If you ask any LGBT person of color in this country if they’ve experienced racism and homophobia, you’ll probably expect the overwhelmingly obvious “Yes.” What comes as a shock is where it might come from, such as the rampant undercurrents of racism rooted within the greater LGBT community. This white-gay-racism has seen a resurgence in the new wave of white nationalism amdist high political and socio-economic polarization and dating apps where it’s socially acceptable to say “no blacks, Asians, Hispanics.”
On the other side of the coin, there is a history of homophobia within several racial minority groups. While black people are not the sole minority race guilty of homophobia, I can only attest to my own lived experiences and observations within the black community. I don’t say this to point fingers or shame black people: simply to point out the hypocrisy.
It is no secret that life as a minority in contemporary American society is shaped through the ability to assimilate. This concept has been shaped over several decades of observation, lived experience and research.
One of the earliest scholars to give a name to this phenomenon is W.E.B. Dubois, who originally coined the term “double consciousness” in an article titled "Strivings of the Negro People" in August 1897. It was later edited and became a chapter in his 1903 book “The Souls of Black Folk.”
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
“….He does not wish to Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He wouldn't bleach his Negro blood in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face.”
Several other scholars have expounded on Dubois’ ideas, but one of the most notable in recent years is the theory of intersectionality. This idea first came into the public sphere when professor Kimberlé Crenshaw published a paper in the University of Chicago Legal Forum titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex” in 1989. Initially, Crenshaw’s paper sought only to describe how gender and race “intersect” with one another and overlap within the legal system. Discrimination in American law and society was not simply infected with the disease of racism, but rather, much of it was built on racism.
The paper focused on three legal cases that dealt with the issues of both racial discrimination and sex discrimination: DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, Moore v. Hughes Helicopter, Inc., and Payne v. Travenol. In each case, Crenshaw argued the law seemed to forget that black women are both black and female, and thus subject to discrimination on the basis of both race, gender and often a combination of the two.
The idea has since spread to activist circles and has commonly been used to describe how race, gender, sexuality and socio-economic status all also “intersect” and affect those with overlapping identities in different ways.
White queer* people are not immediately singled out as an ‘other’, allowing them to hold one to some semblance of privilege, and thus, power. As descendants of African slaves who were inherently in opposition to the ideal American because of their race, one is visibly and irrevocably against the status quo, the social norm: the default has always been white. It would be in your best interest to assimilate in every other possible way. The “Why” element to homophobia in the black community still flourishes is irrelevant — it would require a large and in depth analysis of sex used as a show of dominance amongst slaves and slave owners, white anglo-saxon christian indocrination, and the loss of cultural and historical context. What matters is that it’s still there.
When taking all of this into consideration and observing the waves and strides that the black community has made in 2019, I find myself filled with a newfound sense of joy. This year has been truly historic:
In February, Billy Porter, star of Broadway and the TV series Pose, went to the Oscars wearing a black velvet tuxedo gown. Though it was absolutely stunning, it became a topic of debate and sparked attention amongst of millions on social media, making headlines left and right. It was a powerful testament to self-acceptance celebration of oneself, especially as a queer black man. Porter offered a starting point to have conversations surrounding the fluidity of gender and gender expression.
Lizzo, a fat black woman, took the mainstream media by storm with her messages of self-love, perseverance and positivity. Her carefree spirit, catchy pop-beat and message made her an insta-classic within the black queer community. Her song "Truth Hurts" is currently tied for longest Hot 100 reign ever for a rap song by a female artist. She’s been nominated for numerous prestigious awards, most recently 8 separate Grammys.
Lil Nas X broke the record for the longest running no. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100, with “Old Town Road” remaining there for 17 weeks. The white-male-dominated realm of country music suddenly had to grapple with the fact that this black, openly queer man brought a fresh take on the genre.
Dwayne Wade, one of the most notorious basketball legends in recent history, came out publicly in support of his child Zion, who has self-identified as a member of the LGBT community. In a recent “All The Smoke” Interview, Wade publicly referred to Zion with both male and female pronouns, never identifying Zion’s gender-identity or sexuality. Wade said of supporting his child: “Nothing changes with my love, nothing changes with my responsibilities.”
While there is still scrutiny and the ever-prescent threat of discrimination, harassment and violence, there is a new era on the verge of culmination for the black queer community: one of acceptance, celebration and liberation. As 2020 ushers us collectively into a new decade, I’m ready to see what strides we make together.