Last Thursday I went to the nearest news stand and grabbed the new Bay Windows and read the cover story “Shared Experience: White gay men and black men have more in common than they think” in complete shock and horror. The Sue O’Connell, the author and co-publisher of Bay Windows, made misplaced racist remarks about black male beings, made zero reference to black LGBTQ individuals while making white privilege and racism in the LGBTQ community merely an after thought. Also, what rang true to me was that many LGBTQ white individuals are walking around thinking these same thoughts stated in the op-ed.
Lets get clear, if we really want to address oppression in our society we have an obligation to navigate the conversation with race at the forefront. In order to dismantle oppression (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphbia, class-ism and hetrosexism) we must address white supremacy, white privilege, and white people have to be brave enough to confront and acknowledge the fact that they— even those who are actively anti-racist— benefit from a system of privilege. White supremacy teaches, and has succeeded in convincing a sizeable minority of black people, that black bodies are merely chattel to be imprisoned, objectified, raped and murdered. So when I read the line “Am I suggesting that an image problem is an element of the racial profiling young black men experience? Yes.” in the column, I realized that white privileges’ agency over black bodies was raring its head— in the form of another oppressed group, white gays. In the 1915 film, “Birth of a Nation”, the film portrayed black men as unintelligent, sexual aggressive animals to white women and the Ku Klux Klan as heroic. The film was the first motion picture to be shown in the white house under President Woodrow Wilson. Almost 100 years later to have a privileged white queer women say that black men have a image problem that causes a boy to be shot down in cold blood: Trayvon Martin; an unarmed man with handcuffs to be shot and killed by the police: Oscar Grant; and a young unarmed black man to have 50 bullets emptied in his body by the police the night before his wedding: Sean Bell.
Black men do not have an image problem, we have an American problem. We have a criminal justice system built to lock up black people, ghetto concentration camps in which a sloth of black people are left in because of under paying jobs, a pathetic educational system, drug wars started by our own government and gentrification of many of our former inhabitancies. Where’s the conversation on that—why not write an op-ed piece about that shared experience?
So the idea that “Gay men, and the rest of the LGBTQ community, know a thing or two about being profiled. We know how young black men feel when they are judged.” is utterly offensive and racist, because white people don’t and they never will undergo the same marginalization as we do. It is, indeed, an elementary argument.
In Sue O’Connell’s op-ed, race was almost an unmentionable; how fitting for her. O’Connell brought up the Mattachine Society briefly. But lets go a little deeper. Formed in the 1950 out of Marxist ideology and taking a page from the NAACP, the organization was taken over by their more conservative members who ousted their left leaning leaders in favor of a more passive and conservative agenda. The new leadership also believed in a respectability politics that stated that homosexuals should adopt a “pattern of behavior that is acceptable to society in general and compatible with [the] recognized institutions . . . of home, church, and state,” rather than creating an “ethical homosexual culture.” The organization, which was made up of white middle to upper class men insisted that gays should be assimilated into the mainstream culture. Following the Stonewall riot which was started by bull dykes, drag queens, trans* folks and street youth who were majority people of color (the history books kept that part out) The Mattachine Society went and put up posters on the boarded up front of the Stonewall Inn demanding that their fellow (I use that word loosely) homosexuals “stop being disruptive”. I bring this up to put into culture context that the assimilation of LGBTQ politics to a more mainstream society is oppressive. Waging people of color invisible. The writer chose not to mention the varied intersections of the identity of LGBTQ people of African decent nor the war that LGBTQ white people have waged on us in the name of white supremacy, choosing to simply state, “And racism is, unfortunately, alive and well in the LGBTQ world.”
Though we have had successes with the end of DOMA and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the day has come where we as the outsiders in the LGBTQ community will no longer sit silent in the face of a community which are in theory thought to be a part of which is actually just an extension of a imperialist white supremacist patriarchal power structure— which is built and maintained in the name of white privilege.
But again who am I to speak? After all, I, a black man, have an image problem.