A group of BlackOutUK contributors went to see the debut of Matthew Lopez’s play, The Inheritance at the Young Vic in London. It’s on until May and definitely worth seeing. Inspired by the themes of Lopez’s epic, we got to wondering what knowledge, wisdom, or artefacts we have inherited from other black gay men and what we would like to pass on.
Here, Josh and Chudi share their inheritance/legacy.
Rummaging through a treasure trove of inheritances to select the crown jewel of gifts from The Elders is hard. Is it the increased understanding of my place as just one of many? Or is it the sanctity and safety of the pac(k)t? Perhaps it’s the laughter and the tears, the sense of connection to a shared history so rich that I often feel overwhelmed? Maybe the friendly faces, gentle admonishments or timely reminders? What about the life-giving and soul-enriching transfer of knowledge?
As I search through and marvel at all I’ve been given, my body lights up the brightest at one word: Responsibility.
In conversations with both Marc Thompson and Topher Campbell, each reminded me that theirs is the first generation of openly gay Black men in the UK. Each offers his own caveat around such a magnificent proclamation, of course, but the reality, whichever way you cut it and through whichever prism you see it, is that we are not at all very far removed from our history. That theirs is the first generation of openly gay Black men perhaps speaks to our generation’s searching and probing to uncover our history, a history that has long been skewed and re-cast.
Take the explosion of the Black gay creative arts in the 80s onwards, that which has come to mean so much for a new generation of Black gay men. Isaac Julien’s Looking for Langston and Marlon Riggs’ Tongues Untied, or — casting our eyes further back — James Baldwin’s prodigious and prescient body of work. Nor have we fully recovered (or begun to recover?) from the AIDS crisis, the bomb that detonated as so many in our community were just finding their voices and their freedom, leaving the Black gay community in shreds, but fighting.
The titanium thread that weaves our history into today, the binds our Elders to ourselves, is a shared sense of responsibility: I must do something, anything, that creates a better, more inhabitable world for my Black gay brothers and siblings.
I see that sense of responsibility in Topher and Ajamu’s rukus archive and Marc’s activism in Prepster, in Rob Berkeley’s work in public policy and Campbell X’s film-making. And as we each, through our own work and in our own way, begin the great task of preparing for the crown, our inheritances remind me of my responsibility, that I must forge a path that means the Kids don’t have to stumble through the world unguided and unguarded.
Of course, some of the hurdles are different, but many of them are old hurdles in new forms. So I feel a sense of responsibility to analyse my own stumbling blocks, cross-reference them with the experiences of our Elders and then theorise on those findings. Busy Being Black is one such exercise. Can we, through conversation, find a way through the world that means we can learn to live in the fullness of our lives? I’m mostly answering questions for my own survival, but in doing so it becomes so luminously clear that I am not in this alone — that my hurdles are yours, yours mine, and that even when they’re not, we don’t have to be the same people to know we’re fighting the same war.
So, in my treasure trove of inheritances, responsibility is the sceptre and crown, of many, that I choose. And as a new generation of Black gay men and people uncover for themselves the inherent worth and wealth in ourselves and our community, I trust many of us feel and choose responsibility, though we might have yet to name it as such.
The one thing that I inherited from other black gay men was that it was OK to be me
The one thing that I inherited from other black gay men was that it was OK to be me; the true me and not the me that society or any body else thinks I should be.
Growing up in a world where social conditioning begins before you have even left your mothers womb, it was so easy for me to be shaped and moulded, firstly by my parents and then by society, into a person who portrayed a character that in no way reflected the deepest part of my being. I was so concerned about what other people thought of me that I wasted a lot of time and energy perfecting this false character.
It was only when I made black gay male friends who were comfortable in their own skin that I realised that I too could feel comfortable in my own skin if I was willing to give up the conditioned me in exchange for the authentic me.
The one thing I want to pass on is; ‘always look within because that’s were you will find the answers’. Through an internal journey of self discovery I was able to discover the real me who is no longer dependent on what others think of me, I know now that only what I think of myself is of importance.
Tell us about what you have inherited and what you would like to pass on #BlackOutInheritance
The Inheritance is on at the Young Vic until May 2018 – get tickets here