“I know you don’t think a white girl made that sh*t up”
Bring It On is a quintessential gay movie for me. It has cheerleading, quotable lines, and an openly gay side character. As a closeted gay teen in the early 2000s, I ate it up.
The movie depicts simplified representations of cultural appropriation and racial economic disparities. It shows the journey that the suburban white/non-Black cheerleaders go through when they are forced to realize and admit that their routines and success were built on material stolen from an inner-city Black/brown squad.
In some ways, Bring It On mirrors the state of the gay male community. Before COVID-19, most gay clubs across the country were not the most welcoming spaces for Black gay/queer people. Meanwhile, inside the club, non-Black gay men danced to Black artists while performing Black dance moves and shouting “Yass, kween! Werk, sis! Slay, mama!” to their friends.
The gay community’s routines and successes, cultural and political, are built on material created by queer and trans Black people.
Why is this important to talk about? How is it relevant to me? How does this harm Black people? — These are all questions that we, non-Black gay men, should ask ourselves now and moving forward.
“She puts the ‘dis’ in dismantling racism”
We are born gay. It was proven by noted sociologist, Lady Gaga, in her peer-reviewed ethnographic piece titled “Born This Way.” She spoke about racism in her speech to the class of 2020 where she said:
“When I think about racism in America, I imagine a broad forest filled densely with tall trees. Trees as old as this country itself. Trees that were planted with racist seeds. Trees that grew prejudice branches and oppressive leaves and mangled roots that buried and entrenched themselves deep within the soil, forming a web so well developed and so entangled, that pushes back when we try to look clearly at how it really works. This forest is where we live, it’s who we are. It’s the morals and values system that we as a society have upheld and emboldened for centuries. I make this analogue between racism and nature in this country because it’s as pervasive and as real as nature.”
We may be born gay, but we are not born racist. We are the fruit that grows in the racist forest Gaga speaks of. We carry rooted racist seeds planted in us by a society that disseminates prejudiced messages about Black people, or excludes them altogether.
Black people’s lack of or limited representation in gay/queer media is one example. Visual media like films and TV shows have the power to shape the way audiences see themselves and others. This omission harms Black queer people because it sends a message that their life experience is not important enough to be told, or that their Blackness and gayness cannot exist as one.
Their omission is a disservice to non-Black audiences because it limits our ability to associate gayness, happiness, love, empathy, and respect to Black gay and queer people. It keeps us from seeing Black queer people as a potential friend, lover, neighbor, boss, business partner, political representative, and simply a person who deserves our love and respect.
It is our job as non-Black gay individuals to dismantle racism and undo the anti-Blackness that cultivates within us. When we don’t, we allow the forest to grow, and with it, the harm it imposes onto Black people on a daily basis.
“Will not being racist get you off my back?” “Not completely, but it’ll help.”
The racism and anti-Blackness that exists in the queer community is rooted in the same societal racism and anti-Blackness that imposes deadly systemic violence onto Black people. To not be racist is the least anyone can do today. We have to strive to be anti-racist and pro-Black.
We do this by exploring our choices in friends, lovers, neighborhoods, work and social spaces, media… everything. We examine if our choices result in Black people’s
- limited, stereotypical inclusion
- inclusion that forces them to dilute themselves to make us feel more comfortable
Honesty with ourselves during this process is crucial. Whether we are aware of it or not, our choices are influenced by the racist and anti-Black society that we live in. Survey your life to see how racism and anti-Blackness play out. They may be a factor if
- your friend group pictures lack melanin
- your social media doesn’t include Black people, or includes them in a stereotypical way (artists, athletes, “hot” people, celebrities, etc.)
- the media you consume excludes Black people (if you failed to notice the lack of Black representation, or noticed, but don’t consider it a problem)
- your sexual “preference” excludes Black guys, or only includes them for specific and limited reasons
- the gay clubs and bars you go to have little to no Black people
- you slay, werk, yass, kween, spill the tea, shablam, click-clack, sashay, and read the house down boots, but don’t do your part to fight for justice for Black people, especially Black trans women
Help yourself and other non-Black gay people do this work by having open conversations about racism and anti-Blackness, no matter how uncomfortable they may feel. Black people’s lives are worth more than our comfort.
Here are five ways you can practice anti-racism and pro-Blackness in your daily life:
- Continually explore and expand your knowledge on race issues, white supremacy, the effects of local and global white colonization, aspects of the Black experience (not just the struggles), and efforts to bring about racial and social justice. *Resources at the end of this article
- When you hear something racist or problematic, invite the person to explain what they mean. It can be more productive to encourage people to think critically about their statements and attempt to verbalize their reasoning rather than immediately calling them or their statement racist.
- Encourage your favorite brands to be more inclusive in their advertising and social media representation.
- Dedicate time, donate money, use your platform(s), and cast your vote toward dismantling racism and to support efforts to care for those impacted by it. Spread awareness in spaces and systems where you have access (with family, friends, in government, at work, your profession, at school, sports league, etc.)
- Acknowledge that racism and anti-Blackness exist within us all, and yet, we can still do good in this world. Let go and move past shame and guilt. These two emotions tend to be roadblocks in our journey toward removing the very thing we are trying to eradicate.
DISCLAIMER: As you do this work, be advised that people in your life may not join you on your journey toward anti-racism and pro-Blackness. Some feel comfortable in their racism. Some may not be ready to travel at your pace or at all. Some may not want to make necessary changes because they don’t mind how things are now.
Whatever their reason, do not let it deter you from your journey to live as an anti-racist, pro-Black gay man. There are others out here and we would love to be in community with you.
- How do I feel about being pro-Black in an anti-Black society? What challenges can I anticipate within myself and my upbringing as I make this shift? What challenges can I anticipate outside of me?
- In what areas of my life can I speak up for, step aside and make room for, or amplify the inclusion of Black people and their stories?
- What will I lose, or perceive as losing, if I were to live as an anti-racist and pro-Black gay man? What do I stand to gain?
It’s important to work toward being anti-racist and pro-Black in a way that doesn’t add burden to Black people. There are numerous resources that can help us on our journey. Explore the following:
- [Social media] Instagram Live conversation between Austin Channing Brown and Brené Brown on white privilege, the Black American experience, and more. https://www.instagram.com/tv/CBTYs5MJf2U/
- [Article] “6 ways to be antiracist, because being ‘not racist’ isn’t enough” from Mashable.com
- [Book] “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi
- [Documentary] “The Color of Fear”
- [BLM Resource List] “A Growing List of Resources for the Movement for Black Lives”
- [Article] “Why We’re Capitalizing Black” from The New York Times
This post was previously published on Medium.
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