Hands on hips, neck rocking back-and-forth, a mouthful of sweet, strange vernacular passed down from your mama and aunties. This is the stereotypical black woman, an image largely cultivated through white supremacy and used to demean us. Of course some black women are like this, but that doesn’t give anyone the right to mock them, including gay white men.
About two years ago an article detailing this phenomenon caused a wave of controversy. Author Sierra Mannie’s complaint was this: gay white men often appropriate the culture associated with black women. As Mannie eloquently put it “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.”
Although some of her argument is problematic, (she reduces homosexuality to just sexual acts and claims that gay men can simply hide their orientation without considering the pain of being closeted), her main point rings true. It’s not cute to walk around with an affected “black accent” while claiming you have an inner black woman who’s just dying to get out. It’s offensive.
The backlash to Mannie’s piece revealed a disturbing undercurrent of racism. While many rightfully pointed out her ignorance when it comes to the gay experience, they did so in a dismissive way that reeked of white privilege. One piece told her to accept the inevitability of cultural appropriation (“The point is that no group can claim to ‘own’ an idea like shade, much less to dictate to others when and where it may be used”), as though we should simply allow others to revel in our creation while refusing to share our struggle. Another painted her as unreasonably upset (“Mannie can bark at the gay white universe to lay off, but an appealing means of expression and art are the ultimate in open-source culture”).
Much of the problem relates back to the notion of the “Angry Black Woman.” You might’ve heard of her: she’s fierce, strong, independent and “don’t need no man.” First of all, this idea invalidates the anger of black women. Considering we’re constantly degraded because of our race or gender, our indignation is valid. To paraphrase Solange, we’ve got a lot to be mad about. Secondly, it presents black women as superhuman, making it next to impossible for us to express vulnerability. Each time you put on this façade, pulling on this false skin, you’re making it harder for us to simply exist.
This issue points out how messy systems of privilege can be. Homophobia is very much alive and well in this country, and gay white men suffer because of it. As a result, their white and male privilege is altered but it is not negated. At the end of the day they’re still white men spitting on black women, and that will never be acceptable.
Sure you can love Beyoncé all you want, you can twerk, you can enjoy virtually anything associated with black women. You cannot, however, use us as the butts of jokes. We’re not caricatures, we’re human beings.