Collective memory is an act of resistance
I am a black gay man from the South. I grew up with a vague notion of what it meant to be gay, and none of what it meant to be both black and gay.
Years later, this would become both the fuel and the fire for my writing and my activism, especially upon learning that so much of our movement history as black gay men had been erased or fragmented. Collective memory is not an exercise in nostalgia, but an exercise in healing. And in that spirit, I hope to channel the strength of the black gay men that came before me, knowing they were not silent, they were were not passive bystanders, and they demanded to be heard.
Childhood was an endless winter, an emotional life frozen under the expectations of those around me to conform to appropriate black maleness. Then in my mid-teens, as my self-awareness around my sexuality evolved, and the feelings I was having became less whisper and more shout, the vast interior of my emotional life expanded. Through the works of James Baldwin, Essex Hemphill, Joseph Beam and Craig Harris, I found a blueprint to navigate the new terrain, and lacking a social safety net, I found a cultural one.
I was able to align myself with a political and intellectual community that I mostly felt supported by. I became a sort of go-to on the panel circuit. And yet even in all of my activity and efforts, my almost compulsive pro-
“As we grapple with the impact of HIV on our communities, not unlike those before us, I hope to extract lessons and blueprints from our ancestors to clarify, order, and inspire our next steps.”
ductivity, I felt like there was something missing. In grappling with this, the thing missing, I found myself dreaming about what would later become the Counter Narrative Project.
As the HIV funding landscape shifted and community-building gave way to our current obsession with finding “high-risk negatives,” the network of workshops, programs and events that were so instrumental in the development of my political consciousness as a black gay man disappeared. Our community work started being starved and our efforts suffered. Neo-liberalism isn’t just about the conversion of citizens into consumers, but grassroots movements into sprawling bureaucracies. Neo-liberalism is also about forgetting. That’s why collective memory, for so many of us, is an act of resistance. And any consideration of movement history, and collective memory as an act of resistance, conjurs up the force that was the writer and activist Craig G. Harris. His act of defiance, taking the stage of the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting, grabbing the mic and proclaiming “I will be heard,” is the inspiration behind the “I Will Be Heard” day of action, and also in the DNA of all of our efforts as black gay men to respond to the impact of HIV on our lives and communities.
We, at Counter Narrative Project, celebrate the courage and legacy of Craig G. Harris, and we also celebrate the generation of black gay men that built the ground we stand.
August 18, 2017