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Published in: July-August 2024 issue.

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A Political History of Blackness & Homosexuality after World War II
by Jennifer Dominique Jones
Univ. of North Carolina. 282 pages, $29.95


In her epilogue, Jones summarizes Ambivalent Affinities as a study of “critical moments in which ideas about homosexuality crossed paths with contests over Black political empowerment.” Such intersections were not necessarily high points for either, she concedes: “The power of the hetero-normative state [was]an influential force that shaped the strategies of mainstream civil rights organizations” toward gays, as when major figures in the SCLC ousted gay Black activist Bayard Rustin. (This sad moment is well depicted in the recent Netflix movie Rustin.) Indeed, for Jones “the very production of homosexuality as a political category [has been]tethered to the non-normativity of Blackness as a way to stigmatize both.”

            As that language makes clear, this is a (presumably revised) doctoral dissertation, weighed down by discipline-specific jargon that’s de rigueur in such treatises but makes for slow reading for the rest of us. Several chapters deal with instances in the 1950s and ’60s when white racists associated Civil Rights activists with homosexuality. But then, as Jones herself points out, homophobia was prominent in that era as a result of the McCarthy-led purge of alleged Communists from the federal government. Conservatives associated non-Black liberals with homosexuality then as well.

            Worthy of pause is Jones’ repeated assertion that white heterosexual Americans’ views of Blackness and homosexuality have been “imbricated”—one of her favorite words. The Gay Rights Movement did try to establish parallels with the Civil Rights Movement, but, as Jones herself shows, the latter often wanted nothing to do with us and made little use of homosexuality when trying to redefine the way white Americans saw their Black fellow citizens and their rightful place in our society. So it’s not entirely clear how much real “imbrication” was going on.

Richard M. Berrong