Just as Quare as They Want to Be: A Review of the Black Queer Studies in the Millennium Conference
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The latter part of the 20th century has seen the emergence of radical black lesbian feminists and gay men who have begun to address the forces within black culture and the culture at large that have rendered their experiences and sensibilities silent. Theorizing from margin to center, individuals such as Audre Lorde, Barbara Smith, Essex Hemphill, and Joseph Beam, among others, have undertaken the hard work of creating language and theoretical paradigms, building literal communities, and excavating black history as a means of validating their humanity and longstanding contributions to black cultural formation. In light of this recent artistic and intellectual renaissance, the Black Queer Studies in the Millennium Conference, held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from April 7-9, 2000, marked a moment of profound historical reflection and cultural recalibration. Building upon a legacy of work generated by black transgendered, lesbian, gay and bisexual writers and intellectuals, those black queers who assembled at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill determined to rethink and recalibrate the essential meanings of blackness and queerness from their own particular subject positions. Recalling DuBois’s notion of the problematic black subject at the turn of the 20th century, this conference foregrounded black same-sexual identity politics, homosexual desire and transgressive, non-heterosexist bodies as essential axiomatic problems to be considered by a Black and Queer Studies committed to addressing the needs of the new millennium. The skillful and generous organizers of the conference, Professors E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G. Henderson, described the conference as one intent upon examining how black queer theorists, in particular, can critically intervene in the formation of Queer Studies as a disciplinary project. To clarify the particular nature of this intervention, the organizers outlined a set of postulatory questions that provided the infrastructure and focus of the conference’s five panel discussions and keynote address: What are the implications of queer theory for the study of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people of color? Does queer as a term actually fulfill its promise of inclusivity as it is deployed in queer theory? How do those of us who teach queer theory effectively integrate the categories of race, class and materiality? How do we who are activists reconcile queer theory with political praxis? What is the impact of queer theory on the reception and analysis of black gay literature and cultural performance?