Review – Black and Gay in the UK

February is LGBTQ+History Month in the UK, and as part of our recognition of that we asked members of the Library Student Team at Manchester University to share their thoughts on some of the relevant books in our library. This is the third of the series of reviews.

Black and Gay in the UK An Anthology Edited by: John R Gordon and Rikki Beadle-Blair (GE.2.02/GOR)

Reviewed by Syeda Kazmi: “Syeda is a first-year medical student and a member of the Library Student Team. In her free time she enjoys blogging, bouldering, and crafting.”

Intersectional identities like sexuality and race are already complex on their own, but when combined they become even more intricate. Each contribution to this anthology shares insight into how being both Black and Gay in the UK today affects day to day life. Whether it’s feeling excluded from queer spaces because of your race or feeling alienated by your community because of your sexuality- these are just two examples of the challenges faced when identities are combined. But the book doesn’t solely focus on the challenges; it also sheds light on positive experiences, self-discovery and being proud of your identities.  

In “Things We Do to Get What We Want”, Edd Muruako shares that when he was at drama school, he felt he had to change himself to get work. He had to conform to what society viewed “a more stereotypical – and so more acceptable – version of an urban black man”. This, he feels, forced him back in the closet. Ultimately, after spending time playing roles that he felt were repetitive stereotypes of black men, Muruako shares that he was able to successfully express himself creatively via a different medium. He joined the UK Gay Hip Hop collective and found that he was able to be himself through music and share valuable messages with listeners, who related to his lyrics. 

Interestingly, I recognised a few cultural references in this book which highlight the importance of diverse representation in the media. In “Stretched and Pushed and a Bit Scared”, an interview with actor Jimmy Akingbola by Rikki Beadle-Blair, they discuss Akingbola’s role in Holby City. He played Dr Antoine Malick, a Black doctor. He goes on to mention how “EastEnders had done something with Sayeed” which led to an influx of complaints due to gay relationships being shown on television. This reminded me of the first time I had ever heard the word “gay” as a child – it was from this exact EastEnders character that I learned what “gay” meant. It was only much later that I discovered it was something that some viewed as abnormal. So, it’s evident that seeing different relationships and identities represented in the media we consume is important to developing our understanding of the world around us. This is especially important as both Sayeed and Malick are non-white characters, showing BAME people that their ethnicity doesn’t exclude them from the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Some sensitive themes are discussed in this book, such as sexual assault and self-harm, which readers may find difficult to navigate but these pieces emphasise the harsh reality that for some people, their daily life can become dangerous due to the bigoted attitudes and actions of others. Aside from this, I think it’s a book which urges readers to consider that people face daily difficulties we may not know exist. It’s important to hear from people first-hand how their sexuality and race affect their experiences instead of making assumptions about their lives (as explored in “Yemi and Femi Go Da Chemist by John R Gordon). 

Ultimately, I think that this book is very helpful to educate oneself on the experience of Black gay men in the UK – understanding is key to the development of a truly respectful and compassionate society.