“I can’t go home again.”
A good friend recently posted the following on Facebook. We’ve had similar experiences with respect to, frankly, being black and gay in areas and communities that tend to skew more white and gay — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The problem comes when one is tempted or overwhelmed — after being fed up — to comment that the status quo pretty much sucks. When, being a person of color, you don’t see yourself reflected or represented in most facets of your “inclusive and diverse” culture.1 While at the same time, no one else seems to think or even notice that it’s a problem. And the reaction to the issue being raised is either one of actively looking the other way, or… taking offense.
Note: It's still many folks' response to the mere suggestion of racism to say, "I'm offended that you had the nerve to say it's offensive!"
— Brian Gray (aka ürb) (@urbanbohemian) May 25, 2016
As though the very idea of acknowledging systemic racism means that those who benefit from it or unknowingly perpetuate it are racist. Frankly, it’s just not that cut and dry, there’s no easy answer or simple solution. However it is something that people of color and in marginalized communities — even and especially when one is marginalized within an already marginalized community — aren’t keeping quiet about any longer. But you don’t have to take my word for it, conversations about system racism and how it affects the gay community are all over the web. Here’s what my friend had to say.
“Why are you so upset over white-gentrified gay bars now? It wasn’t all that long ago that it didn’t bother you.”
This is a lot to unpack. This statement assumes that I’ve never had a problem with systemic racism in the gay community.
Newsflash: it’s ALWAYS bothered me.
However, black people expressing any sort of discontent or dissatisfaction with the status quo of their treatment in American society are immediately lumped into the category of “unreasonable anger”. That subsequently leads to being perceived as an immediate threat in the social and physical environment whenever I move away from anything other than an outwardly pleasant demeanor, far more often than a white person would.
If I raise my voice even slightly, the herd instinct is usually to move away while being placed under wary observation, because apparently, we all carry weapons and are ready to lose our shit at a moment’s notice.
If I take offense to any racist micro-aggression in my presence, I have no sense of humor/I’m too PC, and white people would rather continue doing what they’ve always done among themselves than police what they say or place their unconscious bias under examination.
In order to make it through any given day without being the one to blame for any confrontation, I’ve had to swallow my lot in life and school my features and mannerisms into something blandly neutral if I couldn’t generate a genuine smile.
And in order to gain entrance to certain spaces with chance at genuine socialization at an acceptable level of interaction, I had to quietly accept the dominance of the demographics located in most of those spaces.
Having to do all of this just to be able to fit in at the global level hasn’t done much for seeing myself as desirable, worthy of friendship, or even human.
So, no, the only thing sudden about my change in viewpoint is that I finally decided to stop holding my tongue because no one really asked me to do all that — to sacrifice my authenticity — in the first place. People change. I have changed. Hiding my feelings for the sake of preserving friendships has nearly destroyed me more than once, in addition to rooting those friendships in dishonesty. I’ve decided not to do that any more. It’s not fair to me, and it’s not fair to the people in those friendships either.
If I’d decided to be honest from “go”, maybe I’d be able to return to some of my favorite spaces by now. Nightmarish switches in perspective triggered a downward spiral that’s left me with a deep-rooted aversion from repeating those environments.
I can’t go home again.
Still here? Yeah, that was a long read, I know. And for a conversation people are still uncomfortable having, hearing, and engaging with. I don’t say a lot about it myself, but it causes me to be disillusioned with much of “mainstream” gay culture both locally and nationally and not really want to engage, go out, meet people, etc. At the same time, I’m glad the conversation is gaining traction, if only to make people realize that just because no one is saying anything is wrong… doesn’t mean that everything is ok.
1 Magazines, TV, web series, music, music videos, bar publicity photos, club night flyers, dating/cruising app home screens, porn… the list goes on and on.