Saturday, August 11, 2007


Photo: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Steve Prakope; some rights reserved

Being "in the closet" is a standard metaphor for gay people living their lives so that their sexual orientation is hidden. The metaphor of closets is a more general one for that which we hide, but cannot deny.

Closets are dark places, and the darkness sometimes leads to strange behavior. In the middle of July the Florida chair of Republican senator John McCain's presidential campaign chair Florida State Representative Bob Allen was arrested in a public restroom for soliciting sex from a undercover policeman. Allen has defended himself in this way:
Allen, R-Merritt Island, told investigators he was just playing along when the undercover Titusville officer suggested oral sex and $20 because he was intimidated by the "stocky black guy," according to the statement.

Allen, who is white, also said that there "was nothing but other black guys around in the park" and that he thought he was about to be robbed. At the time, Allen was unaware the other men also were undercover officers.
Rep. Allen's explanation seems ridiculous! But via the essential black looks blog a video, bell hooks on rap, race & representation of black female bodies makes some sense of it for me. The last segment of the 9 minute video--at about the 7 minute mark--hooks talks about consuming commodified blackness. She begins with a powerful observation which I hope I've transcribed accurately:
I believe that American culture is obsessed with transgression. And to the degree that blackness remains a primary sign of transgression, one could talk about a American culture, mainstream culture, as being obsessed with blackness. But it is blackness primarily as a commodified form that can be then possessed, owned, controlled and shaped by the consumer; and not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer.
Rep. Allen is entitled to his day in court. The Village Voice links to a document showing that Florida's Christian Collation had given a 92.3 approval rating. Given the circumstances surrounding Allen's arrest, I'm dubious about his innocence.

The Diocese of Pittsburgh is extraordinarily politically conservative. The history of how it got to be that way is long. When we moved to Pittsburgh in my teens I was what they used to call a Jesus Freak, but even as a kid coming up from the American South with such religious fervor, the political conservatism of church pricked my heals. I haven't attended church except for family weddings and other obligatory occasions like that since my early college days, however the activities of the Episcopal Church still capture a bit of my attention.

In 1997 Robert Duncan was consecrated Bishop of Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan has been instrumental in initiating a schism within the Episcopal Church, one particular rationale stems from the consecration of an openly gay V. Gene Robinson was consecrated as Bishop of New Hampshire.

A part of Bishop Duncan's strategy to rent the Episcopal Church of America asunder is a tactical arrangement with Anglican Bishops in Uganda. The first arrangement with Uganda Bishops got off to a rocky start when a priest working in Pittsburgh but under the authority of a Bishop in Uganda raped a minor in his charge. That hasn't deterred Bishop Duncan's expanded tactical cooperation with the Ugandan Bishops for schism in the Episcopal Church.

Tying together Rep. Allen's arrest and Episcopal Church politics is a strain of authoritarian politics, where power, especially power over others, has a price. Stirring up hatred against gay people plays a prominent role. Commodified blackness bell hook's surely seem to fit Rep. Allen's soliciting sex from a Black undercover policeman and his subsequent defense. It's not really such a stretch from pandering to prejudices against gay people for political power to paying a black man for sex.

It's rather culturally acceptable to question the sincerity of politicians, but not so accepted to question religious sincerity. So Bishop Duncan can get away with saying essentially that his stance vis a vis gay people in the church is "hate the sinner not the sin." But as an outsider I don't see that the distinction is so clear in practice. And when questioned in this interview about the role that wealthy corporatist place in his efforts he responded:
I can certainly say as a board member of the AAC, there's never been any quid pro quo with money. [AAC is the American Anglican Council]
That sounds very much like something a politician would say. Even taking the bishop at his word, the nexus of political reactionaries and the funding of the cause of schism seems worth looking at with a cold-eye.

I really admire the writing of Ugandan blogger 27th comrade. Commenting on two pieces which appeared recently in Uganda's independent newspaper The Monitor, Why police are not arresting homos and and accompanying piece Gay testimonies: We are persecuted 27th comrade wrote:
Still ... I must tell you I have expressed, and still express, some level of distaste for male homosexuals. It borders on murderous hate. But I know that my hate for them is unjustified, and should be punished before homosexuality is punished. :o)
Judging from some of the comments 27th comrade is very brave to brooch the subject at all. Wise as he is, 27th comrade knows there's plenty to be angry about. He makes a moral argument against his hatred of gay men. How infuriating then might be a white Bishop garnering power, fueled with the funds of wealthy political reactionaries, feed by the prejudice and hatred of Ugandans against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people?

