Rhone Fraser is an independent writer and playwright who earned his Ph.D. in African American Studies in 2012 from Temple University, where he has taught Caribbean and African American History as an Instructor and Adjunct Faculty since 2008. His work focuses on anti imperialist organizing in the African LGBTQ communities in Philadelphia, and he currently teaches African American History at Delaware County Community College. He also hosts of a cultural talk show, Freedom Readers, on WPEB 88.1FM West Philadelphia Community Radio on Thursdays 7-9pm.
As I read yesterday about the case of Goche Lamine, a medical merchant who was lynched this week in Cameroon after being outed by a yelling child, I am deeply saddened by the homophobia in traditional African communities.
As the child of Black immigrants from Jamaica, part of me feels ashamed that traditional interpretations of Islam and Christianity can render homosexuals' lives so meaningless. The community that lynched Lamine was a traditional Muslim community, very much like the traditional Christian communities that persecute gays in Jamaica. Being a practicing Christian, I am fascinated with the reasons behind the deliberately fundamental, and conservative interpretations that colonized African communities choose to enforce based on traditional Christian or Islamic beliefs. Why do they use these interpretations to justify murder?
The countless murders of gays in Jamaica, and this lynching in Cameroon goes to show that men in these places are safe only if they blindly follow religious interpretations that require they deny their sexuality. Communities in these and other colonized countries are willing to kill to enforce these traditional beliefs, which are remnants of colonization. Reading details about the lives of these victims, I remind myself of Frantz Fanon's point (translated to the English by Richard Philcox) that the church in the colonies is "a white man's church," and that these conservative interpretations are trying to emulate the norms of a sex-based gender identity, and rigid heterosexuality. They do not allow for the complex, diverse identities of African people, exactly because they are symptoms of Western colonization.
I pity those who participate in such murders as victims themselves of colonization. These murderers, in killing Lamine only uphold their French colonizers' traditional beliefs, and further the pervasive influence of French colonization. There are many churches and mosques that receive funding only so long as they support a conservative interpretation of religion, and by extension the murders that can result. Homophobic Christianity and Islam have no tolerance for homosexual relationships because they do not procreate, and in doing so create more consumers to enrich the oil dependent Western economy, it's that simple.
The murderers might well justify their actions on moral and religious grounds, but they are ultimately serving economic motives. They serve as mercenaries for higher political powers whose motives are economic, not moral. If Lamine were allowed to cultivate his relationship, he would not "naturally" be able to procreate and would be the wrong kind of example to young people, who supposedly need to see only heterosexual men in order to keep the community alive. This conservative idea again privileges the profit margin of Western economies most of all, rather than any religious idea.
Along with being a Christian, I am also a playwright. Recently I posed a question on Facebook to my playwright friends about which works we felt adequately address issues of colonialism, war, and peace. I am interested not only in editorializing about tragic lynchings like that of Goche Lamine, but also exploring such dynamics in a fictional way in order to curb and stop this hate. While I appreciated seeing a production of Lynn Nottage's play "Ruined," which was set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, I thought that she could have engaged the war and peace issue more deeply by showing how the U.S. supplied both the rebel forces and the government forces.
Julian Assange noted in a Rolling Stone interview last year that corruption of African leaders can always be traced to corruption that is supported by Western hands. In this way, the Muslim and French influence is related to this week's lynching in Cameroon. Likewise, laws in Uganda that call for the hanging of gays can be traced to the influence of Western hands, as Lucy Judith Adong brilliantly shows in her play "Just Me, You, And the Silence."
In it, an American evangelical has a conversation with a Ugandan church apostle about the money he is giving, as long as the apostle promises support of an "anti-gay bill." I can't help but wonder if Adong's play locating a Western hand in the persecution of gays has anything to do with her play not being produced. Nottage's play, which seems to identify African male misogyny as more of an issue than Western colonialism, has been both produced, and awarded the Pulitzer Prize. As playwrights, we have to, in the words of Langston Hughes, tell the truth as artists "without fear or shame." That has to include identifying the imperialist role of this nation in supporting and condoning bills that persecute gays. This most recent lynching has brought a new sense of urgency for me as both a Christian and a playwright, towards working for the anti-colonial cause.
(image source: Viper Islands, Andamans by Flickr user Snap®)