Parallel Perversions: Interracial and Same Sexuality in James Baldwin's Another Country

By Dunning, Stefanie | MELUS, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Parallel Perversions: Interracial and Same Sexuality in James Baldwin's Another Country


Dunning, Stefanie, MELUS


Nationalism ... assigned everyone his place in life, man and woman, normal and abnormal, native and foreigner; any confusion between these categories threatened chaos and loss of control.

--George Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

--The Black Panther Platform: What We Want, What We Believe

In 1997, Los Angeles sheriff deputies videotaped Eddie Murphy at 4:45 am picking up Atisone Seiuli, a "beautiful Hawaiian-looking woman," and a known transsexual prostitute with a warrant out for her arrest. He would later explain that he was just "helping" the prostitute, telling KNBC-TV of Los Angeles that "I love my wife and I'm not gay ... I'm married with three children." (1) Murphy's rebuttal to these charges, that he is "married with three children," engages discourses of reproduction as the antithesis of gayness, speaking to nationalist notions of the role and function of sex and sexuality.

Because interracial same-sex eroticism is figured, I argue, in opposition to black nationalist discourse, this incident threatened to invalidate Murphy not only as a heterosexually potent man, but also as a black cultural icon because homosexuality is regarded as an invalidation of authentic "blackness" (Williams 136). This incident, and Murphy's answer to it, is symptomatic of the ongoing project of "straightening out" the black community and, importantly, the impossibility of doing so. Benedict Anderson has famously argued that nations are "imagined communities" and in this case Murphy imagines that his status as father invalidates any same sex desire he may feel or act on, thereby solidifying him as a "family man" and a "proper" subject of the community-nation. Murphy's disavowals of gayness rely on nationalist tropes of the family as the ultimate symbol of racial and sexual order to validate his claim to heterosexuality. This incident illustrates that as a primary metaphor of nationalism, reproduction becomes the index of "acceptable" desire.

This incident says more about how we define appropriate desire in relation to the family and nation than it does about Murphy's sexuality. Nationalism is most threatened by the prospect of its own extinction. George Mosse, as suggested in the above epigraph, notes that this threat is controlled through the production of "respectable" categories of identification and desire. Deviating from these categories established by nationalist discourse is threatening to nationalism's stability and perpetuation. These dichotomies ensure the reproduction of the nation through "appropriate" sex, which is sex that does not invoke interracial or same-sex eroticism. Miscegenation and homosexuality obviously worry this equation. My discussion of interracial and same-sex desire turns on an understanding of nationalism that recognizes the importance of reproduction as a stabilization of national identity. Sexual acts are "perverse" when they do not serve the purpose of reproducing a homogenous (sexually and racially) nation. In this essay, I do not seek to explore the relationship between the desire for racial purity in the context of eurocentric nationalism, but my goal is to show that similar concerns shape and inform black nationalist discourse about homosexuality and miscegenation.

Though black nationalism saw itself as contrary to the aims of eurocentric nationalism, the relationship between the two cannot be so easily disavowed, as the epigraph from The Black Panther Platform: What We Want, What We Believe clearly demonstrates. Taken directly from "The Declaration of Independence," this passage confirms that the goals of black nationalism are predicated on the American ideal of "rights" as "unalienable" and God-given. It is significant that this passage is not quoted in the Platform, but included as if it were native to that document. …

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