Dear Black People: Cut White Gays Some Slack

Would Beyonce even exist without Ru Paul?

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11 July 2014, 6:41pm

Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

Welcome to another edition of This Week in Racism. I’ll be ranking news stories on a scale of one to RACIST, with “one” being the least racist and “RACIST” being the most racist.

–Sierra Mannie, an English and Classics major at the University of Mississippi (home of the Rebels!) wrote a scathing op-ed that was republished by TIME.com in which she shook her substantial fist at white homosexuals for stealing black female culture. During the course of her epic screed, she invoked twerking, large asses, Beyonce fandom, and "bottoming" for black men. To sum up her thesis, allow me to quote the master:

"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. Let me explain. 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 (cc: Chris McDaniel)."

This rhetoric is, in a sense, a cousin to the tantruming child that screams to their mommy about life not being fair. Ms. Mannie (which sounds like a P.L. Travers character or something) is saying that because African-Americans are struggling as a group, white gays shouldn't say "you go, girl." Ignoring the fact that gay men have suffered plenty in just about every country, and often face violent respones to their sexual orientation, Mannie fabricates a universe in which the mere fact of being white and gay is some kind of privilege.

She also seems to forget that the many "black" cultural signifiers she is so fond of were made popular by black gays. Would there be a Beyonce without Ru Paul's drag persona? Ru was saying "fierce" and throwing shade in the 1970s and 1980s. Half the time, I can't tell the difference between Beyonce and Ru Paul. They probably buy their weaves from the same person.  

On Mannie's Facebook page (which I will not link out to here, because I am not a monster), under religion, she lists "What would Beyonce do?" Well, she'd probably start by not being so oblivious to cultural history, and just might be a bit more willing to accept the free-flowing share of ideas that makes for a harmonious society rather than choose to cast stones all day. That's, sadly, the problem with our discourse, and in some ways this very column is a part of that.

In certain circles of the internet, the game is to figure out who's "got it worse," whose privilege needs to be checked, and who is the most persecuted. Ranking news stories on their levels of racism is one of those things, though I've always hoped that this column's purpose was to shine a light on injustice in a humorous fashion. And yet, there are those who see this column as divisive. In truth, I believe we've all got it bad – white, black, Asian, Latino, LGBTQ, etc. The struggle is for everyone to stop asking for special treatment, and stop seeing their pain as more valid than others'. That concept of privileged pain is never more apparent in Mannie's piece than when she claims that gay men can hide, whereas black people cannot:

"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."

This, of course, completely ignores the mass struggle of LGBTQ individuals to live out in the open. This discounts the fear of reprisal that gay men and lesbians had to accept as common when being affectionate with a lover, identifying publically as queer, or god forbid, having a more fluid gender identification. Mannie assumes gay people want to hide, and I believe that's as far from the truth as it gets.

Mannie really takes it home when, after what she must have assumed was a really cogent point, stopped to soak in the cheers. She imagined a world where her enraptured readers were "gasping at the heat and the steam of the strong truth tea I just spilled." This is the literary equivalent of calling your shot moments before striking out. 5

Photo via Flickr user Ron Cogswell

–Following a backlash from 12 black law students, Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, has agreed to remove replica Confederate flags from their campus. The flags were replicas of original Confederate flags in the campus's Lee Chapal, which also contains a statue of General Robert E. Lee. The group of 12, called the Committee, also demanded the school apologise for its role in the institution of slavery and condemn General Lee.

The old "heritage, not hate" argument reared its head again, when the school's paper published an editorial which called the notion of the school's display of the flag being an endorsement of slavery "ludicrous." I realise that there are people who hold up the secession of the southern states as a symbol of the fight for states' rights, but the right those states were fighting for was slavery and racial prejudice. Understanding and respecting history is admirable, but I find it very hard to justify this particular usage of the flag. The whole point of the statue and the flag is to lionise a man and a movement that supported an objectionable practice. Having the flag and the statue is, in fact, a sign that the school wants to honor those who endorsed a practice that hopefully, we all find objectionable. 7

–Just Add a Kid, a novelty shirt company, got "put on blast," as the kids say, for the above display which features a cardboard cutout of a black child wearing a monkey t-shirt. The company quickly issued a statement claiming a "mix-up" after the photo started getting shared around the internet. Granted, not every sales clerk at a novelty t-shirt store is aware of racial sensitivity. Perhaps the clerk just thought, "hey, black kids are cute and so are monkeys! Let's put 'em together!" By the way, does this mean I'll get in trouble when I refer to my young son as a "little monkey" in front of his friends? He loves bananas and lives in the jungle, so what's the problem? 8

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