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Johnson 'Sweet' message about southern Black gays
by Yasmin Nair
2008-11-01

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E. Patrick Johnson's recently published book, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, is an oral history of people who, according to popular wisdom, only live where they do because they have nowhere else to go even though they'd much rather much be somewhere else. In Sweet Tea, Johnson ( Pictured, right, with Dwight McBride. Photo by Yasmin Nair ) provides evidence to the contrary, showing that Black gay men who live in the South often choose to do so and that they have a complex relationship with the region of their birth despite its racial history.

Johnson is a professor of African-American studies at Northwestern; chair and director of graduate studies; and a professor in the Department of Performance Studies. His first book was Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity, and he's also a performing artist. He brings this background to the publication of Sweet Tea: His book tour is accompanied by performances of some of the oral histories of the book. Sweet Tea was officially launched Oct. 2 at Northwestern University with such a performance and book-signing.

Dwight McBride, dean of liberal arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, introduced Johnson. According to McBride, Sweet Tea 'takes on the myriad assumptions about Black gay men in the south and the all-too-facile characterizations of the south as anti-gay' and provides us with 'an incredible new archive.' With no props other than the chair he sat on, a lectern and a nearby table for his water, Johnson re-enacted the narratives of six of his subjects, whose ages ranged from 24-93. They included Chaz/Chastity, a trans individual; Stephen, a student at the University of Alabama; and Duncan Teague, a 'southern diva' who proudly proclaimed to the author: 'I am Black. I am the South. MISS South.'

Photo of McBride ( left ) and Johnson by Yasmin Nair


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