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“It just sounds really odd. You know?”
This is what a white male police officer said to me several times after he separated my partner and I for questioning and we both explained to him that we were driving through Mississippi as part of our cross country journey interviewing black LGBT feminist elders.
And outside the matrix of uniforms, skin, privilege and visible weapons, ghosts and the bloody history of the state (in the specific sense and the general sense) his disbelief would be at worst a strange look to brush off and at best a conversation to have about intergenerational black feminist love in action. But in this case the fact that the officer could not believe our truth and was much more likely to believe that we were troublesome black teenagers joyriding across state lines in a stolen RV, could have been the difference between us driving through Mississippi and being locked up, or worse. We are inside a matrix where to be black and feminist, to be black and driven by love, where to be black queer women on the move together is unbelievable from the perspective of the state. And we still live in a time when to be black, queer, brilliant, feminist, driven, to be incredible, unbelievable, stunning, to be exactly who we are, is a threat to the state and a risk to our lives.
We were not the first Black people in Mississippi to be stopped by white police officers with dubious cause.
In fact, part of the whole concept of the MobileHomecoming Project, the cross country journey to build family and community between generations of LGBTQ Black visionaries that my partner Julia Wallace and I embarked on this past June, is that we travel IN a mobilehome, remembering that not so long ago Black folks traveling through a segregated south and subject to state-sanctioned racial terror did not have the luxury of stopping whenever they wanted to rest in whatever “public” establishment might be around. We know that we are queer black women on the road in a country where queer black people are consistently blamed for violence we endure from stranger and the state and even within our own communities. Like our ancestors, we plan our stopping points far in advance and are blessed to have supportive community members all over the country hosting us in their homes and allowing us to park our RV nearby.
While driving on 1-20 in Mississippi a police officer from the interstate crime division pulled us over, citing a traffic concern: our following distance. Once we were pulled over, he asked us who owned the RV and what we were doing. We explained that we bought the RV, which is in my name, together with the support our community in order to travel the country interviewing our elders. The officer then asked my partner to leave the RV and called for back up. He questioned us separately. He asked us several times where we were going, how we got the money to be able to travel, how did we find these so-called elders, why would we want to visit them, was this for school, where did we live, how were we going to get back home, how did we get connected to these so-called black feminists, how did we know there were black feminists in the southern and western states we were planning to travel, and who are we to each other.
We answered (individually) that we were going to Keller TX that night and then on to Denton, TX, Taos, NM, Albuquerque NM, Apache Junction, AZ, Los Angeles, CA, Sacramenta, CA, Oakland, CA and then coming back through Las Vegas, NV, Albuquerque again, Austin, TX and New Orleans. We explained that our community donated for us to be able to buy the RV because they believe in the project. We explained that elders are people in our community who have great wisdom and have done great things and who are older than us, that this was not a school project, that we ourselves are black feminists and we are connected to our interviewees through other black feminists and because they have mentored us or inspired us with their work, that black feminists are everywhere, that we are partners and we live in North Carolina and Georgia. That we feel that it is important to document our community because our history is a major contribution to the world and much of it is unknown.
At every step he said “I just don’t know. It sounds so odd. I’ve never heard anything like this.”
And I believe him. He was not raised, and certainly not trained in police academy to expect black queer women to exist, let alone to be part of a supportive community that includes wise elders, the ability to collaboratively fund an adventurous and necessary project, and places to stay across the southern and western United States. And I wonder, if bewildered and sending us back on the road, astonished at how identical our responses were to his questions he also felt astonishment at the fact that he had not been raised or trained to believe that he himself could travel the country without individual wealth but with the support of his community. I wonder if he feels like part of a community with wise elders and open homes. I wonder if the deepest part of his disbelief in us comes from his own experience, a common experience inside of capitalism of not being believed in or understood as an unstoppable part of a transformative community, a person with dreams that can be lived collaboratively.
So I think the queer part of our experience, on the side of I-20 in Missippippi, was not only the fact that we are in love, the fact that we own something together on behalf of our community, the fact that we are supported and expected across state lines but the fact that by being who we are, living our purpose, inspired by and inspiring our community, we challenged this man (a representative of the violence of the state but a person before and beyond that) we challenged his sense of what is possible. Not only his perception of what black people do or what black feminism is, but also his understanding of how it is possible to live in general. We offered him a reframing of his own life.
As we left he was almost in awe, almost apologetic. “I mean, I’ve just never heard of anything like this.”
This is the queerness of black feminism. We change the meaning of life. For cop and comrade. For everyone.
For more information about the Mobilehomecoming project (and to be part of our community of support and inspiration!) visit mobilehomecoming.org.