Not Straight, Not White:
Black Gay Men from the March on Washington to the AIDS Crisis
by Kevin J. Mumford
University of North Carolina Press
Reviewed by George M. Johnson
Long is the history of blackness in America, from slavery to the civil rights movement, the AIDS epidemic and more. However much of this history is lost in translation, as many of the stories of these icons during modern times stories have been “watered down” for consumption of the masses based on society’s standards of acceptance. Not Straight, Not White tells the truth about many of our black ancestors’ stories, with the inclusion of their queer identity and the reaction of a community that struggled to give them acceptance despite their sexual identities.
The book brilliantly discusses the complicated lives of many of our freedom fighters and leaders, such as James Baldwin and Joseph Beam, throughout various movements while giving an in-depth look at how sexuality and gender were viewed during those time periods. The queer identity in the black community has never quite been told like this as the book brilliantly takes a look at this topic through various lived experiences as well as the community views and thoughts on this issue. Although not universal, the book gives the notion that the queer identity had been widely known about even if it wasn’t being talked about. Queer blacks have been at the forefront and often front line of every movement absent their sexual identity. The book does an amazing job of giving these leaders context, truth, and shows them as their most true selves.
When the book gets into the AIDS epidemic, it sheds light on how hysteria, homophobia, and refusal of the black community to understand the intersections of that led to a delayed response in addressing it. The book even takes a risk by touching on the “often kept quiet” subject of the black church and its refusal of acceptance of black gays and queers during the AIDS epidemic, for which the reader is rewarded with a new understanding of how even the most “accepting” can have biases.
Overall, the book is an amazing reference that gives historical context of Black America around some of the most taboo subjects in our history. Never have I read a book that is as entertaining as it is informing. This book is a must-read for anyone looking to gain knowledge about the past lives of our ancestors and our legacy, something often erased to appease the masses.
George M. Johnson is an HIV advocate who works for Us Helping Us, People into Living. Inc., located in Washington, D.C. He has written for Pride.com, Musedmagonline.com, Blavity.com, Rolereboot.org, and Ebony.com. Follow him on Twitter @IamGMJohnson.