University of Mississippi student Sierra Mannie, photographed above in 2013, makes many valid points in her now-famous screed against gay white men acting like black women (an epidemic of which I’ve been unaware), but apparently picks an easy target in gay white men and apparently displays disrespect for the life experiences of others while demanding respect for her own, a common mistake that too many black Americans make.
I am a gay white man. I, for one gay white man, do not feel like a black woman. Just putting that out there first thing.
I am responding, of course, to the now-(in)famous screed “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” by one Sierra Mannie, which gained national attention when Time.com published it.
I agree with much of what Mannie says in her commentary, but much of what she says I find offensive — as well as (at least unconsciously) homophobic and apparently desirous of many black Americans’ apparent desire to remain The Only Oppressed Minority Group in the United States of America, Who Will Not Share Even a Sliver of the Victimhood Pie.
I agree, of course, that the vast majority of white Americans, regardless of their socioeconomic status, never can truly have any real idea of what it is like to be a typical black American, and therefore, out of respect for the life experiences of another group of people, it’s probably almost never OK for a white person to act black.
That said, for a white person to assert that it’s not OK for a black person to act white, but that that black person should “act black” (however “acting black” [or "acting white"] is defined) — that’s pretty fucking racist, right? So why does a prohibition against racism work only one way?
I disagree wholeheartedly with the widely held belief that racism is something that is only ever perpetrated by whites against blacks, and that therefore, only white people can be racist. There are plenty of racist blacks, and there are other races outside of black and white (yes, I do need to remind people of that simple fact) — here in California politics, for instance, lately it (the struggle for power, which is what politics is) seems to be the Latinos vs. the Asians — and it comes down to everyone of every race needing to respect everyone else of every other race. This isn’t only about blacks being protected from persecution at the hands of whites.
That said, again, insensitivity to the life experiences of those of other races (and of other demographics) is pretty inexcusable, and I have to agree for the most part with Mannie’s assertion to the gay white man that “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.”
While I, for one, haven’t seen anything like even a mild epidemic of gay white men acting like black women, I will assume, for fairness’ sake, that Mannie has, and so, for those gay white men who truly act like black women — like, all the fucking time — I would also tell them, like Mannie does, to “cut it the hell out.” (That said, of course they have the right to act as they please. The right to act like an asshole is the right that most Americans probably exercise the most.)
That said, the United States is a cultural hodgepodge, where words and phrases and idioms and gestures are thrown into the mix to the point that often if not usually many if not most of those using them don’t even know their origin. You don’t get to fucking trademark (so to speak) words and phrases and idioms and gestures that end up in the American vernacular. If you think that you do, then you need to cut it the hell out.
I’m sure that many times I’ve used words, phrases and idioms (and maybe even a gesture or two) that originated within the black community. I’m an American who speaks American English and functions within the American culture, which, again, borrows from so many sources. I’m allowed to do that. Do I believe that I’m a black woman, or even that I truly can know what the typical black woman experiences in the United States of America? Of course not.
Many if not most of Mannie’s complaints about the general oppression of black Americans are valid enough, but why (at least in this one piece of hers) does she chose gay white men as the target of her anger?
Is it because we gay white men, as a group, aren’t as powerful as are straight white men, because we gay white men are a safer target, less likely to fight back? Is it because we gay white men are considered weak, effeminate, passive, submissive, so that we can be fucking punching bags for everyone?
Mannie conveniently does not mention in her screed the fact that there remains a shitload of homophobia among black Americans. To give just two of many possible examples, exit polls showed that about 70 percent of black Californians voted for the anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition H8, and many if not most black Americans didn’t start to ease up on their homophobia until Barack Obama came out (ha ha) for same-sex marriage in May 2012. It’s rather pathetic and sad that it was an external source — the pronouncement of the nation’s first black president — that inspired them to ease up on their homophobia (or to ease up on at least their public homophobic statements) instead of their own internal sense of right and wrong, their own internal sense that all oppression, and not just the oppression of blacks, is wrong, wrong, wrong.
I’ve seen this uber-hypocritical dynamic too many times: black Americans demanding fairness and respect for their own group — but only for their own group. No, fuck that and fuck you, if that’s how you operate. If you can’t respect me, then I cannot respect you. (Or, at the very least, if you refuse to respect me, you make it very difficult for me to respect you, and I want to respect you.)
Again, Mannie’s anger seems grossly misplaced to me. She writes:
… 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 …
Agreed, for the very most part, but it’s gay white men who are the main oppressors of black Americans? Really?
I am one gay white man who has no interest in pretending to be a black diva (whether there is anything wrong with that or not) and who supports fairness and justice for all black Americans (for all Americans and for all human beings). It is inarguable that, among other things, black Americans are incarcerated at an incredibly disproportionate rate (because of racism, of course), that many if not most of them are wage slaves (as are many if not most of all Americans), that black Americans routinely are mistreated (even sometimes extra-judicially executed) by racist law enforcement officers, that black Americans do not have adequate access to quality health care and to quality education, and that conservatives (most of them white) want to strip black Americans of their vote under the guise of “preventing voter fraud” and/or “preserving election integrity.”
