Carleton College's student newspaper since 1877

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Prof. Johnson sings and speaks about black gay men of the South

<st Friday, E. Patrick Johnson, ethnographer and professor of African American Studies at Northwestern University, spoke at this year’s Black History Month convocation. Johnson discussed his experiences as a black gay Southern man, and the process he went through to write his latest book, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South, an oral history of black gay men in the Southern United States.

Although for Johnson, Sweet Tea, or what he jokingly dubbed, “diabetes in a glass,” evokes fond memories of the recipes his mother and grandmother used, sweet tea remains a euphemism for many homosexual references. These references transcend social and racial boundaries with their wide-use and contemporary implications, said Johnson.

Both artist and scholar, he began his speech with an energetic vocal and tambourine performance of “Good Morning.” He then shared details of his book by frequently alternating between speaker and performer. After playing a few seconds of the original tape-recorded interviews, Johnson moved to the center of the stage to play the roles of some of the men interviewed in his book. He acted out the role of Freddy, a young boy picked on because of his sexuality, as well as the diminutive Michael, whose gay uncle was seen to be at the root of evil for influencing him to also become a homosexual.

Johnson’s hope is that by humorously and energetically reproducing these conversations, he will raise awareness of the social stigma reserved for black gay men of the South.

While some of these men had families who accepted their homosexuality, many others faced harsh judgment from their families. Johnson also addressed his personal experience of coming out to his mother.

At first, she was “in a long period of self-blame and shame,” said Johnson, “and kept silent about it for what seemed like an interminable length of time, only eventually resigning to the fact that her son was gay.”

Today, the most homophobic Southerners discourage any discussion of homosexuality. Even when individuals “come out” and admit to being gay, many families live in denial and refuse to acknowledge this.

Through his conversations with these men, Johnson realized, “they were telling my story while narrating their own.” For these men, the very act of story telling is a method of healing. Johnson chose only to share humorous stories with the audience, but he stressed that not all of the stories were so lighthearted. Some chose to tell very traumatic tales, and although he and many others have “left the South, the South has never left us- no amount of migration will change us.”

Recounting his experiences in creating his book brought Johnson a surge in childhood memories and the South. To express these rich emotions, he once again erupted into song to end his performance, prompting a full-minute standing ovation from his cheering audience.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All The Carletonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *