Civil Rights History, Queered

, Malcolm A. Kline, Leave a comment

Occasionally, professors at the Modern Language Association (MLA) have good points to make. Unfortunately, they soon get buried in the MLA’s favorite themes and concepts.

“Chicago remains one of the most deeply segregated cities in the United States,” Soyica Diggs Colbert of Georgetown said at this year’s MLA convention in Philadelphia. She then went on to explore “theories of white gender as a performative,” “white gender problems,” “white supremacist desire to control black people,” and “misapprehension” of “vertices of domination.”

Colbert spoke at “a special session” of the MLA conference on “Queering the Civil Rights Movement.” Actually, Colbert and her co-panelists—Salamishah Tillet of Penn and Dagmawi Woubshet of Cornell– examined the work of three artists active in the Civil Rights movement—Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone and James Baldwin.

Actually, with the exception of Woubshet’s presentation on Baldwin, the speakers did not really spend much time examining the sexual preferences of their subjects:

  • Hansberry, author of the still-performed Raisin in the Sun, once described herself as a “heterosexually married lesbian,” according to Colbert; and
  • Simone, who recorded several songs chronicling violent episodes of the civil rights struggle, struggled with her own bisexuality, Tillet alleged. Tillet teaches a course in Black Rage at Penn.

Most English departments are represented at the MLA along with the various “studies” that proliferate in academe.