Are Gay Men Stealing From Black Female Culture? To Me, That Question Is Not a Priority
I was 17 years old when I saw my best friend, Luca, shoved off a deck, down the steps, and into a parking lot. A select few people looked on, Solo cups in hand. None stepped in to intervene. As Luca kneeled on the mud splattered concrete, blood beginning to seep from the scrapes on his knees and palms of his hands, I turned in disbelief to see the culprit.
I could only see the shadow of a man standing on a porch. Arms hanging at his sides, I looked just in time to hear those last disgusting words ooze out of his mouth: "Fuckin' faggot." A smile smeared on his face, the frat boy's words rung in my ears for the remainder of the night.
Luca and I walked to the bus stop together, the night's events hanging over us. I didn't know what to say to him. I kept opening my mouth, but no words could even begin to remedy the situation.
Which is why, five years later, I knew I owed Luca a response to Sierra Mannie's piece in Time magazine.
Think about the places where gays can't marry, blacks can't wear hoodies, and you'll understand we're wasting valuable time and energy with these petty grievances over who twerked first or which culture a certain vernacular originated with.
Time knew they had a winner when they published "Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture" earlier this month. This isn't the first instance that Time, or any publication, has stepped into click-bait territory. (Some of you may remember Tal Fortgang's now infamous "Why I’ll Never Apologize for My White Male Privilege" from early May of this year.)
Sierra's main issue is that some white gay males she has encountered confuse appreciation of black female culture with appropriation of black culture:
Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.
Has anyone ever put on a "fake black voice" when talking to me, sucking their teeth, Z-snapping, and a boisterous Oh no you didn't gurrrrrl? Yes. But by and large, I'd say that doesn't happen to me often, and when it does, it's an isolated occurrence. One rotten sequin shouldn't spoil the blouse.
Plenty of responses from angry white gay males have fired back at Mannie's piece, saying essentially, Look at Beyoncé's costumes, choreography, mannerisms, and some of her lyrics and then say we're the ones appropriating from your culture. The argument could go back and forth endlessly. The truth is, culture is fluid. People are inspired by certain elements of this and that and then use that inspiration to create their own mix, like the process of perfecting a recipe. We can all worship at the alter of Queen Bey.
This futile exchange all plays into something I refer to as The Oppression Olympics. Mannie invokes the storied black past and present to prove the point that blacks as a minority are marginalized and thus have it worse than anyone else:
Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights... Nothing about whiteness will get a white person in trouble the way blackness can get a black person shot down in his tracks.
This waging of wars between groups essentially pits people against each other based on the level of suffering that their particular group has faced. Whether it's Slavery vs. The Holocaust, or Being Gay vs. Being Black, everyone's experience and struggle is subjective to them.
I've lived in the United States as an African-American woman for 22 years now, and I can say that as a minority who has experienced persecution, who has been called a nigger and followed through stores, I value no ally more than a member of the LGBTQ community. I think about that night where Luca got pushed down the stairs quite often.
Luca is me. He's everyone you know who has ever feared for their safety, who fears persecution on a daily basis, who has been denied basic rights, and who isn't going to take it anymore.
Think about the SCOTUS Hobby Lobby decision. Think about the places where gays can't marry, blacks can't wear hoodies, and you'll understand we're wasting valuable time and energy with these petty grievances over who twerked first or which culture a certain vernacular originated with.
This isn't just about whether someone says "Oh hey girl," or "What it do, Shanaynay." This is "Shanaynay and all of her girl friends don't deserve contraceptives." This is "All those fags are ruining the institution of marriage so we won't let them get married." This is "Get those beaners out of my country," or "Speak English, you're in America now." This is "Those lazy blacks on welfare are the reason this country is in debt."
Women, minorities, and members of the LGBTQ community: We are so much more powerful when we stand united. When any one member of our large collective group wins, we all do. When gay marriage is legalized, we all win, because there are male and female LGBTQ members of all colors and creeds that encompass our group. When Stop and Frisk is outlawed, we all win, because there are gay and straight minority men and women. This isn't just black or white, gay or straight, male or female. This is so much bigger than that. This is the fight for equality.
We don't have to fight over who created what dance, or who does it best. Let's just dance together.
Images: Header Courtesy of Paige Tutt; Tumblr/old_sakura_tv, Getty Images