In their introduction to Black Queer Studies, Johnson and Henderson identify that they seek to bridge a gap and create a space of inquiry between black studies and queer studies, while "sabotaging neither and enabling both." The term “black queer”, as employed in the text, distinguishes a very specific group: gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered (LGBT) people of color. Though the United States serves as the central context, the writers remain cognizant of diasporas and post-colonial studies relative to African American sexuality. Authors referenced in this anthology include critics, writers, scholars and cultural producers whose work links 20th century black studies and achievements to the still emergent field of queer studies. The ultimate and collective goal of the writers and editors of this book is to demonstrate how both black studies and queer studies can be dually studied for the progression of a larger project that imbricates race, class, gender and sexuality.
Johnson and Henderson delve into the histories of black studies and queer studies:
Black studies: The 1960’s and 1970’s mark a crucial time for African Americans in relation to academia; the efforts of black students and faculty (e.g. sit ins, petitions, protests, ect.) put enough pressure on white administrators of predominately white institutions to form departments of black studies. Because African American scholarship and theory most notably surfaced at this time, much of the historical backdrop and central focus of black studies is centered within the context in the Civil Rights Movement. This fact proves problematic because black heterosexual male leadership powered the Civil Rights Movement and other black liberation movements. Black male leadership and the priority of creating a “united black front” bred sexism and homophobia, as the intellectual and community work of black women were viewed as unimportant or ignored and homosexuality was effectively theorized as a “white disease that had infected the black community”.
Queer Studies: Queer studies also emerged in the academy as a result of an activist movement – that of ACT-UP, an AIDS activist group, and its off-shoot group, Queer Nation. Much like the “unified front” political strategy of the Civil Rights Movement, Queer Nation’s aim to represent and advocate for those oppressed on the basis of sexual identity consequently subordinated other identity markers.
Though, like black studies, queer studies pride themselves on shaking people’s long held ideas and assumptions about identity by deconstructing binaries such as heterosexual/homosexual and gay/lesbian, theorists note the possible danger of “single-variable” politics – the deconstruction and “unmarking” of identities, especially of identities that add to the subordination of those already oppressed by their sexual identities. With this in mind, Johnson and Henderson anticipate that the dual examination of black studies and queer studies will illuminate how intersecting identities manifest to both oppress and privilege. Restating their goal, Johnson and Henderson claim their project is one that seeks individual rights in the interest of ensuring social justice inclusive of sexuality, which can only be enacted from recognition of other disenfranchised groups and coalition with them on the basis of intersecting identities.