Yesterday, TIME published an interesting opinion piece written by Steve Friess, which basically documented his “connection,” as a white gay man, to black women.
“Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away” is riddled with racialized misogyny. But before I start response to the piece, I want to start out by saying that I am not a black woman; but, as a Latina, I have had my fair share of white gay men “appreciating” my “sassiness” and deciding that we are meant to be friends because “we are both oppressed.” While I can’t speak on the behalf of black women, since their struggle is very different from mine, I feel as if it should be blatant to all of us, regardless of race, that this piece was racist and sexist.
Social critic and novelist James Baldwin once said, “I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, in a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly. Their reaction seems to me in direct proportion to their sense of feeling cheated of the advantages which accrue to white people in a white society. There's an element, it has always seemed to me, of bewilderment and complaint. Now that may sound very harsh, but the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.”
This sets the tone nicely for what I am about to dive into. The “gay rights” movement as we know it would not have existed without black trans women – some of the pioneers in the Stonewall riots as well as activists before the riots even came to fruition. However, nowadays we see mostly gay men parading at Pride; and we see mostly white gay men being the most vocal in the media about their sexuality (because being a gay dude is a whole lot different than being a gay woman).
But the co-option of the LGBTQIA+ movement is not the only thing that has been co-opted by white people. Women of color – particularly black women – have had fundamental elements of their respective cultures taken from them. Black women in the 1800s were banned from wearing their hair in public, because it was easily malleable and could be adorned in many ways. Twerking has been completely decontextualized from its history of origin, and is now something that white celebs (ie. Miley and Iggy Azalea) fight about. These are just a couple of examples, but a lot of popular culture has voyeuristic undertones to it, most considerably about black culture. How can a group that is so oppressed have so much influence on the privileged? Easy: it’s easier to steal from them if they are oppressed.
It’s no coincidence that a lot of mainstream gay culture (take contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race) act like “stereotypical black women.” Being a black woman is difficult, in that white men put them in boxes of being either ultra-desirable (exotic) or something to be made fun of. And many white gays see this as an opportunity to let out “their inner black girl” without realizing how racist of an act this is.
Mr. Friess thinks that white gay men, like himself, and black women are “kindred spirits.” But this is the part of his essay I don’t understand. He acknowledges that white gay men are more privileged than black women, but he doesn’t seem to acknowledge that a lot of the culture surrounding these ladies has been taken and turned into popular gay culture.
He is then super-duper angry that black women aren’t more apologetic about being openly rude to white dudes when they try and fetishize them and treat them as accessories?! It’s funny because the second a white girl talks about wanting a gay best friend (which is also not okay, by the way), she’s despicable. But black women? Yeah, they are the trendiest accessory for going-out looks.
The fundamental flaw in this essay is the fundamental flaw of allyship: that it is conditional. If you are an ally to a cause, but your support is not identifiable and conditional, then what makes you any different from someone who doesn’t support that cause? Not being a racist should not be something that should be earned, but rather something that all human beings should do. You don’t get a cookie every time you don’t say the n-word.
I am mortified that this was published on a magazine of such high caliber, and I ask gay male readers out there to reevaluate how they see black women (and other women) in relation to them. Just because you’re oppressed in one way, doesn’t mean that cancels out your privilege. You can’t really “get” anti-black misogyny, white gay dudes, because despite the hardships you’ve faced, your struggles are not the same. Solidarity is important, but conditional solidarity? No. Thanks.
Photo by Larry Busacca on Telegraph.co.uk.