Leave and/or find musings on our keynote’s essay in the comment section below!
In “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic,” Omise’eke Tinsley crafts a hermeneutics grounded in and focused on black queerness:
Reading for shipmates does not offer to clarify, to tell a documentable story of Atlantic, Caribbean, immigrant, or ‘gay’ pasts. Instead it disrupts provocatively. Fomented in Atlantic crosscurrents, black queerness itself becomes a crosscurrent through which to view hybrid, resistant subjectivities (199)
Working from a number of articulations of “shipmates”—from the mati Creole women to maroon figures in Dionne Brand’s Map to the Door of No Return—Tinsley’s proposed hermeneutics would simultaneously (coevally? reciprocally?) create black queerness as a viewing subjectivity and as an object of knowledge. This, perhaps, is only a small portion of the rather macroscopic project that Tinsley is putting forth here. Nonetheless, given her emphasis on “concrete crossings-over” (206) rather than flights into the abstract, I want to ask: in what ways can the relationship between the reader and the read, the viewer and the viewed, the student and the object of study, be framed materially, especially in the context of black bodily acts in resistance to enslavement? Because our dominant understandings of subjectivity seem to always include a level of abstraction and/or metaphor, what does refusing that abstraction and foregrounding the material do to our understandings of I/we?
And, more pertinently for our ongoing discussion on the topic of “Radical Kinship,” in what ways might “reading for shipmates” as a hermeneutics and as an object of study shift or disrupt what we mean by being kin? Family? Belonging together?
Furthermore—and I mentioned this in our discussion, but I want to at least think about it further—what happens when we shift Tinsley’s approach to other contexts? For me and my own studies in Oceanic indigeneity, I’m interested in what happens when the identity categories that Tinsley argues fail to move beyond a “faint racialization limited to the black-white landscape of the contemporary global north” (204) are replaced/problematized not only by the “mahu, mati, tomboy, and tongzhi” (204) but also by the fakaleiti (Tongan), fa’afafine (Samoan) and aikane (Kanaka Maoli), but differentiated from the mahu that Tinsley does list). Such an expansion would seem to open up endless possibilities for a sort of trans-analysis, and I would argue, makes Tinsley’s insistence that “in queer diasporic imagining, the gap—the material difference—always matters and must be part of any figuration that makes meaningful connection possible” (202) both that much more difficult to hold true to and that much more important.
How do we reframe or re-understand “the gap” between not only black/white, or global north/south, but between African and Indigenous diasporas? Especially when, as our CFP used to say, Africans and Taino meet in the mountains of Haiti, or when Kanaka Maoli and Black seafarers bed together in a lodging house in Nantucket? How then might we understand crosscurrents between the plantation and the concentration camp, given both spaces’ significance to conceptions of the human?
Three things I’m thinking about rereading while writing this:
1) Alexander Wehileye Habeus Viscus
2) J. Kēhaulani Kauanui Hawaiian Blood
3) Sylvia Wynter “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom: Towards the Human, After Man, It’s Overrepresentation—An Argument”
Why equate blackness with queerness? What is it about the experience of African-Americans and other minority groups in the United States that invites the mapping of queerness? Are we meant to believe that anti-colonial rage, lost genealogies, and investigations into anti-blackness can fit under the umbrella of queer theory? Should it? In Omise’eke Natasha Tinsley’s “Black Atlantic, Queer Atlantic: Queer Imaginings of the Middle Passage, ” she argues that “the brown-skinned, fluid bodied experiences now called blackness and queerness surfaced in intercontinental, maritime contacts hundreds of years ago: in the seventeenth century, in the Atlantic Ocean. You see the black Atlantic has always been the queer Atlantic” (191). Tinsley discusses the hidden history of queer relationships forged during African slaves’ transatlantic voyages to the United States and the Caribbean. Not only did homoerotic relationships occur between white seamen and African slaves, African slaves forged queer bonds that “resisted the commodification of their bought and sold bodies by feeling and feeling for their co-occupants on these ships” (192). In her own way, Tinsley makes an explicit connection between the creation of blackness and queerness. Even as the Middle Passage created the Negro and Black as an identity, it created new formulations of kinship. She describes the research conducted by Sally and Richard Price’s on the word mati, a word that can mean both shipmate (those who have made the journey across the Middle Passage together) and its use as a term of endearment between queer women of color in the Caribbean. For Tinsley, queerness marks the disruption of the normative order. Rather than mapping a particular sexuality on the queer, she seems to offer a definition of queerness that resists a fixed identity. Rather queerness refers to the bonds forged between African slaves that disrupted their identities as “commodified flesh”. Tinsley’s queer is the “praxis of resistance”. Queer functions as a rejection of an identity imposed on them by a dominant norm. For Tinsley, queerness functions as a refusal to become the identity that was imposed on African slaves.
– Dessalines Monte’m
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