Promoting the revolutionary socialist project of equality and dignity for all, the slogan ¡Venceremos! (We shall overcome!) appears throughout Cuba, everywhere from newspapers to school murals to nightclubs. Yet the accomplishments of the Cuban state are belied by the marginalization of blacks, the prejudice against sexual minorities, and gender inequities. ¡Venceremos? is a groundbreaking ethnography on race, desire, and belonging among blacks in early-twenty-first-century Cuba, as the nation opens its economy to global capital. Expanding on Audre Lorde’s vision of embodied, even “useful,” desire, Jafari S. Allen shows how black Cubans engage in acts of “erotic self-making,” reinterpreting, transgressing, and potentially transforming racialized and sexualized interpellations of their identities. He illuminates intimate spaces of autonomy created by people whose multiply subaltern identities have rendered them illegible to state functionaries, and to most scholars. In everyday practices in Havana and Santiago de Cuba—including Santeria rituals, gay men’s parties, hip hop concerts, the tourist-oriented sex trade, lesbian organizing, HIV education, and just hanging out—Allen highlights small but significant acts of struggle for autonomy and dignity.
In There’s a Disco Ball Between Us, Jafari S. Allen offers a sweeping and lively ethnographic and intellectual history of what he calls “Black gay habits of mind.” In conversational and lyrical language, Allen locates this sensibility as it emerged from radical Black lesbian activism and writing during the long 1980s. He traverses multiple temporalities and locations, drawing on research and fieldwork conducted across the globe, from Nairobi, London, and Paris to Toronto, Miami, and Trinidad and Tobago. In these locations and archives, Allen traces the genealogies of Black gay politics and cultures in the visual art, poetry, film, Black feminist theory, historiography, and activism of thinkers and artists such as Audre Lorde, Marsha P. Johnson, Essex Hemphill, Colin Robinson, Marlon Riggs, Pat Parker, and Joseph Beam. Throughout, Allen renarrates Black queer history while cultivating a Black gay method of thinking and writing. In so doing, he speaks to the urgent contemporary struggles for social justice while calling on Black studies to pursue scholarship, art, and policy derived from the lived experience and fantasies of Black people throughout the world.