“Imagine having lived your life for someone else. And you think you’re protecting your kids. And for my mother to have to live as someone that she wasn’t and hide and like, protect her kids … and you know, for all this time … And for her to sit in front of me and tell me, ‘I think I love someone.’ I mean, I really cried. That’s a real story. I cried because I was so happy for her that she was free.”
– Rapper, Jay-Z
In a recent interview with David Letterman, Jay-Z recounted his reaction to his mother, Gloria Carter, coming out to him. The rapper shared that he knew his mother was gay prior to their heart-to-heart, but he had never spoken about it openly.
The sad reality remains that lesbian women are often left out of narratives pertaining to LGBTQ people because they are either erased or excluded. Jay-Z’s willingness to share his mother’s coming out helps to increase the visibility of lesbians of color, but it also helps shine a light on the very real two-fold fear that black lesbian mothers feel, from both homophobia and racism.
Ms. Carter recounts these fears on the track, “Smile,” off of Jay-Z’s most recent album, 4:44. Built around Stevie Wonder’s, “Love’s in Need of Love,” she speaks to the dread of having to live her life in the closet, lamenting, “You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love.”
Hate crimes perpetrated against the LGBTQ community often focus on gay men. However, the fear felt by Ms. Carter and Black lesbian mothers is just as real.
In just one month, December 2017, four black lesbian mothers were murdered in separate cases. In two instances, their children were also killed. Kerrice Lewis was shot and then burned alive in the trunk of her own car in Washington, D.C. Shanta Myers, along with two of her children, Shanise (5 years old) and Jeremiah (11 years old), and Shanta's partner, Brandi Mells, were all found dead, bound and throats slit, in the basement of the Myers home in New York. Kaladaa Crowell and her daughter Kyra Inglett were murdered in West Palm Beach, Fla., on Dec. 28.
The media under-reports these violent homicides and hate crimes. According to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), “specifically with lesbians, police will often mischaracterize the relationship as a friend or roommate situation, since identities are obscured in the moment.”
Beyond homophobia, their experience often includes raising black children in a racist climate that isn’t safe. Like every black parent, black lesbian mothers must have "the talk" with their children when they reach a certain age. Not the one about the bird and bees, but the one where they prepare them for being pulled over by police.
Black children are also at risk of higher rates of infant mortality, inferior housing, environmental pollutants, acquiring HIV, and a host of other social problems. Black mothers often send their children out into the world with a sense of hopelessness, knowing that there are people out there who consider them disposable.
The experience of black lesbian mothers comes at a price. For some, the cost is giving up their own dreams. For others, it’s stymied creativity or staying in unhealthy situations. I’m happy that Jay-Z decided to have this conversation.
No matter how old we are, we need that person who affirms our choices in a way that celebrates who we are. Ms. Carter ends her monologue with the ultimate love supreme declaring:
“Life is short, and it's time to be free. Love who you love, because life isn't guaranteed.”
Eric Paulk is an advocate working at the intersections of race, class, and sexuality. Follow him on Twitter @EricPaulk.
This article originally appeared in Q magazine. Pick it up around town, and read the full issue below, including the LGBTQ Cinco Celebrations Calendar: