I came out of the closet in 1979. That was a pivotal moment for me; a time when I thought that my ideas and perceptions about racism would be shattered. I came out thinking that I had found a place where I finally belonged. I mean, after all, why would a community of people who had been persecuted and discriminated against for so long harbor ill feelings about race within itself? To me, the idea of racism within the gay community seemed as foreign as a gay man dating a woman; and yet we all know that it happens for reasons that I don’t feel the need to go into at this moment.
I found out that not only did racism exist within the gay community; it existed just as much if not more so than it did in heterosexual society. In the early eighties, social circles were defined by race. Certain bars practiced “carding” procedures, forcing African American men to produce several forms of identification to get into their clubs, and if they didn’t have it, they were refused admittance. Whites that dated black men were referred to in certain social circles as “Dinge Queens” and blacks who only dated white men were called “Snow Queens.” The titles in and of themselves speak volumes of the mentality that certain groups had at that moment in time.
Now this is not to say that every gay man, black or white, practiced and tolerated this form of discrimination; and clearly times have changed. Personally, I would like to think that they’ve changed for the better.
But every now and then, I am reminded that racism still exists; and unfortunately, the most memorable lesson that I learned didn’t come from a gay white man…it came from a gay black man. This lesson stands out in my mind first and foremost because I didn’t believe that people like this existed.
I don’t judge people on their preference in terms of who you find attractive or who you choose to date. There are black men who choose to date only white men just like there are black men who choose to date only white women. I don’t have a problem with that as much as I may have a problem with your reasons why.
I’ve had four major long term relationships in my lifetime; two have been with black men and two have been with white. Out of those four relationships, two were the worst…one with a white man, and the other with an African American. I found that it really didn’t matter the race of the man, compatibility and friendship has more to do with personality traits. With regards to race; not so much.
My life mate is white; something that I did not choose. It simply happened that way. He exemplifies all of the traits that I find desirable in a spouse, which is why we have been together for almost seven years now. But one of his best friends; an African American man had problems with our relationship almost from the very beginning.
I don’t have to go into the specifics of what this individual did but I can tell you that the disrespect was so prevalent and I was caught completely off guard by his behavior. I didn’t know where it came from since he didn’t know me personally. I remember one conversation that I had with this individual, and the one thing that he said to me with hate blazing from his eyes is this: “You and I will never be friends because you are not the type of person that I would associate with!”
It took me several years to realize that this man despised me not only because of my relationship with his best friend; but for something far more simplistic. I was black. He perceived me as “ghetto-black.” He even told his friend that he could do better than me.
This man I realized didn’t have a place for other black gay male friendships since I didn’t see any at the few social events that I had been invited to…or rather, my partner had been invited to and I just happen to come along by proxy. Being black was what I was guilty of. This man had immersed himself so deeply into white culture that the very idea of another black man being in that same social circle was foreign to him. There was no room for me…and he let me know it. I realized that while he may acknowledge that he is African American by skin color, that’s pretty much where it stopped. And in many ways, he regarded me worse than any white man who harbored racial feelings could.
It’s sad really; because while it doesn’t matter to me what social circles I find myself in, it never occurred to me to treat someone that I didn’t know with disdain simply because of their race. I found out that racism does still exist, and sometimes, the people that are guilty of perpetuating the stereotypes come from within our own race. I mean, when you think about it, how bad do you have to feel about your own race of people to validate in your own mind that you have the right to dismiss them with the same callousness of someone white that lived in the early 1900’s?
We who are of the LGBT Community need to realize that everyone has the right to be respected until they give you a reason not to respect them. Everyone has the right to love whomever they choose to love as long as that love doesn’t hurt them or anyone else. There is simply too much hatred in this world today to warrant carrying it within our community. We need to love ourselves completely, for everything that we are as well as everything that we are not. Otherwise, the small minded people win. And too many small minded people exist. They would deny us our rights to exist, taking away our humanity and relegating us to a place that we have strived to get away from…and that’s back into the inner recesses of society’s closet. We have earned the right to live where we want, love where we want, work where we want and be where we want. No one has the right to take that from us. But to keep this, we have to learn to love one another, if for no other reason than to let the generation that comes after us know that it is okay for us to simply be.
~ J.L. Whitehead