Friday, March 2, 2007

I'm Sorry, But...You're Clueless

I have to do this. I don't know how many people would agree with me, but this must be said...uh, written...even so. What am I saying--this is the Queer Thinker blog! I'm not here for you to agree with me. I'm here for you to learn of a different viewpoint.

So, I've never really been very "gay." I like girls, and that's about it. I don't really have gay friends. I'm out to some but not most. I don't go to gay bars or events, except the occasional GLBT meeting on campus. Regardless, I've become more and more curious about what it means to be GLBT in the last couple years, and the latest manifestation of that curiosity has resulted in my reading and writing all over GLBT sites online. And this has only been going on for a few days.

What have I discovered in this time? Well, it's a discovery that actually started when I first began law school. I met this incredibly gorgeous lesbian who, of course, is in a relationship. She's white, but she's one of those white people to put this...finds minorities to be cooler than white people, I'll say, and, I suppose, thinks she has more in common with us. She's very defensive by nature, so I always had to explain everything I said to her. She and I had a lot of obvious differences aside from race, but I think that she always thought I was only referring to race whenever I said we are different. I think she was hell-bent on showing that she and I were alike and that she knows what black people experience because she's a lesbian and has minority friends.

In doing that, she crossed the line a lot of times and said some things that would offend a lot of blacks when coming from a non-black person (and I'm not talking about the 'N' word). But one day she crossed the line and I told her so, that being a lesbian doesn't give you this special relationship or understanding to black people and that the two things are not the same. Ms. Defensive didn't like that, and our friendship was never the same until one day we just weren't friends anymore. I'm certain she has no clue where I was coming from, still doesn't understand my viewpoint, still thinks I was unfair towards her based on race. I don't know exactly where she's coming from, either, because she never argued back with I don't really know her viewpoint.

In a way, I think it's for the best that we're not friends, and I honestly think it's likely that I'll never have any white GLBT friends for the same reason. What I'm learning is that she is not the only white GLBT individual who is like this--who couldn't see that the other side might have valid reasons for disagreeing if his/her life depended on it! While most white GLBT people I'm coming across don't prefer minorities to white people like this gorgeous girl did, they do reference the civil rights movement ad nauseam...I see a lot of comparisons to the Brown v Board of Education case (the case that allegedly desegregated schools), a lot of "black people have this now, so why don't gays???" kind of thing and so on. I find a lot of it frustrating, disrespectful, irritating, offensive, naive, self-victimizing...I really could keep going. There has not been one day so far of cruising GLBT blogs where I haven't seen some, what I consider, ignorant comparison to racial issues. Clearly, there are parallels, but what's particularly frustrating about the way white GLBTs draw the comparisons are:

Many speak as if the black struggle is over, as if we're equal to whites and as if we have every right in the world. Many speak as if GLBTs are the only people really being discriminated against or as if discrimination against GLBTs is tolerated much more than against other groups. My viewpoint on this is that black people will never be equal to white people in America. There are two things this country can't do without--racism and classism. The country was built on these two things. If that's true, then racial discrimination is tolerated on a daily basis. If it's not true, then...well, I know that I feel discriminated against every day, and it's not because of sexual orientation. Sure, I don't have the right to marry another woman, and it would be quite difficult for me to join the military or adopt children. Personally, I don't care about any of those things. Realistically, there are parallel, yet incomparable, types of broad-scale discrimination still occurring against blacks. And what's so bad about those is that we have been to court over some of these things and have won!

White GLBTs cite Brown v Board of Education, as if that really has done something in terms of equality for black people. What you seem to leave out in your quotes, probably because you don't realize or know anything about this, is that lawyers, sociologists and other scholars, as well as regular ole black people, argue all the time about whether or not Brown has helped or hurt black people. You hold that case up as the answer to all your problems when it wasn't even the answer to black people's problems! Regardless of whether or not you think the case helped blacks, I think you should look around most of the environments you find yourself in as a white person and ask yourself just how many black people you've seen. Where do black kids tend to attend school? Where do black people still tend to live? Obviously, some cities in this country are more diverse than others, so the answer could vary depending on where you have lived. But I feel pretty safe in betting that most white GLBTs attended schools that were still essentially segregated.

And there is almost always segregation within establishments, which I view as blacks still being treated as inferior. You can argue that blacks self-segregate all you want to...but I view black self-segregation as a response to the segregation perpetrated against them all their lives. I seriously doubt black 5-year olds are at school saying they only want to hang out with other black kids (and if they are, that probably is more reflective of attitudes voiced in the home, just like it tends to be with white children). But by the time you're 13 or 20 or 26, you know the drill--you know white people tend to ignore you and look right through you as a person. So what we do by then is give a mental "fuck you" to white people and go find the blacks. This continuing segregation is racism in action, to me. Not only that, it's tolerance of racism in action by the people who participate in segregation.

