Many are familiar with the word ethnocentrism. It occurs when one judges another culture solely by the values and standards of his or her own culture. Some are even savvy enough to understand that what is culturally true in their culture, (i.e. two men holding hands are likely to be romantically involved), that those standards are relative, and might not be true in another country where two men holding hands can be merely a sign of platonic friendship. While some of us are able to wrap our minds and reject ethnocentrism across different geographies and cultures of our cities and countries--most people have no idea of the chronocentrism that they bring with respect to time and history.
Today, May 19th, the 87th birthday of Malcolm X, is a great time to discuss our chronological ethnocentrism--particularly in light of debates surrounding his same-sex sexual desire. A number of scholars, including Bruce Perry, in his1991 biography, Malcolm: The Life of a Man Who Changed Black America, and Manning Marable, in his 2011 book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, have provided evidence that Malcolm X engaged in sex with other men--sometimes for financial gain. A number of individuals have been skeptical of the assertions of Malcolm X's desire for men. However, the phenomenon of men having sex with men is not entirely surprising, and continues to exist today under the not so eloquent "gay for pay" moniker.
Jim Loewen introduced the idea of chronological ethnocentrism in another discussion of sexuality focused on the identity of the United States' First Gay President. Reacting to the Newsweek cover labelling Obama as the nation's first gay president, Loewen notes that the first actual gay president was likely lifelong bachelor James Buchanan. History shows us that Buchanan not only likely had an intimate relationship with Rufus King (a senator from Alabama), but that this same-sex relationship was common knowledge amongst his contemporaries (as evidenced by Andrew Jackson referring to Buchanan and King as Miss Nancy and Aunt Fancy).
How is it possible that we had a somewhat openly gay president prior to the Civil War? Loewen argues that the very question is chronologically ethnocentric, because it assumes that our current historical moment is the one in which to judge social progress on moral issues. This is correct. However, this chronocentrism is also a manifestation of the idea that history--at least on some issues dealing with civil rights--begins in the current moment.
In addition to homophobia, it is this same chronocentrism that blocks a number of individuals from refusing to accept the possibility that Malcolm X was, what some today might call a man on the "down low". And that he may be an illustration of the fact that women are not the only gender employed in the world's oldest profession.