Excerpted by Latoya Peterson
Warning: Explicit Language.
Saying that this interview blew my mind is an understatement. Reading “It’s All One: A Conversation between Juba Kalamka and Tim’m West” in the Total Chaos anthology was an illuminating experience in reference to queerness and hip-hop culture. There were so many pieces I wanted to type to share with you all, but couldn’t do so without feeling like I was taking money out off Jeff Chang’s wallet. So here are a few snippets of the conversation that made the largest impact on me and hopefully many of you will try to locate the full interview (or even buy the book).
Juba: It wasn’t until commercial viability became an issue for the record industry at large did the need for a categoric and hard-line heterosexualization and hypermasculine posturing come front and center. Hip-hop’s racial contextualization has been similar to that of early rock ‘n roll – the sale of scart, titillating, and ultimately Otherizing fantasy images of nonwhite people that fit into that same old boxes of “frightening yet sexy.” So, no, maybe a “gay” identity wouldn’t fit as a component of a “hip-hop” identity if you understand “gay” as a code for “weak” or “feminized” and therefore undesirable to a media machine selling a particular kind of Scary Negro Drag, or someone who’s performing it and unable or unwilling to interrogate their positionality.
At the same time, there’s the issue of “gay” or “Queer” being yet another identity marker that had already been co-opted by white middle-class institutions by the time hip-hop was beginning to receive mainstream attention. An authentic b-boy (read: Black) would have had a difficult time integrating a gay or bisexual identity into his pose, as “gay” was something he would know he was racially, economically, and socially excluded from.
Tim’m: But even this undermines a rich legacy of gays and lesbians in Black communities that had little to no interaction with white gay culture. Culturally speaking, Black gays have always preferred to abide alongside their Black communities rather than “ghettoize” their sexualities into geographic “safe spaces.” This isn’t a criticism, just an observation.
Juba: I agree. There is the assumption by Black straights and white gays that Black Queers were somehow automatically interested in participating in white gay culture – which also assumes an uncomplicated relationship to being “out” in the way most people understand that. That is extremely problematic and, as you have said, lazy thinking.
Growing up in Chicago and attending high school in the early and mid-1980s there was no real distinction between straight and gay in the house music scene, though it was overwhelmingly Black and Latino. My high school reflected this dynamic as well as that of the white gay kids never really expressing any interest in what we were doing.