When you use a bandage, you are trying to cover up a wound. The bandage isn’t the healing agent; it conceals the injury until it fades away. Likewise, when white gay people use the fact that they are gay to make up for their shortcomings (such as biases and privileges) as a white individual, they are just putting band-aids on bullet holes rather than getting to the root of the problem. Unfortunately, this problem won’t go away with the strategy of bandages and ignorance. On the contrary, a bandage of gayness only allows racism and white guilt to fester like a rotting wound.
Often, white people that are part of the LGBT+ community will use their gayness as a bandaid for the white guilt they feel, wrongly assuming that being gay means they can’t be racist or contribute to a system of white supremacy. Furthermore, some white gays believe that their status as a “minority” translates to being worse off than straight people of color, which erases the experiences and oppression that people of color face. This is problematic because the prejudices and stigmas that come along with one’s sexuality are worlds different than the systemic oppression that occurs due to your ethnicity.
Many white gays have been criticized for using their gayness as a fast pass to accessing Black culture as well as the Black community. While Black and white gays both belong to the LGBT community, that doesn’t mean that white gays have rights to the Black community. Being gay doesn’t automatically mean other minorities will suddenly befriend, trust, or respect you.
One way white gay people use queerness to distance themselves from white straights and inch their way into the Black community is through their use of AAVE. You’ve probably heard white gays using words and phrases like “woke,” “sleeping on,” “yaaas” and “ain’t” in order to be flamboyant and “express themselves.”
While it is by definition is a dialect, but a lot of people are under the impression that African American Vernacular English is a language. The subject of language can be a grey area for discussion, as many believe that language belongs to everyone, and therefore cannot be “stolen.” However there is something to be said about the fact that this vernacular is largely used by the Black trans women population, and by Black people in academic circles, and both are mocked for their use of “unprofessional” language. It poses the question, why is the use of AAVE instantly inappropriate in scholarly contexts and hilarious in a social context? If AAVE is truly a language for everyone to use, why do white people only use it to be funny, then drop it while trying to maintain a formal image? White people can code-switch, yet Black people are forced to face prejudiced treatment for the way they speak.
When people who are a part of the majority pick and choose bits and pieces of cultures that they find to be “trendy” or “cool,’ they are taking those pieces for themselves while leaving behind the socially less desirable aspects of that culture. Is it fair that a white gay gets to say “boo boo,” but doesn’t have to bear the burdens of being Black in society, such as facing problems with discrimination in jobs, housing and healthcare?
If you are white and gay, be conscious of the vernacular you use. Simply because you are a part of the LGBT community and you face adversity in society, does not mean you can use your identity to justify offending a person of color. This is what we call intersectionality; in this case the divides and overlaps between race and sexuality. Not all discrimination and experiences are created equal for marginalized groups. Some things, such as the reclamation of racial slurs, will never be okay for white people, regardless of sexuality, to participate in. Not if it’s just around white people or other gays and not even if your Black friend says it’s okay.
Yet other things, such as the utilization of AAVE by white gays, are more subjective, and it would depend on context, and who you ask. Some individuals are hesitant to ban white people from AAVE, while others have entire lists of which words are off limits.
In addition to this, white gays aren’t excused from talking about the intense, blatant racism going on within the LGBT community. Under the cover of queerness, white gays are notorious for partaking in things they like from gay Black culture, including drag,dancing, hairstyles, clothing and slang, while rejecting Black people themselves. On Grindr, the Her app, in person, and over social media, many white gays either creepily fetishize certain ethnicities, or they hold flat out prejudices against them. “Preferences” based on race aren’t biological, or natural. They are hurtful choices that alienate minorities from the LGBT community.
At the end of the day, the color of your skin is what’s judged right away. That’s what people can see. That’s what can’t be hidden. No amount of queer band-aids will make you less white, or more oppressed. Of course, there are hierarchies of oppression, but this isn’t a competition to see who is the most oppressed. It’s just our duty as white people who unconsciously feed into a system of racism and oppression, to realize and verbalize the fact that our sexualities don’t excuse our behavior.
Putting a band-aid of queerness over your white guilt doesn’t excuse it or make it magically disappear.
You can be loud, proud and gay, but don’t appropriate Black culture to do it. You don’t have to feel guilty about being white so long as you are cognizant of your privilege and perpetually working to educate and better yourself.
Celebrate the love that makes you special and different than everyone else. Embrace your sexuality, gender identity and what it means to be unapologetically young and gay. Go to Pride parades, watch cute films like Love, Simon, kiss your significant other in the street and feel bliss. These embody gay culture and they are for you to partake in.
Photo: Pierrick VAN-TROOST via Unsplash