Michael Sam’s Experience With Racism In the Gay Community Isn’t Surprising
I remember the first time I experienced anti-Blackness from a White gay male. In conversation, I mentioned liking watermelon. He then responded to me, “Jenn, c’mon. You like watermelon?” Not sure what he was getting at (and being a little naive), I responded, “yeah. What’s wrong with that?” He then responded with a smile, “do you like fried chicken too?” Getting the gist of where he was going, I realized he thought it was cool to joke with me about anti-Black stereotypes because he, too, was from a marginalized community. For years, I endured what can only be described as anti-Blackness from him that was downplayed as “fun” between friends.
My experience isn’t unique.
In a recent interview with Attitude Magazine (May Issue), Michael Sam – the first out gay player in the NFL – explains how he has experienced more anti-Black racism in the gay community than homophobia in the Black community.
Specifically, when it comes to racism in the gay community, he says,
“It’s terrible. People have told me I’m not gay enough, people have told me I’m not black enough. I don’t know what that means. You want to be accepted by other people but you don’t even accept someone just because of the colour of their skin? I just don’t understand that at all. How are you saying that, ‘oh, I want people to accept me because I’m gay but I don’t accept you because you’re black, or because you’re white or because you’re Asian’.”
In response to issues of homophobia in the Black community, he says,
“I can only go by my experience and the people I’ve been around. I think it’s more accepting, actually. There are a lot of black, openly gay people. A lot of people have [gay] friends, cousins, brothers, sisters… They have at least one openly gay person, at least it’s more accepting, that’s my experience. People tell me they have family members who are gay and it doesn’t freak them out and no black person ever freaked out at me, ‘oh you’re gay’. None. There are people who are over religious who go, ‘oh, you’re a fag, you’re going to hell.’ That’s everywhere. Ted Cruz is pretty much anti-gay.”
There is something particularly concerning about folks in the White LGBTQ community, specifically cis White gay males, reproducing patriarchal anti-Black sentiment. It seems counterintuitive when one considers the ways that people of color of LGBTQ experience have played such integral roles in the securing of rights for larger LGBTQ communities.
Similarly, I was recently at a conference where a several cis White gay men defended their right to claim that there was a “Black woman in their body” when they were feeling extra “sassy.” I have been in scenarios where cis White gay men attempted to explain to cis and trans, queer and straight Black women why we should fight for marriage rights before focusing on “racial issues.” Their disregard for our intersectional needs undercut their calls for solidarity.
These are normal occurrences that happen far more often for me than issues of homophobia with Black folks. This isn’t to say that homophobia and queer antagonism don’t happen nor is it to minimize the impacts of homophobia in Black communities. However, it does suggest that the imposed solidarity of the LGBTQ moniker is often a constraint of forced or performative social movement rather than organic and legitimate commitment to mutual liberation.
The fact is: whiteness gone white. And, when whiteness and maleness meet, it is almost always at the expense of non-White people. And, while Michael Sam has a great deal more social and political access than me, his experiences echo my own.
To combat this issue, there has to be a critical focus on the ways that whiteness and patriarchy work together to oppress those deemed “the Other.” Simply identifying as the “G” in LGBTQ doesn’t undo the socialization that being both White and male imparts over a lifetime. And, just like my realization when I was questioned about my feelings about fried chicken, we are all naive if we believe these interactions are about lighthearted fun.
Photo credit: Attitude Magazine Cover (May Issue)
H/T: The Gaily Grind