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  BLACKLINES

Slavery Lynches African American Males' Sexuality & Manhood
by M.L. Hunter
2003-09-01

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In Chicago, on June 9, 2003, a mild appearing 15-year-old African-American male was charged with first-degree murder of a youthful looking 29-year-old African-American male. So what makes this any different than numerous other cases labeled 'Black-on-Black Crime'? The two met on a free-of-charge telephone chat line frequent by men who have sex with men (MSM)— this may cause some eyebrows to rise. The accused, by his own admission, led the victim to believe at the time of meeting he was 18 years of age. Also by the admission of the one standing accused, the two males were meeting for the purpose of sexual contact. Now a court must decide if the true intent was for sex or was there another motive —like robbery or murder. And America has even a bigger question to deal with—how can African-American MSM express sexuality and manhood in predetermined American society that has a low (if not invisible) point of view towards consenting same-gender adults?

Due to this being an ongoing case and to respect the wishes of the family of the deceased, names will not be used. According to a family member of the deceased and legal presentation at the second bond hearing (July 23, 2003), this is a combined recount of what happened.

Independent of one another, the accused and the victim called a telephone chat line, connected via a one-on-one live connection and decided to meet for the purpose of having a sexual contact. The deceased, according to a family member, just completed working a double shift at his job of 10 years. It is believed the victim called the chat line around midnight, Saturday, June 7, 2003.

At the memorial service of the deceased, remarks colored him as a fun-loving person who was not lonely, had no problem telling people what was on his mind, not a person running to spread gossip and open with his sexuality with family members and friends. Per self-admission of the accused, a legal representative stated the two did talk on the chat line, agreed to meet for the purpose of having sexual contact and did in fact meet in the middle of the night leading to Sunday morning.

Within the attempt to change the accused's $750,000 bond (which was dropped to $200,000 at the second bond hearing), it was stated the two met at the accused's West Side house where he lived with his grandmother, whom he lived with since birth, and drove to nearby Columbus Park on the West Side of Chicago. A legal representative went on to relay the self-admission of the accused saying he felt he was inappropriately grabbed by the victim and that is when he shot him behind the ear one time with a gun belonging to a friend's father. The gun he used was presented at least two weeks before this incident to the accused and some of his friends. It is believed this all took place between 3 and 5 in the early morning hours.

The 15-year male then took the victim's car (and other personal possessions) before driving away and picking up two friends (he told them he purchased the car for $800).

Initially the three drove around before dropping off one friend. During the driving around time, the accused used the victim's cell phone and continued to journey with one friend before hitting a parked car. At that time the accused fled on foot, leaving his friend behind—he told the police it was his friend's car and he had gone. Within 15 minutes the accused was arrested.

Meanwhile the body of the victim was discovered and the only thing to identify him and connect his dead body to his family was a piece of mail addressed to his grandmother's home. In short, the 29-year-old African-American male left his Chicago South Side residence to meet a West Side Chicago African-American male who he was lead to believe was 18, for the purpose of having a homosexual encounter after talking to him on a telephone chat line— no crime.

____

In the example given, the difference of believed ages could be examined, along with outlets MSMs use in order to socialize. In 2003, expressing same-gender sexuality socialization remains a perceived taboo—therefore forcing some individuals within the group to use back-alley methods as a way to socialize.

To address homosexuality, manhood and American society surrounding African-American males, it is important to look at how society socializes sex and sexuality. USA Today (July 29, 2003) reported African-American support for homosexual relations declined from 58% in May 2003 to 36% in July of the same year, according to a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll. Also for African Americans who attend church nearly every week, support dropped from 61% to 49% and it is an unseen and unsaid fact the church in the African-American community is a driving force for leadership setting direction. If African-American males are being defined by others and themselves by seen and unseen physical attributes—namely penises—then questions remain: how can African-American men who have sex with men express sexuality and manhood in a predetermined American society?

Humans are born sexual beings and should have guidance led by parents/guardians in order to understand the full scope of sexuality. Silence and African Americans have had a long marriage when it comes to sex and sexuality. It is a long-running sentiment—African American males have had their manhood denounced throughout American history, they have been labeled as 'boy' regardless of age and life status. In exchange, African-American males have taken on and been equated to their penis (mostly the size of) to define or reclaim a pseudo form of manhood.

During slavery, males enslaved were viewed not only for physical labor, but also as a 'stud' to ensure other slaves were being produced to continue slavery. In modern days, African-American males have continued to be reduced to their penises—many see gay photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's Polyester Suit photo, which is of a headless male of color in a three-piece suit with the zipper of the pants open and his uncircumcised penis fully exposed, as a prime example of this objectification.

When it comes to African American males, sex and sexuality continues to be taboo areas of life. Especially when it comes to having or being interested in sex with the same gender—this is a lingering perception by many in the African-American community, as the lowest point of human existence, with ties to the residues of slavery.

Willie Lynch in 1712 gave a speech describing a fool-proof method for controlling slaves by overemphasizing physical differences between slaves and making them major flaws or assets in order to instill fear, distrust and envy, therefore giving the rein of control to masters. Despite the fact slavery, as it was known, is not part of American society today, the aftermath of Willie Lynch's influence on slavery lingers to this very day. As examined in Spike Lee's Jungle Fever or School Daze, physically distinguishable attributes (i.e. hair texture, noses, lips, etc.) once used by slave owners, in the modern day are used to separate African Americans in a similar if not the same manner used during slavery.

African Americans have also separated along intangible lines of sexuality. If a male is known to have sex with the same sex or has what is considered feminine mannerisms, he is banished by the label of being a 'punk' or called other names to attack and/or weaken his manhood.

African-American MSM have not openly and honestly interacted and/or expressed themselves in this lynched society for fear of having all other aspects of life infected up to and including death. The current climate surrounding homosexuality, according to a USA Today, CNN and Gallup Poll, indicates Americans' attitudes toward individuals engaging in sex with the same sex is in the midst of change (USA Today, July 28, 2003). With the recent Supreme Court decision to strike down a Texas anti-sodomy law that opens the door for new gay civil rights, a Canadian court decision allowing gays to marry, and the possible debate in the 2004 election, same-sex marriages will be on the front line when it comes to gauging Americans' point of view towards consenting adults engaging in same-gender sexual activities.

While this has or may have a sweeping result for all same-gender participants, African-American MSM also have the lingering influence of Willie Lynch. Therefore, while the telephone chat line description stands as an isolated case, it also serves as an example of what measures African-American MSM go to and through in order to socialize with one another in an America that has not allowed room for their pursuit of happiness.

No different than any other socializing group in America (or the rest of the world for that matter), African-American MSM socialize in similar manners by going to clubs, meeting in gathering spots, the internet and even telephone chat lines, to name a few. If the example given was of a 15-year-old female in place of the 15-year-old male, what light would be shown on this case? The only difference is the perception placed on same-sex sexuality by most Americans (especially those in power). Not to mention female-on-female sexual activity stereotyped as hot-blooded American male fantasy.

Unions of same-sex relationships are not seen as ones that can spawn love similar to heterosexuals. Therefore the bedrooms shared by consenting same-gender adults is bastardized and awaiting the permission of America to be labeled legitimate.

There is no sweeping remedy for this and the many other social ills infecting America. Americans are significantly less accepting of activities that more than likely will not be part of their normal day-to-day—consenting same-gender adults living their individual lives.

An Ethiopian proverb states 'When spider webs unite, they can tie up a line.' And America is filled with lions (those with power) and has spider webs (those that influence power) going all over the place tying up natural human rights.


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