Home > UNAPOLOGETIC: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements (Charlene A. Carruthers, Beacon Press, 2018) Book Review

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 A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements

 (Charlene A. Carruthers, Beacon Press, 2018)



Charlene A. Carruthers’ book title crystallizes the robust pride some people express regarding their identity, e.g., people unapologetically declare themselves to be Black; Jewish; Asian-American; right wing conservatives; first amendment advocates; libertarians; single; and full-sized.  There seems to be no end to the aspects of personal identity for which someone might declare themselves to be proud, unwavering, and, in short, unapologetic.  Carruthers declares her unapologetic disposition to being Black, queer and feminist and, moreover, the need for such perspectives to be included in planning and implementing transformative societal changes.

Carruthers contends that in order for the Black radical liberation movement to be transformative, it must dismantle all oppressive systems, including those that oppress members of the LGBTQ community.  She notes that it is patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia that must go, not simply White patriarchy, homophobia and transphobia.  In stronger terms, she wrote, “It is counterrevolutionary to tell stories about the Black radical tradition that fail to offer critiques, lessons, and insights about how white supremacy breeds systems of gender and sexual oppression. The story of white supremacy is inherently one of gender and sexual violence.”

The parable regarding the “Blind Men and the Elephant” demonstrates that one has an incomplete knowledge of a given phenomenon if one has only a limited experience with the phenomenon in question.  As the story illustrates, each blind man differently “knew” the elephant as a result of having touched only its feet, ear, trunk, or tail.  Carruthers’ Unapologetic provides an in-depth analysis of the limited “blind men and the elephant” type understanding one has of the radical Black liberation movement if one does not engage in “reimagining the Black radical tradition” by also looking through the Black Queer Feminist lens, --a lens that includes “practices and theory” based in “Black feminists and LGBTQ traditions and knowledge, through which people and groups see to bring their full selves into the process of dismantling all systems of oppression.”

Carruthers reminds readers that all lives matter.  She notes, for example, that walking down the street without fear “…of being physically, sexually, or mentally assaulted” is a possibility that must be realized not just for people who subscribe to heterosexual paradigms but also for those who might be killed simply because they are not heterosexual.  Just as heterosexual Blacks are legitimately angry about the racial abuse they experience, she expresses her anger for having to “…jump through hoops to get pregnant as a woman who no longer has sex with men and loves a woman who does not have sperm to give…” 

Unapologetic is far more than an expression of Carruthers’ anger.  It is a clarion call for recognition of the fact that “power concedes nothing without an organized demand.”   Moreover, organized demands must involve all oppressed people and make use of the various lens through which they operate in and act upon the world.  For example, if one applied a Black, queer, feminist lens, then we would reach different understandings of the works associated with LGBTQ community members such as Alvin Ailey, Josephine Baker, James Baldwin, Lee Daniels, Audrey Lorde, Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, Claude McKay, Bessie Smith, Wanda Sykes, and Alice Walker.  The same would be true if we were to revisit the history of the civil rights movement by using the LGBTQ lenses of people such as Simone Bell, Angela Davis, Marsha P. Johnson, Congress Woman Barbara Jordan, Pauli Murray, and Bayard Rustin.  The nature of the Black church and its role in the liberation movement provides another illustration of how additional lens would enhance our understanding.

Many Black church leaders as well as those who write about the Black church continue to be unapologetically homophobic and, in turn, silence many of those who might apply perspectives derived from the LGBTQ community.  Others advance “red herring” arguments pertaining to the LBGTQ community “high jacking” the civil rights movement.  Notwithstanding their imaginary fears, consider the stories that would be told if there were to be truth telling about the “Black church experience” by the many LBGTQ Black preachers, deacons, trustees, elders, deaconesses, kitchen club members, old saints, piano players, and parishioners.  As Carruthers might ask, can the Black church become truly transformative without having its “come to Jesus” meetings/discussions that address patriarchy, homophobia, sexism, and the radical uneven distribution of material resources? 

In my opinion, those who wish to tell the story of the Black church or any other aspect of Black life should heed Carruthers’ admonition that “It is counterrevolutionary to tell stories about the Black radical tradition that fail to offer critiques, lessons, and insights about how white supremacy breeds systems of gender and sexual oppression.”  As she also wrote, “Patriarchy and its offspring, homophobia and transphobia, have no place in our movement.  To allow these to go unchecked is counter revolutionary.  If your liberation movement has people on the sidelines (or absent altogether), then it’s not really liberatory…”   

Unapologetic speaks truth to heterosexual power.  As Carruthers’ Chapter 1 is entitled, the liberation movement must include “ALL OF US OR NONE OF US.”  It’s way past time for heterosexual liberation leaders to come out of their closets and be transformative in thoughts and deeds.  More than that, when any formerly silenced voices make the critical decision to speak, it is essential that we help them gain a platform to be heard and that we indeed LISTEN!   If we do so, then we will correct history as was done in the case of “Hidden Figures” appropriately revisiting the history of America’s achievements in space. 


Jack L. Daniel

Co-founder, Freed Panther Society

September 12, 2018

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