At the Intersection of Black and Queer, Part 2
As a black man in America, I am cautiously heartened that, due to mass protests and louder cries that “black lives matter,” we finally appear to be ready to have the long overdue conversation about the pervasiveness of systemic racism in this country. As a member of the Twin Cities Gay Men’s Chorus, I wanted to make sure that our organization participated in this conversation in a meaningful way, by lifting up and making space for black voices to be heard. My goal is simply to provide a small window into what it is like to be us – provide insight on what it is like to live at the intersection of being both black and queer.
This is the second installment in a series of conversations I am having with black members of TCGMC. Dion Grace has been a member of TCGMC for 4 years. He identifies as a gay-black (biracial)-male and uses he/him pronouns. This is part two of our conversation.
DANIEL: What do you wish society at large or even just the gay community…actually, no. Let’s go there. Let’s go with the gay community. What do you wish the, predominantly white, gay community knew about what it means to live at the intersection of the black and gay?
DION: It’s hard. It’s hard. It’s so hard. It’s hard to see people who are oppressed believe that they can turn that around and use that as a weapon to oppress other people.
DANIEL: And it really is a weapon. Like, I feel like white gay men, weaponize whiteness more than straight people do a lot of times.
DION: Yeah. Yeah.
DANIEL: I’ve seen it be used as a tool to get what they want sexually, relationally, and socially.
DION: I would say…and you can put this in if you want, it’s whatever. But, I would say that white gay men are probably the most oppressive group of people after straight men. One, because they’re men and two, because they understand. They know that they are oppressed. I mean…
DANIEL: (claps hands)
DION: Being black and queer adds another layer to think about being a person’s token black friend or token gay friend. It’s twice as much work and it’s twice as exhausting. We feel twice as many injustices as either an exclusively white queer person or a black straight person, but that doesn’t take away our desire to fight for diversity, inclusion, and belonging for every other group.
DANIEL: I just want to pause on your idea of “twice as much.” The term intersectionality is like a buzz term these days, but it was coined by a lawyer and critical race theorist named Kimberlé Crenshaw to talk about the position of black women in America and the – what she calls – double-oppression they experience from being both black and female. And, you know, I don’t want to co-opt that word in a way that takes it away from its original meaning. But I do think that it speaks to where black gay men are positioned within our subset of society. The issues that come from being gay and being black or the combination. So, yeah, I just wanted to point her out because I think it’s exactly what you are saying when you say, “twice as much.” We’re fighting two battles at once.
DION: It makes me think about it like, you know, all the times that I have been harassed on the street. I won’t say all the time, but I’ll say a lot of the time that I’ve actually been harassed on the street for one of my identities. It has been from black people to me being gay or being perceived as gay. And it’s like, my first thought is extreme rage. Like, who are you? We are on the same field fighting against these people. Don’t come at me right now.
DANIEL: I know! But then you got to turn around to these white gay dudes and be like, dude, we are on the same side. So, yeah, I hear that. I hear that for sure.
I would agree. I remember being young and having black men identify me as gay before I even knew I was gay. I remember being called a faggot before I even knew what that was. Then my family moved and now I have spent all this time around white people – most of my life – and then everything that was “wrong with me” was about me being black.
DION: I feel almost more of a sense of fealty to my black identity than I do my gay identity. Because I worry about speaking out against the black me because I don’t want to add more weapons for white people to say they’re not at the same educational or ethereal level that we are.
DANIEL: Because you fear you’re reinforcing the negative.
DANIEL: Black women are having that same conversation right now, where they’re just like, no, we got issues in black culture about men’s relationship to women, but some women are struggling with how to speak about that intercultural problem in this moment because blackness seems to be the emergency right now.
DION: It absolutely is. And I think it will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, for decades to come, because we are owed so much that was stolen from us.
At this point Dion and I had a pretty in-depth conversation about the white to black wealth gap and reparations. I suggest doing some research on how pervasive and destructive the racial wealth inequities in America have been historically and currently. Let’s pick up at the end of that conversation.
DION: What’s so interesting to me is that so many white people are scared about being on an even playing field with black folk, because that’s what that would mean.
DANIEL: I don’t know. Sometimes I feel for them [white people]. Because I’m an empathetic person. I’m human. Even though I’m hurting, I’m still hurting for them because I can’t imagine. What would it be like to all of a sudden realize that, oh shit, my people did this. It doesn’t matter where you came from, how poor your family was, in American history, if you had white skin, you had shit that we [black people] didn’t have. You had a significant leg up. Your people weren’t systematically beaten, chained, enslaved, raped, killed, and lynched in this country for hundreds of years. So, to wake up to the fact that black people in this country are indeed owed something like reparations due to the atrocities caused by those in your ancestry…I can’t. I would lose it. So, in a way, I feel like, yeah, that’s a hard thing to wake up to. But we’ve been living it [black people]. We live it our whole lives, from birth.
DION: Yeah, there is that meme that was like, “Damn, I’d be pissed too if I had a 400 year head start and I still amounted to nothing.”
Are white people nervous that if we get an even playing field, because we’ve been having to deal with overcoming so many obstacles, that we will then take over? I mean, that’s not going to happen. I mean, that’s not black people’s thought.
DANIEL: To even get there based on where we are…that would be impossible.
DANIEL: The Civil Rights Act has only been in place for 60 some years. Actually, it was 1964, so it’s been less than 60 years. That’s kind of hard to sort of wrap your mind around. We were talking about Ruby Bridges a few days ago, the little black girl who was the first to integrate an elementary school in Louisiana, who needed national guard escorts while going to school in 1957. She’s 65 years old. She has plenty of life left. That’s modern history. But people want to act like these things happened so long ago. We have not had basic freedoms for very long.
You had something else.
DION: What else am I feeling about this? A sense of pride that our family, black queer folk…
DANIEL: Wait, this is about to answer the last question I was going to ask. What are you hopeful for?
DION: I’m feeling a sense of pride that our black queer family stood up, rallied. We fought back before other identities that could sit longer in their privilege did.
DANIEL: (DANIEL claps) They can’t hear the claps, so I’m putting it in writing.
DION: It’s honestly, so true. When you think about Stonewall, it was black queer folks. Right? Every time we have rallies for anything, every time we have protests or anything. Who are the people at the front lines? They are black folk. And more often than not, they’re black queer folk. We have been oppressed. We know what it’s like to be oppressed from every single angle. Especially if you are black, queer, trans and presenting as female. We know what that looks like and we are here to fight. And the fact that we lead change, we drive these conversations is so empowering and it helps sustain the fire inside of me when I feel like I am tired and then feel like I can’t, I’m feeling like I can’t take one more step. I think about all of those other people that have come before me, all these people who are here beside me and all of these people yet to come. We are going to continue marching and fighting.
I keep thinking about our last Minneapolis city election where we got both Andrea Jenkins and Phillip Cunningham on our city council. We are starting to give voices to people that we have silenced for decades and centuries. And it’s exciting to see where that conversation will lead.
I’m thankful to Dion for having such an open and honest conversation with me. I’m thankful he was willing to let people in on his thoughts and feelings on subjects that are almost never talked about in the gay community. He didn’t have to do it, but I’m so glad he did.
If you missed the first part of this conversation, you can read that HERE.