Black Out/Magazine was created in 1986, at the height of the AIDS crisis, to support the work of Black Queer writers. I explore an article in Volume 1, Issue 1 written by the editor, Joseph Beam, on community care as a response to the AIDS crisis.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsina’s definition of collective care1 is revolutionary love and solidarity without charity. Charity is different from solidarity because it creates a hierarchy, solidarity is showing up for each other and beneficial for everyone involved. This is often in opposition to seeking out traditional government services that fail to meet the needs of marginalized communities. Historically, Black and Queer communities have been excluded from receiving the limited benefits of governmental services and opted to turn inward for support.
Black/Out was a quarterly literary magazine published beginning in the summer of 1986. 1986 was the height of the AIDS crisis, and more than half of the people diagnosed with AIDS up until this point have died.2 Joseph Beam was the editor of the magazine and well-known poet, died of AIDS a few years after the creation of the magazine. Black/Out was sponsored by the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays. The magazine was created to create a space for Black queer people and writers, excluded by white gay and straight black literary spaces.
A care web is a network of people supporting each other. A care web is any web, interconnected system of people, that a person can turn to when they are in need of support or care. For the Black queer community, Black/Out functioned as a care web. The journal was by and for the people. It included book reviews of books written by Black queer authors, poetry excerpts, ads for black queer businesses (including bookstores), a calendar of events related to the Black queer community, and employment opportunities. There was no dominant “white” gay space that was providing this for the Black queer community.
The first issue of the magazine, published in the summer of 1986, featured an article by Joseph Beam entitled “Caring For Each Other.” He opens by talking about an experience when growing up where instead of calling the police or social services on his struggling neighbor, instead they took care of him as a community. He uses this as a metaphor for the hesitancy of the Black community to involve the state in community affairs. The Black community widely understands that the State (white people) do not care for the well-being of Black people, thus do not call on them in times of need. Joseph Beam states that we should apply this same train of thought to the AIDS epidemic. The Reagan Administration’s refusal to respond to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s was violent and deadly. The state stood by as people suffered greatly and lost their friends, family, and own lives. This grim reality does not absolve the State from its duties, in fact we should continue to pressure the State to do better. However, Beam suggests that the primary way that AIDS should be addressed is through the prioritization of community care.
This short two column article says a lot in a small amount of space. This is symbolic of Black queer people taking agency over their own community health and shifting from reliance on state services. This also helps us understand why today there is a deep mistrust of state funded and outside services. The best and most effective way to do service is through the people who live directly in the community. Outsiders have always failed minorities. The only way to ensure survival and care is to rely on each other. In the context of the creation of Black/Out magazine, the preservation of Black queer stories and narratives was dependent on Black queer people. Melvin Dixon, was a leader of the Black gay cultural renaissance who is known for his work exploring the intersection of Black trauma and queer trauma during the AIDS epidemic. Dixon coins the term “double cremation” to describe the physical and social death of Black queer bodies during this time. Dixon and other Black queer *poz* contemporaries, such as Joseph Beam, felt an urgency and race against time to produce literature and art as evidence of their being, proof that they were there, because they knew the state would not acknowledge or preserve their personhood. Joseph Beam and Essex Hemphill are but two of the Black queer writers featured in this edition of Black/Out who succumbed to AIDS. They may have passed, but they entombed their work.
How does this function in the context of the university? For the sake of this question, I thought about the university as analogous to “the State.” Beam defines “the State” as white hegemonic power. Exploring the relationship between the Black community and the university, how does the black community respond when harm is done by either the university directly or peers. One way people respond is by holding the university accountable and expecting them to resolve the issue. This often takes the form of committees, forums, meetings, on an endless cycle. And as noted earlier, while it is important to continue to pressure the university to provide better for the needs of minoritized students, systems often come up short. It is more effective to look inward and care for each other, through building and nurturing community. Whether it happens in the formal walls of the Intercultural Center, Black Student Alliance, LGBTQ Center, or informal ways of looking out for other students with minoritized identities, community is what is most vital to survival. Additionally, “Publish or Perish” is a maxim describing the importance of publishing to a successful academic career. Black queer academics were among those whose works were featured in Black/Out Magazine.
There is a lot we can learn from Black/Out and Joseph Beam about what it looks like to care for each other in times of crisis.
A timeline of HIV and AIDS. (n.d.). HIV.gov. Retrieved November 3, 2022, from https://www.hiv.gov/hiv-basics/overview/history/hiv-and-aids-timeline#year-1986
Beam, J. (1986). Caring For Each Other. Black/Out, 1(1), 9.
Brownworth, Victoria A. (1992). BLACK OUT: AIDS TAKES ITS TOLL ON BLACK WRITERS. The Advocate, from https://www.proquest.com/lgbtma/docview/2112548540/8BC27D76D8FC4EF1PQ/4?accountid=14868&imgSeq=1
Piepzna-Samarasinha L. L. (2018). Care work : Dreaming Disability Justice. Arsenal Pulp Press.