“You’re just trying to change the world!”
When I was growing up, teens uttered this like an insult. The implication was that I was airy-fairy, naïve, unrealistically optimistic and slightly irresponsible … because everybody knew that trying to affect the status quo was a waste of time and energy, energy that should be directed toward hard work, toward good old manual labor. Obviously, I was blinded by my rose-colored glasses.
I’ve reclaimed the phrase. I am trying to change the world. And honestly, y’all should be too. Things are going on that aren’t cool, pure and simple. My vision of the Queer Oakland that I want to see necessitates optimism.
How is it that I chose to feature a self-proclaimed misanthrope?
Juba Kalamka was born and raised in Chicago, in the Afro-centric nationalist movement of the 70s. His father was a schoolteacher; his mother worked in resale and as an artist/activist. She was heavily involved in the black theatre community.
As a small child, Kalamka attended Shule Ya Watoto (School for Children).
“There was so much [Afro-centrism] around me; I thought the whole world was like that," he says. "It was kind of jarring because when I went to public school, I was way ahead of other kids. That was cool sometimes, but it was difficult, socially. That fed my misanthropy.”
Kalamka - an HIV test counselor/client advocate, contributor to forthcoming Yale Anthology of Rap, curator of PeaceOUT World Homo Hop festival and a founding member of the now disbanded Deep Dickollective - has changed the world, without a doubt. Hip hop will never be the same. He shakes it down (taking your masculinity) and shakes it up (the meaning of masculinity).
“What does it say for me to be an out, non-monogamous, bisexual black man? It’s a larger academic conversation about a continuum of sexuality, as opposed to a binary," Kalamka says. "For people who don’t get to be interviewed, who don’t have the opportunity to be actualized … I get to say that this is okay.
“I like the B word because it troubles people. There are still issues of bi-phobia. I like the word bisexual because there’s actually ‘sex’ in the word. Perfectly and imperfectly, it pushes people’s buttons and butts up against normativity.
“The concept of DL is just another way to demonize black sexuality, it’s another hysterical conversation. Here’s another picture of dangerous, scary, sexually out of control black men; it plays into the same stereotypes. Men have been having secret sexual networks with each other throughout time. That’s about men having the privilege of patriarchy to navigate their sexuality. It’s also about men not having to give a sh-- about women’s sexual health. Men have been giving women cooties since ... forever.
"When we talk about DL, when this scary specter of a monster is created, we don’t have to talk about homophobia. If there was a space for a lot of these guys get called DL, if there was a space for them to come out, to be safe and to be actualized … many of them would be gay, and wouldn’t be having sex with women at all.”
Kalamka appears extensively in Pick Up the Mic, a documentary following the PeaceOUT festivals. The film has been screened at more than 50 film festivals around the globe. Kalamka is quick to clarify, “I think that I do a dis-service to memory, and to all of the people whose shoulders that I stand on to pretend that I’m doing something new … the whole popular media and cultural product machine enforces this idea of, ‘Me! I did it! It’s new, it’s new it’s new, and I made it!’”
Once he was asked, “What’s next?” Kalamka laughed.
“Well Tuesday, I’ll be back at work, at my job. That’s not a bad thing. That’s not a come down. This is a just a part of what I do.”
Despite considerable acclaim, he works a day job, and has no qualms about it.
“I think it’s important to make it clear, especially to young people … I do art, and I have a job that I get up and go to every morning," he says. "Sometimes I get to fly somewhere and do a show. I’m happy doing both. There’s nothing the matter with it. If I had the opportunity to be on the road 200 days out of the year, that’s not the kind of life that I’m interested in.
“I like being home; I like being around my family. My kids know who I am, that I’m just this dork. I empty cat boxes and take out the garbage on Wednesdays. There’s nothing the matter with it. I’m tired of this investment in the idea that in order to make art, in order to have notoriety around your work, you have to be tragic, and people gaping at the spectacle of that when it’s happening.”
Showing up for his 9 to 5 is a crucial piece of what Kalamka does.
“I’m clear about my limitations as a test counselor because I’m the guy who’s sitting behind the desk. There’s a relationship that I hope to create in a half an hour talking to someone about their status. But the person sitting in that chair is a more important advocate than I am. I need to tell him, ‘I’m hoping that you’re having a good experience here, that you feel taken care of, because I hope that you'll go out and tell other people to come and get tested.'"
Kalamka hopes to fund Ooogabooga Under Fascism - the name comes from a quote by Fred Hampton (Black Panther Party). It’s also the title of Kalamka’s upcoming album. Kalamka references Hampton’s idea because “in freedom rhetoric, there’s a lot about who we are that we inflict on each other: laterally, inter-culturally, domestically, personally … a kind of horizontal hostility.” His album touches on these issues.
The record will be funded though donations collected by Kickstarter, a grassroots funding platform. Artists using Kickstarter only receive donations if their fundraising goals are met by stated deadlines. To contribute, please click here.
Facing inequity, head on, without blindness, is exhausting. It’s enough to make any of us a bit grumpy. Is Kalamka, (who has bravely cleared a path for so many) still misanthropic?
“Totally. Completely. Absolutely. But I have a belief that this shriveled walnut of a heart of humanity exists, and there’s a part of me that can’t help wanting to help.”