Saturday, July 20, 2013

We Must Arm Ourselves with Love (Contraband) in The United States

I told Jerome[1] I’d be heading to New York to visit and interview Steven G. Fullwood, founder and director of the “In the Life, Black LGBT archive” at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.” Before I left, he gave me a large manila envelope stuffed to capacity with items to hand off to Steven.

Steven G. Fullwood
Jerome gave me a package to carry. It was a package filled with magazines, “X-homophobia” bracelets, and other items that give a sense of Black LGBT Los Angeles today.

#BYP100 organizers Samantha Master(top) and Chris Roberts(below) rockin'  "X-Homophobia" wristbands
I carried the future past in my backpack. And if it is true as Assata Shakur asserts, “Love is contraband in hell,” then the items I carried were both love and contraband. 

I carried items that illustrated Black LGBT peoples will and struggle to live in a capitalist country of contradiction. This is a country where “the expansion of sexual citizenship is being articulated alongside the dismantling of policies and programs fought for and won by Black social movements.” This is a country where racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia are normalized and those of us who continue to point out their existence become race baiters unable to let go of the past and adjust to this post racial reality.

The items I carried were the fruit of a people who were never meant to survive. In my backpack, I held a piece of a collective will of a people to survive[2] – I carried the Black radical tradition on my back. 

Just Before the Archive--> Why We Must Arm Ourselves with Love/Contraband/Histories:

Before heading to the Schomburg, I sat in on my friend’s Hip-Hop feminism course. She was teaching a group of primarily Black women who’d be entering college in the fall. She posed the question to the class “What is the Civil rights movement?”

The young woman next to me eagerly responded, “It was when we bombed Japan.”


And then, “Oh, I know, it was women’s rights movement for voting.”


And then,  “The tea party?”


This student didn’t know the Civil Rights Movement, not even the standard icons like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King JR.

This student and I were only 8 years apart, but all history had been lost in the time between us. I carried something powerful in my backpack that had been handed down to me, but no one had given her anything to hold on to. This is sad, but even more, it is dangerous!  

If there is no recollection of our past gains, there can be no understanding of the seriousness of our current losses. How can a young Black person understand "the defanging of the Voting Rights Act” if there is no reference for its original occurrence?

My fear for this young person is that without intervention and reeducation, she will be lost. And if she is lost then what I carry in my backpack will also be lost. If we have no recollection of our Black/queer/POC/poor peoples/radical histories, then we make ourselves susceptible to a future that will gladly disremember us, our bodies, our lives and our struggles. The record will state we killed ourselves and enjoyed it—and we can’t let it go down like that. We must show that as “The poet Claude McKay once said, ‘Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave…we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack. Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!’”[3]

As painful as this interaction was, it let me know how sacred and important that package in my backpack was and is. Our knowledge is our liberation because our histories are not just tales of the past; they are the examples, the weapons that we will use to defend ourselves today against a future and present that works through its insistence upon post-raciality as racism remains.

Today if you talk about race and racism you risk being labeled a crazy race baiter unwilling to let go of the past. One of the logics behind changing the Voting Rights Acts was an argument about history, “Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”  

We must articulate the ways in which our present illuminates the changing-same.

We must arm ourselves with subjugated knowledge, counter narratives, and the will to know and love our stories, and ourselves even if no one else does (especially if no one else does).  

During my interview with Steven he reminded me of the role of love in archive:

I’m nurtured by Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, Essex Hemphill, and a number of people because I’m trying to learn how to love while I’m here. And while I’m learning how to love, these are the things I want to do to express my love and to express my gratitude that someone like Essex Hemphill wrote these beautiful poems or that Audre Lorde came out and said ‘I am these things,’ and that she refused to minimize or downplay any part of who she was…And so the least I can do while I’m here in this center is to provide portals for people to get to them and to get to that work.

The least we can do, all of us, is to provide portals for people to make their way towards freedom. Whatever you carry on your back, share it—that’s love.

I am grateful for Steven. I am grateful for Jerome. I am grateful for Alexis Pauline Gumbs. I am grateful for Julia Roxanne Wallace. I am grateful for Treva Ellison. These are some of the people who teach me the practice of loving as archive. The art of loving is the act of (re)membering and because there aren’t many structures in place to facilitate that re-memory, we must do it ourselves. I thank those named above and all the others who have and continue to do this work.

A Poem for the Teachers who Trained me to Love in War

He handed me a package:

“Carry it on your back for now

But you will have to learn how to hold this in your heart and mind

You may not be able to hold onto me like this for always.”

I took the package and carried it to a safe haven,

A place where Black queers spirits rest in power and in peace.

I took the package out of my bag and left it,

But my bag didn’t feel any lighter.

The past won’t let go of me.

I carry it heavy and deep,

A contraband in the United States called Black love.

I am armed with this concrete, love—

It is that dandelion that rises over and over again.


[1] C. Jerome Woods began The Black LGBT project in 2010. This project is invested in the preservation and display of Black LGBT lives and materials. Woods has amassed over two garage fulls of Black LGBT Los Angeles material, dating as far back as 1930. This project emphasizes the collection and preservation of Black queer materials is about the present moment and the future claim to history. His work includes creating exhibitions of current Black LGBT artist along with archival materials. This project has not simply been a lesson in reading the archive, but also a lesson in creating and extending the Black LGBT Los Angeles archive. 

[2] That collective will is shifting, diverse, and a thing to be struggled over.

[3] This is the final line in the collective statement from the Black Youth Project (BYP100) after Trayvon Martin’s murderer was deemed not guilty. BYP100 is a collective of young Black activists from across the country convened by the Black Youth Project to mobilize communities of color beyond electoral politics.


  1. Professional writing. Enjoy it. I want to more post here to

  2. gay rights is not comparative to human rights !!! Gay is death there is no reproductive quality. Civil rights are human rights ... you have the right to do what u must but how is this an improvement how does this improve the quality of life how does this solve any problems ? Gay people want to say it's civil rights but it's not people have been disapproving of gay rights since the beginning of time just think if all the animals started behaving in that fashion we'd have a serious problem on our hands ...