The Black Flamingo
By Dean Atta
Genre: Poetic Fiction
QUILTBAG Main Character: Yes
QUILTBAG Minor Character: Yes
POC Main Character: Yes
Bechdel Test: Yes
Summary: Michael is a young Black boy coming to terms with his sexuality and gender expression as well as his place in a world that only wants to see him as one thing: one race, one gender, one inconsequential boy. Over the course of his life, he will discover who he is despite what the world keeps telling him he should be.
Let’s Get A Little Deep:
I love novels written in verse. I love the melodic nature of them, how they rock the reader in the cradle of their words. The Black Flamingo is soft and hard in equal measure. It is a story about allowing young Black boys to be soft, to find the balance in himself. And the fact that it is written in poetry makes the message feel personal, like reading a friend’s diary.
The title comes from a moment when Michael hears a story about a black flamingo in a flock. He begins to think of himself as this flamingo, a beautiful black bird in a sea of mostly white faces. He ends up taking up this image when he begins to do drag, using the flamingo aesthetic in his act.
The novel touches on many issues. Michael’s mother is white, and he frequently feels that he is not “Black enough” for the Black side of his family or for his Black peers. He is explicitly told so when he attends a Black student union at his university. He is too Black for the queer students at same university. It is only in drag that he finds a community ready to accept all of him, which leads him to be able to accept all of himself.
We live in a world that is constantly telling Black bodies what they can and cannot be. We expect Black boys to be violent, and so our society is violent against them. Here is a story about a boy who wants a Barbie for his birthday, who wants to accept the feminine and the masculine parts of himself. The poetry of the novel allows another layer of softness, one that serves as a reminder of how infrequently we allow black Boys to be soft.
The Black Flamingo may be set in the UK, but the principles of it are universal to the western world. It is relevant today as we watch protestors line the streets of cities all over the world, fighting for justice in a world that still sees them as unequal. It asks us to think about young Black boys complexly, to see them as the many layered humans that they are.
This June I’ll be focusing on Black queer stories. The movement owes its success to Black queer people. Please consider donating to movements that support Black queer lives.
Thanks for going a little deep with me! I post reviews every other Thursday. Did you love The Black Flamingo? Consider donating to Center For Black Equity. You can also find me on Twitter @gwasserst! Special thanks to Yasi (@yasaminnb) for editing my posts.