that discipline to draw feminist theory into it, what potential is lost, and what remains, of critique and alteration of that discipline? Could an approach that keeps hooks' discussion at critical disagreement with Communications Studies (or Dewey and Mills) and allowing her words to remain at odds with these ideas be an enactment of the very approach that hooks proposes - of sitting with disagreement and ambiguity?

I also am curious about how the 'you' to be helped in 'what I can do for you' is assumed to be the other in political discourse, and not someone who is similarly positioned with respect to social location. Can one reorient this language to think of space to speak with 'you's who may be similarly oppressed? This would also be a political choice to generate spaces of discussion and action, which supports others without centralizing self or re-centering an oppressor.

Response to Onishi

Yuichiro Onishi spoke in his colloquium talk about Abbey Lincoln and the work she created while away from the U.S. Lincoln lived in Japan after her divorce to work on several albums, and in the talk Onishi addressed Lincoln's views on polygamy or polyamory, and the development of Lincoln's unique reworking and extension of African American slave art.

While others have been talking of Onishi's discussion of Lincoln's understandings of polyamory, I was curious about how the location of Japan figured in the production of Lincoln's art and music - or why it didn't - and why Lincoln was drawn to this location. Was it a particular cultural moment in which Japan-U.S. connections were strengthened? What were the connections between Japan and African American experiences? I also wonder whether Onishi could have addressed Lincoln's understandings and experiences of race and racism in Japan, and what linkages were created between the specificity of place and time in 1970s Japan and Lincoln's work.


  • GWSS Course Blogs: 2009-2010

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Idalia Robles De Leon

  • Helen Hawthorne Hartung Award Competition Jerod Greenisen

  • Links

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

October 2011 is the previous archive.

December 2011 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.