News, thoughts and comments on civil rights and related issues.
Friday, September 24, 2004
Review: The low down on the Down Low
After reading J.L. King's On the Down Low: A Journey Into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men, and thinking about it a couple weeks, I'm pretty much where I was before I read his rambling narrative. I'm resigned to the harm people quite willingly do each other, but also hope they will change. It seems to be that the Down Low is largely another example of exploitive behavior. The roots of that behavior may be as deep as the human psyche itself.
The book was preceded by a plethora of publicity. King appeared on Oprah. Periodicals as diverse as Essence and the New York Times have examined the phenomenon known as the Down Low. Both people new to the topic and experts wonder if bisexual gay men who hide their preference for both genders are responsible for the high rate of HIV infection among African-American women. Some gay activists and men on the Down Low are angry that King revealed the secret. Other people have thanked him for putting the interest of millions ahead of his own.
As someone already familiar with the controversy, I hoped King's book, which made the New York Times Bestseller List, would shed light on how the grand deception of so many women was perpetrated. Instead, I was reminded that being on the list and being a good book are not necessarily synonymous. Interest in a topic by a segment of the population, for example the far Right or black women, can propel a mediocre book onto the list. That is what has occurred with On the Down Low. Yes, King does address how men on the Down Low deceive women into having unprotected sexual intercourse with them. But, the conclusion he reaches -- that any man might be sleeping with other men and deceiving the woman in his life -- is hardly a prophylactic. His advice amounts to: Be suspicious.
The other aspect of the book is biographical. One learns that King deceived himself for more than 20 years after he began having sex with men, as well as women. Indeed, self-deception seems to be as important to understanding him as deception of others. He actually believed he could convince his wife that he was not bisexual after she literally watched him have anal sex with another man. A reader finds herself thinking 'Buy yourself a clue, dude.' King says that he no longer deceives himself or other people. Women who enter into relationships with him are told in advance he also has sex with men. Other facets of King's life remain blurry. It is not clear how he earns his living. Though he professes a deep religious faith, there is ambiguity in how it and his life style, both past and present, fit together. Indeed, church seems to have been a main source for meeting prospective male lovers for him. It is also uncertain whether King will devote any of the considerable profits from the book to HIV/AIDS education.
There is a temptation to perceive J.L. King as representative of men on the Down Low. It should be resisted. We do not know that King is typical, only that he is the first of the group to speak out loudly and forcefully. Despite my reservations about some of his character traits, I strongly commend him for having done so. On the Down Low is worthy of reading for that reason.posted by J. | 11:28 PM
Thursday, September 23, 2004
Music: Get out the vote album debuts
I can't sleep too long.
-- Rap from "Wake Up Everybody"
The Detroit Free Press reports the album that will put hip hop on the political map has been released. It was recorded to benefit America Coming Together, , an organization that has registered new voters in most states, and, provides information about how the issues impact individuals, including young people. The single, a remake of "Wake Up Everybody," is already topping the chart at MTV.com. Its message, that it is cool to vote, just might catch on.
The site features two excellent videos. One discusses how the get out the vote project developed. The other is a mini documentary of the artists recording their parts of the song. Both are very straightforward about why hip hop artists are urging minority citizens, particularly, to vote this year. Low-income people, who are disproportionately minority, are suffering the consequences of Republican hegemony -- including unemployment, increases in college tuition. homelessness and bias in the criminal justice system. To affect change, new leadership is needed. Voting is the first step toward changing the status quo.
Hear the song "Wake Up Everybody" in its entirety at the site. Learn about the other songs on the album, recorded by some of the most talented people in the business, there, too. The album is now in some bricks and mortar music stores. It can also be ordered online.
One of my favorite things about the informational video is that it opens and closes with a picture of an American flag ruffled by the wind. The symbols of America are often hijacked by the Right. Members of disfavored groups are encouraged to believe they are second-class citizens, not entitled to those symbols. By taking back the flag, Wake Up Productions reminds us that it is ours, too.
Visit ACT's home on the web to learn how you can help.posted by J. | 10:30 PM