See, the thing about school segregation that is totally different from gay marriage is no one can go into cities or schools and force segregation, really. The court can rule on desegregation all it wants to, but it has no real way of carrying it out. This is at least partially because segregation is tied into so many other issues that lend themselves to "valid" explanations, such as mostly black people live in a particular school district while mostly white people live in another one...which completely ignores the segregation and racism in terms of housing, jobs, salaries and even in individuals who live in all-white neighborhoods on purpose. In other words, you can't just get up and go to a good, integrated school. Once a court rules for gay marriage, then, save a state ballot vote against it, we can pop up at the courthouse and get married. And it's not like education where whether or not the school is a good school and the other people who are there matter at all. If one church happens to discriminate against you, there are other churches--perhaps a GLBT or gay-friendly church--that will perform the ceremony, and it's all good...and nothing's stopping you from going there. Problem essentially solved.

I think there's a lack of respect among white GLBTs for the lack of complexity surrounding GLBT issues vs racial issues in America. Race is woven into everything. Sexual orientation is not. So you can win racial victories in one area, but because that area isn't alienated from others, you're still going to have problems in that area in which you won. I question all the time whether or not the court should have left segregation--both in schools and otherwise--alone because I question whether or not it is preferable to be treated as if you're inferior to your face on a regular basis, which is how I have viewed my educational experiences, vs from afar. Most of my classmates have ignored me as a black person but have embraced our white GLBT classmates.

I think white GLBT people tend to forget that they are still white and exactly what that means for them, even when balanced with being GLBT. What is important for white GLBTs to note when they are drawing comparisons to race is that white GLBTs automatically have some things that black people--GLBT or not--don't have just based on race alone and that black people have some things that white GLBTs don't have based on sexual orientation. The black GLBT people who actually do care about marriage, children and the military, then, are really at the very bottom. For me, it doesn't feel like discrimination, given that I don't care about those things, and it can easily be argued that I am still being discriminated against legally based on sexual orientation regardless.

I would say that the worst part of white GLBT comparisons to race, for me, is that--as somewhat mentioned near the beginning of this entry--it's coming from white people. By that, I mean these are people comparing their situation to a situation they really only have a cursory understanding of, at best. That's not to say there aren't black people who see things the way white GLBTs do, and that doesn't mean I don't have a problem with them. But the discussion, for now, is white GLBTs because they are the ones I see doing most of the things I'm writing about here.

I absolutely believe that white GLBTs discuss Brown v Board of Education without 1) taking time out to realize that we're still a segregated nation even after that court ruling, even after all this time, 2) without knowing anything about what desegregation has meant for various black people, how it has affected various black people, and 3) a court ruling saying blacks are equal to whites does not make it so. The same goes for comparions to Loving v Virginia, the case that allowed interracial marriage. It is also hailed as a step towards equality, but that is another case that a lot of people would like to give back--including a lot of black people...for example, many black women who get tired of watching white women "steal black men." There probably is not one civil rights gain that did not also result in some type of harm to some members of the black community, and the harm is such that makes some of us ask whether or not those "gains" were worth it.

So what I'm saying is white GLBTs use the civil rights movement as a blueprint, as a way of saying to black people "You, of all people, should understand what we're going through and should be on our side," and as a way to say "We deserve these rights now"...without fully knowing what they're talking about. The civil rights movement was a long time coming. Interracial marriage and related battles had been in the courts at least since the early 1900s before being allowed in 1967. I have every faith that gay rights will prevail--and a lot quicker than black rights prevailed--but just not overnight because progress takes time. I think we, as gay people, have come far in a relatively short amount of time. We are more on the radar now than we were ten years ago, and we have more straight allies now than we did before.

But I completely see how it would be challenging for some people to see the parallels between gay rights and the civil rights movement, considering that you're speaking to groups that still have their own problems and groups that have some members who question whether or not the victories you point to in your comparisons truly were victories. I think gay people now have this visibility that black people still don't quite have, and think comparing ourselves to each other back and forth--regardless of the reasons--adds fuel to the fire of competition between blacks and gays.

And the way you speak to us, as blacks, demonstrates how much you really don't know about what you're comparing and how little you know the people you're trying to engage. In many cases, you are those same people who grew up isolated from blacks or have had some blacks in your environment but chose to ignore them. So it's easy to view you as these people who are liberal, knowledgeable and concerned about racial inequlity and the civil rights movement...but only when it serves your purposes and not ours as black people. It's hard to take you seriously given that so many of you approach race relations just as straight white people do--by ignoring it as a problem or downplaying it as a problem, excluding black people from your environments or simply failing to include black people in your environments...even when many of these blacks are GLBT.

My observation is that white GLBTs are more concerned with their issues, regardless of parallels to race, and I think that's natural. Why, then, would it surprise white GLBTs for blacks to be more concerned with racial issues, regardless of parallels to sexual orientation? I don't know where other black GLBTs stand on this, but I admittedly care more about racial issues because race has made more of a difference in my life. I also focus more on race because I believe GLBT issues are more "solvable" than racial issues are, and I see more people fighting harder to solve those GLBT issues than there are fighting racial issues.

Major takeaway points: Chill out on comparisons. You're still white, and race still matters in America. Most of you can't possibly know enough about race to make comparisons without being offensive.