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Queering the borders: Lorraine Hansberrys 1957 Letters to The Ladder
Unformatted Document Text:  Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 6 ill-equipped to deal with the subtleties of racial politics.” 18 Documenting the omission of black lesbian writers in many anthologies of black women’s criticism and literature such as those by Wallace, Washington, and hooks, Cheryl Clarke writes: “Black bourgeois female intellectuals practice homophobia by omission more often than rabid homophobia.” 19 Thus despite her ostensible acclaim, Hansberry’s public voice and vision have not been sufficiently addressed. Subaltern Counterpublics: The Daughters of Bilitis & The Ladder In spite of what Garber and other historians document as a flourishing homosexual subculture for African-American gays and lesbians during the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1935), 20 the gay/lesbian witch-hunts of WWII and subsequent anti-gay persecution and gay-baiting of the McCarthy period had driven much of New York’s African-American and white gay and lesbian subcultures underground by the 1950s. The period was, according to lesbian historian Lillian Faderman, “perhaps the worst time in history for women to love women.” 21 In contrast to earlier decades, gays and lesbians in the fifties were subject to what gay historian John D’Emilio calls systematized oppresion which included frequent police arrests and harassments, FBI harassment and infiltration, expulsion from the military, government employment, teaching positions, and university study, and job discrimination. “From 1947 through mid- 1958, 1,700 job seekers were denied employment because of homosexuality. After that period, the 17 Amiri Baraka, “A Critical Reevaluation: A Raisin in the Sun’s Enduring Passion,” in A Raisin in the Sun and The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, ed. Robert Nemiroff (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 10. 18 Barbara Smith, Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” in Black Feminist Cultural Criticism, ed. Jacqueline Bobo (Malden, MA: Blackwell publishers, 2001), 6-23. 19 Cheryl Clarke, “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” in Dangerous Liasons, ed. Eric Brandt (New York: The New Press, 2000), 38. Also see Cheryl Clarke, “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. (Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981), 128-137. In fact, hooks mentions Hansberry twice in her 1981 “Ain’t I a Woman” but as Clarke notes, she fails to mention lesbian subjects or subjectivity anywhere in the book. bell hooks, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981). This omission is corrected in a later book where hooks not only critiques homophobia in black communities, but also describes a double standard that often valued male homosexuals while deriding lesbians. See bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black (Boston: South End Press, 1989). 20 Eric Garber, “A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem,” in Hidden From History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past ed. Martin Bauml Duberman et al (New York: New American Library, 1989), 318-331. 21 Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (New York: Penguin, 1991), 157.

Authors: Lipari, Lisbeth.
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Queering the Borders: Hansberry’s Letters to The Ladder, 6
ill-equipped to deal with the subtleties of racial politics.”
18
Documenting the omission of black lesbian
writers in many anthologies of black women’s criticism and literature such as those by Wallace,
Washington, and hooks, Cheryl Clarke writes: “Black bourgeois female intellectuals practice
homophobia by omission more often than rabid homophobia.”
19
Thus despite her ostensible acclaim,
Hansberry’s public voice and vision have not been sufficiently addressed.
Subaltern Counterpublics: The Daughters of Bilitis & The Ladder
In spite of what Garber and other historians document as a flourishing homosexual subculture for
African-American gays and lesbians during the Harlem Renaissance (1920-1935),
20
the gay/lesbian
witch-hunts of WWII and subsequent anti-gay persecution and gay-baiting of the McCarthy period had
driven much of New York’s African-American and white gay and lesbian subcultures underground by the
1950s. The period was, according to lesbian historian Lillian Faderman, “perhaps the worst time in
history for women to love women.”
21
In contrast to earlier decades, gays and lesbians in the fifties were
subject to what gay historian John D’Emilio calls systematized oppresion which included frequent police
arrests and harassments, FBI harassment and infiltration, expulsion from the military, government
employment, teaching positions, and university study, and job discrimination. “From 1947 through mid-
1958, 1,700 job seekers were denied employment because of homosexuality. After that period, the
17
Amiri Baraka, “A Critical Reevaluation: A Raisin in the Sun’s Enduring Passion,” in A Raisin in the Sun and The
Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window, ed. Robert Nemiroff (New York: Vintage Books, 1990), 10.
18
Barbara Smith, Toward a Black Feminist Criticism,” in Black Feminist Cultural Criticism, ed. Jacqueline Bobo
(Malden, MA: Blackwell publishers, 2001), 6-23.
19
Cheryl Clarke, “The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community,” in Dangerous Liasons, ed. Eric
Brandt (New York: The New Press, 2000), 38. Also see Cheryl Clarke, “Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance,” in This
Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
, Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds.
(Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981), 128-137. In fact, hooks mentions Hansberry twice in her 1981 “Ain’t I a
Woman” but as Clarke notes, she fails to mention lesbian subjects or subjectivity anywhere in the book. bell hooks,
Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981). This omission is corrected in a later
book where hooks not only critiques homophobia in black communities, but also describes a double standard that
often valued male homosexuals while deriding lesbians. See bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking
Black
(Boston: South End Press, 1989).
20
Eric Garber, “A Spectacle in Color: The Lesbian and Gay Subculture of Jazz Age Harlem,” in Hidden From
History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past ed. Martin Bauml Duberman et al (New York: New American
Library, 1989), 318-331.
21
Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (New
York: Penguin, 1991), 157.


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