We All Deserve An Uncle Johnny: Why We Need To Continue To Honor Our Black Queer Elders
After learning of Beyoncé dedicating this album to her dearly departed Uncle Johnny, a Black, queer man, I became emotional.
August 02, 2022 at 1:06 pm
Before Beyoncé officially debuted her seventh studio album Renaissance, I expected to be dazzled. I mean, c’mon — it’s Beyoncé. I expected to hear genre-defying music that makes me want to dance, sing and display every other emotion that denotes pure joy.
While all of this did happen, something else did, too. After learning of Beyoncé dedicating this album to her dearly departed Uncle Johnny, a Black, queer man, I became emotional. All too often do we feel the ramifications that result from the erasure of our Black, queer relatives and their contributions, and here we have Beyoncé doing the exact opposite.
Creating stellar music is one thing, but highlighting and paying homage to those who’ve come before us to pave the way is a feat on its own. What stands out the most to me is Beyoncé’s insistence on honoring not only the legacy of Black LGBTQ+ voices in music but those in her very own family.
The erasure of our Black queer elders
The erasure of our Black, queer elders isn’t just systemic — it happens in Black families all the time. One of the subtle ways queerphobia rears its ugly head in Black families is the nod to cut familial ties out of fear of shame. However, it can also look like a family unit moving forward, as if said family member doesn’t exist.
These kinds of discriminatory practices are not only despairing, but they suggest that the silencing of these voices should take precedence over uplifting those very same voices that have already been quieted by society. As a gay, Black man who knows what this feels like, it means the world that Beyoncé can positively reflect on her memories with her uncle while also commemorating his legacy. It also pushes me to think about how we don’t really have a lot of queer elders in the Black community.
We all deserve an uncle Johnny
We all deserve an Uncle Johnny, especially Black LGBTQ+ folks. Growing up, I would’ve loved the opportunity to be guided and loved on by relatives who were just like me — Black and gay. I can’t speak for the entire community of Black, queer people, but personally, the majority of my life has been me figuring it out as I go.
I can’t imagine how the trajectory of my personal life would’ve changed with the mentorship and guidance of someone who’s gone through similar trials and tribulations. Aside from grieving the Black LGBTQ+ elders that passed on too soon, this album moves me to reflect on how we need to honor the ones that are still here with us.
It's the intention for me
What I can appreciate the most about Renaissance is the intention behind it. There are far too many stories of individuals in the queer community not receiving their praise and credit for shaping the culture. It’s no secret that Beyoncé’s genius knows no limit, and this album offers proof (even though we already knew) that the same can be said about her heart.
Unfortunately, there are still folks out there who believe that the mere mention of queer people is a part of some hidden agenda to corrupt the country’s youth. The only agenda is to ensure that we aren’t forgotten just as many of our predecessors have been. Queer people have always been here, and we will continue to do so. I hope that it becomes the norm to celebrate Black LGBTQ+ culture and recognize our impact on the culture.
The next generation
Beyoncé created an album dedicated to Black LGBTQ people, history, & culture. An homage to our ancestors — named & unnamed – including her Uncle Johnny. So, if you think I’m going to play #Renaissance multiple times a day, then I’ve got something to tell you: you’re correct.
— Preston Mitchum, he/him (@PrestonMitchum) August 1, 2022
I may not have had an Uncle Johnny, but I will grow to be one. Well, an uncle Kenny. As I start to take on the role of an elder to my nieces and nephews that have begun to enter the world, I’m hopeful that I can inspire them in the way Beyoncé’s uncle has with her.
I hope to encourage them to live unapologetically and do meaningful work that leaves a lasting imprint on the culture. I hope that they’re able to look at me and be proud of the life I have lived. But, most importantly, I hope that they will have a deep love and appreciation for queer culture and the many pioneers who’ve come before them and me.