The Diasporist

Rainbows Only Come in Black and White

In Race and Sexuality, The Diasporist on August 17, 2009 at 7:15 am

The Rainbow in Black and WhiteThere’s an ugly truth floating around in the gay world: the gay experience in America is marked by a pervasive racial division, and though the lines aren’t impermeable, their existence is something we must continually confront and challenge.  Just like the flag we use to symbolize our pride and liberation, our community is marked not by smooth intermingling of different racial groups as much as it is by sharp dividing lines, especially between races.

I don’t mean to paint a picture of the gay community as hopelessly racially balkanized; indeed were you to step into a gay bar or go to a gay community event you would likely see plenty of people of all colors, shapes, and sizes mingling and interacting.  But, underneath the surface, obscured by a cloak of uncomfortable silence lie these divisions, and it is time we began to explore them openly.

I write these words in the wake of two impactful articles.  The first was published roughly a month ago by LZ Granderson on CNN.com.  Judging from his tone I’m betting he and I have slightly different politics, but his main point has some merit:

“Despite the catchiness of the slogan, gay is not the new black.

Black is still black.

And if any group should know this, it’s the gay community.

Bars such as The Prop House, or Bulldogs in Atlanta, Georgia, exist because a large number of gay blacks — particularly those who date other blacks, and live in the black community — do not feel a part of the larger gay movement.”

I won’t claim LZ’s indignation – I can’t even say I’ve been to the Prop House, a popular gay nightclub with a mostly black clientele, even though it’s walking distance from my last apartment in Chicago ( I don’t care what he says I dancing to Lady Gaga).  From the tone of his article I think he sees a racial division that is more intense than what I would probably convey.  But I can certainly identify with his sentiment, and according to a recently released study by the Human Rights Campaign, I am not alone.  A key finding from that report:

“Nearly two in five LGBT people of color do not feel part of the larger LGBT community in their city or in the United States.  In discussion groups, when asked about the “gay community,” conversation often seemed forced, and discussants pushed back when we asked if they felt a part of it…There was little agreement over what the community is, and discussants were reluctant to feel part of it.  Those who did recognize a gay community described it as white, moneyed, male and elite.

Discussants also said there is as much racism among the LGBT population as there is among non-LGBT people.  When raising the question discussion participants became incredulous: “Of course there is racism in the gay community!”

The study also outlines just how differently gay people of color view and experience the world compared to their white counterparts.  The HRC study highlights the differences in how gay people of color view politics, religion, and important issue within the gay community, and those differences are both frequent and pronounced.

Perhaps what underlies the shock in some of these claims and opinions is this idea that because the gay community is united by marginalizing sexual orientations, other divisions would be more muted in comparison to the broader society.  We’re all oppressed and excluded by society because we don’t love who we’re supposed to, so at the very least shouldn’t we all get along and identify with eachother?

Well, no.  From more formal studies such as the one done by HRC to the anecdotal evidence that nearly any gay person of color with enough sense to pay attention would posses, there is plenty of evidence that suggests that the gay community has just as much work to do, if not more, than the larger society when it comes to veritable integration and racial reconciliation.

One cannot understate the importance of open and honest discussion about our racial differences.  While nearly every aspect of gay life is racial, be it sexual and romantic preferences, politics, or general lifestyle, our country is becoming more black and brown every day – by extension, so is gay America.  How can the gay community continue to thrive if the combination of racial division and increasing racial diversity becomes an overbearing deadweight?

I know I run the risk of being like one of those idiots on those State of Black America panels, all of whom are skilled at identifying the problems within the black community without proposing any practical solutions, much less actually doing anything beyond talking (Dear Tavis Smiley please shut up) .  The truth is I don’t have the magic solution for this question.  But the more people talk about it the better.  After all, it’s hard to wash your dirty laundry if you don’t acknowledge that it’s dirty in the first place.

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  1. Do you think that racism is more or less pronounced in the gay community than in America at large? Certainly much of what you say is true of America in general (“underneath the surface, obscured by a cloak of uncomfortable silence lie these divisions”). I am certainly aware of this underbelly of racism in society in general, especially now that I live in the South and it seems to be a bit closer to the surface than it was in Michigan.

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