Joint editor Annette Pryce discusses racism in the LGBTQ+ community. “There is no pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”
We’re in danger of forgetting ourselves once again. Not remembering how we got here – whose shoulders we stand on. We’re witnessing the backlash against hundreds of years of oppression, discrimination and systemic racism. And yet we are in danger of perpetuating the same oppression because we feel like our queerness gives us a free pass to whine like we’re ‘the most oppressed of them all’. It’s not a competition, and certainly not one anyone wants to win.
I had to have words with a community member who wanted to copy the image idea below for the LGBTQ+ community in pride month, ‘some of whom happen to be black‘, they said. I despaired and replied quite bluntly that we would not be doing that as we don’t appropriate another movement just because it’s pride month, or at all. The lack of awareness around appropriating one cause and applying it to another is short sighted, fails to see the bigger picture even when it’s in front of their face, and lacks imagination. The person in question had a rather large ‘huff’.
There have been too many examples of this white fragility in the LGBTQ+ community recently and it makes me wonder why we bother. Why do we fight, but not for everyone? Why do we stand up, but only for ourselves? Why do we not realise this was happening and we were a part of it, even if we didn’t do anything? The problem is that white privilege in the LGBTQ+ community exists but we act like we are above it.
I often refer to privilege as something that applies to the ‘straight white men’ outside our community, but what happens to our community when they use us against each other, or simply when we use it against each other ?
When lesbians disagree with each other over the rights of trans women (while ignoring trans men altogether), it’s often straight women pulling their strings. They are suddenly ‘concerned’ about their welfare; however, it didn’t stop them walking away from us when we helped them build their feminist movement. What was it they called us? Oh yes, the ‘Lavender menace’.
Many gay men and lesbians still fail to see the inherent irony in treating bisexuals with contempt and disdain, harping on about ‘straight privilege’, when they themselves have been at the sharp end of oppression; yet, they think it’s perfectly ok to treat other queer people this way.
When, a sizeable minority of cis white gay men act almost as badly as the white straight men in their lack of self-awareness around intersectional issues, claiming that they are ‘the most oppressed of all the gays’, cue every black lesbian/bi woman in the room rolling their eyes. This constant battle of the oppressed is enraging and embarrassing. The white queer community need to sit down and listen .
A school teacher friend of mine, Afarin Fallahi, gave me her thoughts on lived experiences of racism and on privilege and how it impacts our lives.
Afi: ‘The problem is that people believe racism is a conscious, deliberate choice, and most of the time, it’s not that at all. Racism isn’t just police brutality and slavery and evil people saying “I’ve decided that I hate”. Racism is a manifestation of your lived experiences in a world that has always, always valued white skin over all others.’
‘Most people don’t actively choose to be racist in the same way that I didn’t actively choose to be sexist when I would call the teenage girls I went to school with a “slut” because they wore short skirts in the 90s. I believed myself to be a feminist, even then, but I had absorbed so much misogyny from the world around me my whole life that it was difficult for me to see how problematic my thinking was.’
When a white person is told that their comment is racially insensitive, their first line of defence is usually “I’m the least racist person I know!” or “I’m extremely tolerant of all people and don’t have issues with any race! How dare you!” because instead of hearing “your words/actions are racist” they hear “you’ve made a conscious choice to hate a certain group of people and are a horrible person” and they shut the conversation down before it has time to get anywhere – Afi
This is essentially what white fragility is, it’s the large percentage of the population doing to black people what we’ve had done to us for a while too. Or maybe you’ve never heard the line “I’m not homophobic, some of my best friends are gay”; what they don’t realise is that their ‘gay friends’ roll their eyes at them too. She goes on to say:
Racism isn’t always a conscious, deliberate choice, but ignorance is. A refusal to check your privilege, listen to criticism, and reflect on your actions is absolutely a choice, and it’s a choice most white people make every single day, because it’s scary to admit that you don’t have complete control over your thoughts and to acknowledge that you are not the progressive, free-thinking, inclusive person you convinced yourself you were. White people make that choice every single day and it has very little impact on their own lives, while putting the lives of people of colour at risk.’
‘We’ve been fed the myth of hard work since before we were school-aged; the false positive that hard work = success. The problem is, adults, most of them, recognise that success is a result of at least a thousand different variables, many of which we don’t have any control over. But when a successful person is told that they benefit from “white privilege”, they feel like their hard work is negated. Because the implication, in their minds, seems to be that we are implying that they are ONLY successful because of their race.’
‘And I think it’s a particularly hard pill to swallow if you are a white person who is also marginalised because of your gender, your sexuality, or any other number of factors, because you’ve struggled with so much, and overcome so much. ‘How dare they’ say that you have achieved everything that you have because you’re white; isn’t it clear that you’ve got to where you are today because of your resilience and refusal to give up? But these are not mutually exclusive; and it’s very possible you are successful because you were resilient and tough and worked hard to overcome AND ALSO because you lucked out and were born with light skin which meant someone somewhere was willing to give you a chance to prove yourself.’
‘But again, your refusal to acknowledge this is a choice, and it’s a dangerous one, because every time you deny it, you are denying the very legitimate struggle of smart, talented, resilient and hardworking black people who never got the chance .’ .
The fact that there is a UK Black Pride Event speaks volumes about how pride events in general lack the diversity or inclusion required to make black LGBTQ+ people feel they belong, even in London. An instagram user BrandonKGood talked about how some of the worst racism he experiences as a black gay man, is from inside the queer community. We need to do better, we need to do so much better.
Camille Kumar, a Race and LGBT+ policy specialist for the National Education Union, says:
“As oppression increases and division in this country, (and globally), increases between those with and those without power, there is transference and that same oppression and division plays out more intensively in marginalised communities as we are put in positions where we are made to feel we are fighting against each other for the scraps of power – divide and rule.”
It’s been heartbreaking to see yet another human life taken away by police brutality, and not just George Floyd, but Breonna Taylor and Tony McDade, a black trans man. As the world watches the resultant uprising and protests across the globe, we can do more than just hope and pray for change to come for them. We can do more than hashtag our way to solidarity. We all know what this feels like, or looks like; black trans women fought for us in 1969, don’t forget. While we all face a struggle in our daily lives as queer people, now more than ever, we have a moral obligation to look at ourselves and question our own privileges as white queer people, and how not doing that is hurting our black LGBTQ+ siblings. And do better.
Black LGBTQ+ Lives Matter.
Follow Annette on Twitter (@lgbtexec)