Herukhuti, Ph.D., M.Ed.
Professor, Goddard College
Founder and CEO, Center for Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality
“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? I like to caution folks, that’s all. No sense us wasting each other’s time, sweetheart. A lot of weight when you’re well. Now, you just hold that thought…. Just so’s you’re sure. sweetheart, and ready to be healed cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.” – Minnie Ransom in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters
The health and wellbeing of Black people. Who will take the weight of the wholeness and wellness of people who Europeans brought to the Western hemisphere as chattel slaves, marked as sub-human in scientific journals, made to live in dehumanizing conditions up to and including the present moment? In 1977, the members of the Combahee River Collective, stated, “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us. Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work.”
The articulation of self-determination in Black communities has not been unique to Black women. Essex Hemphill, in his poem For My Own Protection, answered the question thusly, “I want to start an organization to save my life…. the lives of Black men are priceless and can be saved. We should be able to save each other. I don’t want to wait for the Heritage Foundation to release a study saying Black people are almost extinct…. I don’t want to be the living dead pacified with drugs, sex and rock-n-roll…. If we have to take tomorrow with blood are we ready?… All I want to know for my own protection is are we capable of whatever whenever.”
As we discussed the IOM report recommendations for research training, it became obvious that there is currently no research training center dedicated to LGBT health research run by Black people or even with Black people in significant positions of power and authority in the United States. Zero. The Conference on Current Issues in LGBTI Health Research, which the organizers characterized as an international conference and had presenters and attendees from Asia, Latin America and the United States, had one Black presenter.
Recommendation Six of the IOM Report made the following assertions:
“To create a more robust cadre of researchers in LGBT health, NIH should expand its existing research training framework for both intramural and extramural training. Three audiences should be targeted: researchers who are working with or considering working with LGBT populations, other researchers who may not be aware of LGBT health issues, and NIH staff.” p.304
“In its intramural training program, NIH should develop postdoctoral training opportunities in the area of LGBT research (for example, research on youth and families). Similarly, NIH should expand the curriculum of its postbaccalaureate NIH Academy to include LGBT-specific issues in addition to the racial and ethnic disparities that are currently studied within the program. To implement these research training activities, NIH should increase its capacity to provide on-site experts as mentors for researchers examining LGBT health issues.” p.304
“Within its existing extramural program, NIH should increase the number of individual awards offered to researchers studying LGBT health issues, including postdoctoral, graduate student, and career awards. In addition, the current loan repayment program should be expanded to assist students who choose to study LGBT health issues. In particular, the development of researchers of color who will study LGBT health should be encouraged.“ p.305
If these recommendations are to be implemented in ways that lead to tangible, material improvements in the health, wholeness and wellbeing of Black people, they have to be implemented in a different context than has been attempted previously. The Eurocentric and white-dominated systems, structures and mechanisms can not be the vehicles for implementation because they have proven to be ineffective in addressing the tangible, material conditions of Black people–despite the good intentions of well-meaning white allies.
It is time (as it has always been the time) for us to liberate and save ourselves. We need a national convening of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, same-gender loving, and queer organizations, leadership and researchers to generate a health agenda that addresses our needs, realities, and aspirations. It will mean recognizing the areas of common experience as well as the uniquenesses that exists across Black folks who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, same-gender loving, and queer. It will entail our embrace of our indigenous knowledge of our communities (both grassroots knowledge and scientific knowledge) as well as considering the value of the work that has been conducted outside of our communities such as the IOM report. It will require the cultural confidence evidenced in the Combahee River Collective Statement and Essex Hemphill’s poem to believe that we can take the weight and the cultural sophistication to realize that we are the only ones who ever could.
Dr. Herukhuti is founder and Chief Erotics Officer (CEO) of the Center for Culture, Sexuality and Spirituality and editor-in-chief of sacredsexualities.org. He is also a member of the faculty at Goddard College. Follow him on Twitter and Tumblr and like his Facebook Fan page.