Queer Blackness: The Jason Collins Effect
It was going to happen soon enough. In fact, the past few weeks were spent just wondering who it would be. Well, we have our answer. Jason Collins, 34, a center with the Washington Wizards came out today as gay. The kicker is that Jason Collins is a black man.
Jason Collins’s race is certainly relevant if we want to speak on his gayness (never forget, intersectionality is something that matters). Too often, the presentation of queerness in the U.S. is very white, very middle class, and very male. And too often, black maleness in the U.S. is presented as hypermasculine, dangerously so. With Collin’s coming out, there is now a chance to start chipping away at both of those constraining narratives. We have an individual who subverts both of those tropes, and is doing so within a space that is typically centered on a very stereotypical masculinity.
When it comes to public representation, black and queer very rarely intersect. Think of “The New Normal,” or “Modern Family.” These are the images of gayness that are given to us by the media, and these images are strictly of white men. This is one of the reasons that black and gay seem mutually exclusive. This is why the (erroneous) prevailing logic for some time was that black voter turnout in California helped to pass Proposition 8 in 2008. With the introduction of a high profile, black and gay man, into the public consciousness, we may begin the see the shifting of this narrative. Similarly, Jason Collins is sure to see much more interest from companies looking to capitalize on his coming out through endorsements. While the commodification of queerness is another article for another day, we can be pleased in the fact that black-gayness will have even more airtime because of it.
Sports Illustrated has already shared Collins’s story, ending the conversation for some. However, we must consider this the beginning. With Collins stepping out of the closet, one would hope that other athletes will follow. This will be a high-profile time for sports, and the way that we as American look up to athletes, our modern day, gladiator-esque heroes. The presence of a gay black male in sports is important as a larger metaphor for the presence of queerness in American culture as a whole. This is the time of the introduction of queerness into one of the more sacrosanct areas of American life, and this is the time for us to truly accept queerness as part of the individual, a part that demands respect.