Politicians and priests buy power at the expense of the lives of gay people. The closet becomes valuable to them in a way not so different from the commodified blackness bell hooks speaks in American media representations of black people: "not with an engagement with black culture that might require one to be a participant and therefore to be in some way transformed by what you are consuming, as opposed to being merely a buyer."

Making peace isn't a passive activity, in fact it always seems a rather messy process. Gay people stay closeted because it is so dangerous for them to be out. But when it comes to the issue of same gender loving people so many of us feel loathing drawn from dark closets of our imaginations. I'm pleased to see the conversation. The expression of hatred and death threats however have a frightening viral quality.

Sokari at the indispensable black looks published a press release by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) "Let Us Live In Peace." Gay people bravely stepping out of the closet in turn allow others to open our closets too. Opening the closets allows the possibility for making peace because it enables engagement. And engagement takes bravery all around.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007 Closing

I began Bazungu Bucks almost two years ago. At first I thought that it would be a good way to explain to my friends why I wanted to raise a bit of money for my friend Nathan in Uganda. It soon became clear to me that hardly any of my friends read any blogs, much less Bazungu Bucks. I must have set up the blog in such a way that it could be found by Global Voices--quite by accident--and by way of Global Voices I discovered Blog Africa and a community of voices from and for Africa online. These discoveries have been extraordinarily rewarding for me.

One idea that has interested me for sometime is Time Dollars. Almost all complementary or alternative money schemes are quite local. There are so many good reasons why this is true. But I've wondered whether something like time dollars might be used to encourage and facilitate online activism, and in particular to encourage people to provide time in service to people in Africa. So that's the idea behind Bazungu Bucks and almost two years down the line it's fair to say I'm still wondering.

Online activism is a great big topic, especially for someone as naive as me. Over the years I have encountered Life in Africa online. Last autumn I realized LiA used in their work and my curiosity was finally piqued enough to join up at and look around.

Pierre Omidyar is founder and chairman of eBay the well-known and popular online auction site. He's done quite well financially and has dedicated some of his time and talents to philanthropy. The philanthropy of those who've made their fortunes in Tech is notable because many like Pierre Omidyar are still young. And they've made money with disruptive technologies so there's an expectation their philanthropic giving will be innovative and disrupt the status quo.

Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam set up the Omidyar Foundation and in conjuction with that the Omidyar Network. The Omidyar Network has established a $400 million dollar fund to be invested by 2010 according to that Wikipedia article. In the Spring of 2004 the Omidyar Network developed a set of online tools to facilitate their communication and work. In July of 2004 Omidyar Network opened these tools to anyone trying to make the world a better place. The result was, so it's a social network, but with a unique mission and history.

I was late to the game, so there's so much history there I don't really understand. Of course all the posts are archived and there is enough allusion to the events that have transpired within the group of people swept up in the Omidyar net that the history seems present as in Faulkner's famous line in the play Requiem for a Nun:
“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
What I found at was a great collection of brilliant, funny, compassionate, and accomplished people trying to make the world a better place. Hard work that.

On July 18th word came down from the owners of that as of September 7th the interactive features of the site would be disabled and at the end of the year the archive would be taken down.

So the situation is a community, many of the members actively engaged in ongoing projects, have been given notice to pack up and leave. There's a bit of the flavor of a reality TV show to the scenario; like Survivor only on a Web site. And I'll admit that especially over the last few days I've been obsessively following the discussions. I do have a vested interest in the outcome, but also as a spectator it brings to the fore many questions I've been asking about the nature of networks and communities and the potential for online peer production.

I'm not sure really if there's a good way to get a view of the action as it unfolds at A person could join up at the last minute, but the learning curve is too steep I think to really get the flavor. I wanted in this post to tell about the closing because I'm learning something new in this transition and wanted the context to be available.