Contributor’s Note: I had A LOT going on today fellow readers so today I am going to share the most personal article I ‘ve ever written. Also, this is VERY long. Please leave comments to discuss this more if you’d like. Enjoy!
To fully delve into this topic so that you can gain a perspective on the matter, what it’s really like for ethnic minorities in the gay community means sharing aspects, memories, and experiences that I rarely put so bluntly and raw. I try to be my witty self but some of this isn’t meant to cause a smirk or a chuckle. Truthfully, I can only speak for myself to provide a tiny view into an ever complex world. Also the where and why these ideals of intrinsic separation within both the African American and gay communities come from when you’re both gay and an ethnic minority. Also be patient as I do ramble.
Unfortunately I know all too well the negative reaction that Frank Ocean received when he came out. No it’s not only about sexuality here. Race plays a huge component as well. I’ve seen and experienced it first hand, though not anywhere near the degree of what he’s experiencing right now. Whenever the fact that I’m gay comes into play from this same mindset is hard, abrasive, and so cold. In some cases it can be more overt and derisive, mean-spirited, and flat out vitriol. But I do understand it. Contrary to popular belief, when homosexuality is brought up in the African American community it has the same reaction in any other community of ethnicity in the Western Hemisphere with varied reactions. This is by no means an admonishment that African Americans are more homophobic. That’s a lie. The reaction is from those that are homophobic as a way of protection for the community. Doesn’t make sense, does it? I’ll try to show you why I feel this way.
This happens in the gay community to ethnic minorities as well and it’s very covert, almost unrecognizable until mentioned when the color of one’s skin is seen as detrimental to the community. Even though gays are fighting now for equality this method of separation is also a defense mechanism as to those with these views, one more negative is seen as too much of a roadblock in the movement. Both groups are ostracized for what they are and any other perceived negative characteristic that’s seen in the group his heavily criticized, mocked, even threatened because each community does not want any more negative associations. Basically being either gay or an ethnic minority is one thing, but being both draws too much attention to the fight for equality so some in the community turn on you. For instance, I was told during an LGBTQ rally several years ago to not march in front because it would be too “controversial” to the cause.
Quite honestly it shatters my heart every single time I search inside my collective memory and examine these feelings. I come to the realization of this deep yet unspoken divide when race and homosexuality is housed as a dichotomy. See, I’m from two very distinct and different worlds; the gay world and the black/African descent world. But at times I don’t feel welcomed in either and it hurts like hell. Who wants to be told that the biggest reason a guy is dating you is because it’s exotic or he wanted to “give black a try at least once” (this relationship didn’t last past that date and he was a horrible kisser). There’s division amongst each world and it’s disconcerting to say the least and it’s hard enough when you’re already faced with petty and superficial issues come in to play like skin and/or color being too light (yes this does exist) in the African American Community and being judged in the infrastructure of the gay community on every single physical flaw. But what do you do when you’re both gay and African American (actually I’m African American, Irish, Creole, Native American, Jamaican, and Israeli but you get the point) and feel ostracized by both communities when standing up for equal rights? When you are criticized and mocked from those you should feel comfort from, what do you say and how it makes you feel. Again, I can only speak of my own experience and I dare not view myself as an expert but maybe showing my perspective can get some good dialogue on the subject on what can be done.
The issues go even deeper than the aforementioned ones. When you’re at a club and the hottest guy there talks to you, flirts, laughs, even buys you a couple of drinks and then says “you’d be perfect if you weren’t black” (my straight friend wanted to break his face…in fact I had to throw myself against him and grapple against the bar to stop him from pulverizing him) to when hanging out with so called friends who are African Americans and being told you’re “whitewashed”, trying to assimilate, a sad Uncle Tom, or as a prank they try to throw bleach on you so that you’ll “blend with the white man” and all his “perversions”. These are amplified when you’re both. It’s blatant and believed to be law while you simply accept it. That is nor will it ever be who I am. When these relatively small yet life impacting events happened, I always wondered is it because I’m 6’4 180lbs I look like I can handle myself quite well in a fight that the frequency isn’t more. But from other stories that I’ve been told from other friend that are hybrids, or belonging to two worlds yet separated by some in those communities, show the more susceptible you appear to be the more often stories like these happen. Sadly, I have to carry this mindset around daily. These issues are deep and they have a history and why we still see them in our worlds today.