I want to help black Americans fight these evils and right these wrongs, but black homophobia — as well as black racism — make it difficult for me to do that. I’m to assist your group while you attack and degrade mine? Really?
And, ironically, pseudo-progressive, DINO Barack Obama has done little to nothing for black Americans, whose quality of life has improved little to not at all under his watch, yet for the most part, mind-blowingly, black Americans don’t hold Obama to account for this — apparently primarily because he’s black and they don’t want to criticize one of their own. (And to many if not most of these same blacks, if you are a white person who criticizes Obama at all, even for his inexcusable lack of assistance to black Americans, you are, by definition, a “racist.”)
So Obama is let off the hook, but let’s blame the gay white man!
Mannie continues in her screed:
… And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.
White people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America. …
Again, the American culture is a patchwork quilt, so to read Mannie whine that “our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles … are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption,” sounds like selfish and juvenile territorialism that is woefully unaware of American history and culture (where, just like with the Borg, so much is assimilated), and for the record, non-blacks experience plenty of pain and suffering. Blacks don’t have the monopoly on the pain and suffering thing. All human beings experience pain and suffering.
And while white people as a group are not systemically/institutionally racially oppressed in the U.S.A., you cannot have interpersonal relations with a whole fucking race of people. It’s the one-on-one interpersonal interaction where the rubber meets the road, and on the one-on-one level, yes, white people can be the victims of racism. If you are a non-white person who hates white people and treats white people out of this hatred — for no other reason than that they are white — then you are committing acts of racism. You are a racist yourself, but, by being a member of a historically oppressed racial minority group, you feel justified in your own racism, and no doubt you hypocritically define racism as only something that white people ever commit.
It all is about respect, which includes respect for others’ experiences. I agree with Mannie’s assertion that
… The truth is that America is a country that operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment, and that system allows white people to succeed. This system also creates barriers so that minorities, such as black people, have a much harder time being able to do things like vote and get houses and not have to deal with racists and stuff. You know. Casual.
But while you’re gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled,what’s even worse about all of this, if you thought things could get even crappier, is the fact that all of this is exponentially worse for black women. A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain. …
Actually, it gets even worse than that. Black lesbians, for instance, have to deal with racism, sexism and patriarchy and homophobia (for which, I must admit, I respect and admire them considerably), but mention of black non-heterosexuals and black non-gender-conforming individuals, who routinely are victimized by even members of their own family (and who thus have much higher levels of such problems as suicide attempts, addiction, incarceration and contraction of HIV and other STDs), is conspicuously missing entirely from Mannie’s screed, which adds to its air of rather petty self-concern and homophobia.
And the notion that virtually all white people have it so great based upon their whiteness smacks of a lack of personal knowledge of very many actual white people. Mannie writes:
… At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them. …
Very thinly veiled behind the “argument” that non-heterosexuals aren’t victims of oppression because we non-heterosexuals, if we wish, can pass for heterosexual — which is not actually the case for many if not most of us non-heterosexuals — is the sickeningly heterosexist, homophobic belief that, for the comfort of heterosexuals, we non-heterosexuals should act heterosexually, whether to do that is at all natural for us and whether or not it violates our own fucking souls. Because pretending to be who and what you are not isn’t oppressive or anything!
I certainly hope that the vast majority of blacks don’t wish that they could camouflage themselves as whites in order to go along to get along, but instead appreciate and celebrate who and what they are, so for blacks to apparently suggest camouflage to us non-heterosexuals is incredibly degrading and offensive as well as insensitive.
I agree that such an ugly thing as white privilege exists in the United States of America and elsewhere on the planet, but again, it all comes down to our one-on-one interactions, since we can only actually interact as individuals with other individuals. Respect has to occur at this ground level of the individual. Stereotypes and generalizations and preconceived notions have no place in respectful interpersonal relations. You can never encounter a whole fucking group of people. You can only encounter an individual. I cannot state this simple but woefully overlooked fact too much. You don’t want me to make assumptions about you based upon your race or your gender or sexual orientation or other demographics. I don’t want you to make such assumptions about me, either – such as that because I’m a gay white man, I have no real problems, that I’m rich (because I’m white and/or because I have no children), that I’m a slut (because I’m gay), that of course I’m racist (because I’m white), that I will be your fucking punching bag because I’m passive and weak (because I’m a gay man), etc.
So, I would cut a deal with Mannie and those who think like she does: I will continue to try to do my part to examine and solve the problem that is racism (including, of course, the problem of white privilege). Ditto for the problem that is sexism and patriarchy. This is the duty of every American (and of every human being). And you do your part to examine and solve the problem that is heterosexism and homophobia, and the problem that is selfishly, hypocritically and narrow-mindedly demanding respect and equality for only your own group.
Because I guaranfuckingtee you that while the minority of gay white men who might, at least at times, act like black women grate on your nerves, we gay white men, for the very most part, are not your enemy, and I further guaranfuckingtee you that the true oppressors (or, at least, the worst oppressors) love it when we, the historically oppressed, are at each others’ throats instead of at theirs, where we should be.