Take the discussion of human and civil rights in our country now. The LGBTQ and African American (as well as all ethnic minorities) recognize that discrimination still exists in our world and we fight our oppressors by being advocates. So what about those of us that are often seen as weird hybrid anomalies of both or multiple groups? More importantly, why aren’t these two groups working together? Am I biased because I belong to both? Of course I’m biased but that doesn’t negate my point. Both want equality so why not go for the tried and true proverbial strength in numbers? Here are my insights to this dichotomy.
WHY IT’S STILL THERE
This dichotomy reminds me of a discussion I had with two of my friends who were also African American as an undergrad in college. We were discussing the NAACP and what they as well as other groups were doing to stop discrimination and I brought up how there are similarities to the gay rights movement. One friend who is straight vehemently agreed with my point while the other became so frustrated he could barely speak. I asked why he was so upset and he responded that comparing the two was like making lite of the civil rights movement. Bewildered I made the argument that both are fighting for equal rights and I wasn’t trying to take anything from any one. He calmed down but needless to say he never discussed politics and social justice with me again. And since then I’ve often thought of what these two worlds I belong to could benefit and successfully help achieve equality for all. But in order to do so, this argument needs to be addressed so that progress is made.
The biggest argument my friend made of why these two groups can’t find commonality in our fight for equality which doesn’t make any sense but I heard him out. His view was that some African Americans feel when gay rights are compared to civil rights movement is that race/ethnicity is more identifiable. In other words, you can always see my skin color but you may not be so easy to identify my sexuality. There’s no gay dress code or easy way to completely identify someone as gay unless we say so or put it on a t-shirt. In terms of race, we as humans use categorization, a term used in psychology that is rooted in the philosophy of Aristotle, which is as humans; we immediately compare and contrast ourselves with everyone around us. Historically, we do this instinctively for recognition, familial purposes, and defense mechanisms. It makes it easier for the brain as it always is processing information. It’s problematic when phenomena such as ethnocentrisms come into play. This results in human groups using differences to oppress other groups. So it’s believed that many African Americans feel because of these categorizations potential discrimination and acts of violence can be avoided for the LGBTQ community which isn’t an option for most African Americans simply because of skin color.
This gave me further insight of why there’s so much hostility towards a gay man from those that are homophobic in the African American community. Any visibility that adds any further hurdles are seen as threats from some in the community and in a sense is a defense mechanism to protect the community as a whole. May sound farfetched, but look at it from my viewpoint. Is the argument going to be about gays or blacks? Is this going to impose danger on my family? The notion of it being because the African American community is seen as more religious (also a defense mechanism) is false. That reaction you’re seeing now on twitter and other social media sites from those very verbal homophobes is fear that it will affect the entire community. This is where the ‘one up’ syndrome comes into play. The struggles are deeper than yours, which matter in context, but not in practice. We want equal treatment and rights. That should be our focus.
My history, our histories of oppression from laws like the Grandfather Clause and Jim Crow laws 3/5 Compromises, to Stonewall, DOMA, Marches on Washington, EDNA, and all the ridicule, persecution, torture, and death in between carry so much weight with how we continue to fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ and all ethnic minority communities. Despite the strong similarities there are differences. There is still malpractice when it comes to preventing ethnic minority groups from voting today because of race not so much for sexuality. Also racism is also still reflected in education, socioeconomic status whereas these differences aren’t seen in the LGBTQ community. And I have only scratched the surface of our histories as it belongs to all of us. While both communities have seen progress the prevalent issues result in marginalizing each other’s past. I understood this point of view to an extent. Even though my skin color varies because of my rich ancestral background, you will always be able to identify that I’m not “100% Caucasian” (really who the hell is 100% anything other than human?)
WHERE IT BEGAN
The Civil Rights Movement began with the Suffragette Movement here in America. Equal voting rights of women were fought for and members were encouraged, and notably both men and women joined the fight for equality. Men and women fought together for equality even though this issue affected women. The movement later was coined to the fight for equal rights of African Americans in America during the apex of legislation changes in the 50s and 60s. And this brought all races and backgrounds for equal rights. These examples of dichotomous entities working together for a common goal are not seen in the aforementioned communities that this examination of my psyche is focusing on. The ideology is ‘masking” that is when confronted with a situation where race or sexual orientation is targeted for hateful or malicious practices, that someone from the LGBTQ community is able to mask or blend in when faced with these situations. And it is believed for the most part African Americans, as well as other people of color are unable to do so. I wonder if there is an unspoken animosity because of masking. Again, I don’t know because I’m a hybrid, and therefore am able to answer definitively but this is what I believe led to these defense mechanisms and this over reaction that I talked about earlier in regards to Frank Ocean.
Recently I discussed my heated debate in college with a fellow gay rights advocate. While discussing her desire to marry her partner, I brought up the earlier argument a few years ago I had in college. I was surprised by the counterargument she made which was in the LGBTQ community, that there is belief that African Americans and other racial minorities in America are not told who they can and cannot marry, unless of course a hybrid like me that is an LGBTQ person themselves and as a result not able to help bring forth equality for us LGBTQ. That a straight African American can marry any other (straight) adult they want and not openly discriminated against without swift action both morally and legally compared to discrimination and violence. Those of us that are LGBTQ can be mocked, teased, and bullied openly most often times with praise rather than condemnation from society and only when there’s public outcry is it more likely to see justice and prevention from our government. She had a valid point in which I agreed. However when I asked her again if she saw the similarities, she said no and felt that discrimination for African Americans was over (side note, this is NOT true). And so again the ‘one up’ syndrome has gotten in the way once again of progress. These differences are important and do need recognition but not at the expense of true equality.
I saw her point but it feels unfair to say one group struggles are virtually over while the other is facing an uphill battle and by far the argument that infuriates me the most. The “who’s had it worse” argument. Does it really matter? Of course our collective struggles matter but this mentality stagnates us. We both want equality right? We have to observe history to not repeat it but this is NOT a contest. And she too, no longer discusses this area of politics with me (which made me wonder do I have this effect on people? But I digress).
Does the degree of one equality matter? I kept thinking “Is this a thing that can be measured and actively used by both communities?” and continues to be a prevalent thought on my mind. But can you see the symmetry of sorts? African Americans are judged immediately by appearance due to skin color while LGBTQ are prevented from marriage, jobs, and in most states denied equal rights. Both immoral. Both unethical. And BOTH definitely unconstitutional. Both discriminated and oppressed yet neither reach out to achieve the same goal of equality. Yet still why are these issues dividing instead of unifying?
WHERE WE NEED TO GO
With the need to either systematically discriminate by ostracizing perceived threats by a loud few or one up each other’s suffering as a community left me with my biggest question: Is my homosexuality in competition with my race for true equality and abolishment from discrimination from both communities? It’s vital to focus on the intent and desired goals and keeping the history in context and not open ended integration and that is the only significant difference are events but not purpose. So those differences don’t mean better or worse, it just means different. That’s the message that the LGBTQ leaders and ethnic minority leaders like the NAACP activists need to convey in their messages. That one group isn’t trying to diminish or make light of each other’s history. So I or anyone else don’t have to worry about which societal worlds I am from but rather be a part of one world, where everyone is welcome.
I am so glad I was raised with such a high resolve and deep compassion within my heart as these things would’ve broken me otherwise. These things still do get to me as evidenced by my repeated editory rambles and frequent stops to let out a quiet cry. The solution is within us. I know it is. We don’t have to one up another group to elevate ourselves to victory or knock others down to ascend to equality. And ostracize members of our own group simply because they belong to another. We’re better than that. We have to stop holding each other back and hold each other up in which I’ll leave you with this:
“When born of two worlds but welcomed to none I will gather strength from flexible deep rooted branches strong enough to build bridges for everyone”.