Dear Sierra Mannie: #NotAllGayWhiteMen #NotAllBlackWomen

untrope smallI read Sierra Mannie’s “Dear White Gays” article and felt my face getting hot.  A lump formed in my throat, and my breath became quick and short.   It took a moment to find the root of that pain.  I finally realized it all stemmed back to a moment in my own childhood: the moment that I realized that I was black.  That revelation didn’t come from starring into a mirror or looking at a photograph.  It happened at school when someone informed me that I wasn’t white.

I don’t remember exactly what I was doing, but my actions led some presumptuous person in my class to announce boldly, “Why are you doing [that], you’re not white.  Until that moment I’d had no idea that being black meant that there were books I was forbidden to read publicly and songs that I just was not “allowed” to dance to.  I didn’t know that being black meant it was my responsibility to conform to someone else’s vision of blackness.  Personality, interests, and tastes aside, I learned that being black meant that I had to learn to act, speak, and behave like a black person.  The truth is that I still don’t quite know what that means.  I do know that attacking someone’s identity because it’s disruptive to your own narrow views is wrong.

When I read Sierra’s article all of those old feelings came raining down—the soggy condemnation of my own personhood.  I am a black woman. I don’t care for Beyonce’s music, I only speak with a folksy “black” accent when code-switching (a learned behavior), and I can’t quote Madea.  So, when a white person, gay or straight, does these things I don’t internalize those actions as ownership of my black womanhood.  Those things don’t comprise my blackness, and are not part of my identity.  My name is Jennifer, a name of Welsh origin, and if anyone ever asked why my name isn’t “Keisha” I’d call them a racist (and I hope you would too).

I’ve read this article several times and while the author makes some good points, that I empathize with, those points are undermined by some pretty blatantly racist remarks. Telling someone outright that they can’t do “black things” is counterproductive.  Appropriation of culture is not the same as institutionalized racism.  Furthermore, one person’s contempt for a marginalized segment of white culture (White Gays? really, not White Gay Men?!?) is not a battle cry to the black masses.

(I feel like I’m taking crazy pills.)

The Article

While protection of voting rights, confidence in the rule of law, and the legitimacy of black arguments about race are all pressing issues, the rest of this particular paragraph is hate-blind racist banter that undermines the cause:

“Black people can’t have anything.” (Oh, I get the joke, and am not amused)

–If a white person said this, you’d call them a racist.

“[black people can’t have] black spaces like schools and neighborhoods”

–I don’t want to live in an all black neighborhood or go to an all black school?  I thought we were past segregation, apparently self-segregation doesn’t count?

And so on.

Culture

Culture is dialectical.  As an artist I take issue with this protectionist view of our “extracurricular activities”:

And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption.”

Blackface and Indian headdresses aside, if everyone in this nation took offense when someone else used “their” words, or dressed in a style representative of their race, this place would be a living hell? Rev. Run wouldn’t have been able to wear is iconic Jewish hat, the Tavares would have never covered Hall & Oates, and the world would be bereft the genius of Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

Again with the taking of the crazy pills?!?!

If anything, the [loving] appropriation of culture is better than treating the other, the outsider, the minority, as exotic and unwelcome?  I am not a walking Black museum of gestures, twerks, and jive talk, wearing this blackness like plumage for others to gawk at.  I am a human being who wants to interact with the world.  While the white gaze is a problem sometimes, a “look, but don’t touch” approach to blackness is not the solution either.  If someone offends you with their behavior, express that discomfort directly to them.  Chances are, they are not an ambassador for their race/sexual orientation (since we’re on the subject) either.

Example I:

Non Black Person [Possibly a gay person]: Hey Naynay, girl, what’s crackalackin’ my sista?

Black Person:  Hi, [Name], I’m doing great?  Are you talking like that because that’s who you are, or because you think that’s who I am?  I have to admit, it’s making me a little uncomfortable.

…[open dialog]

Example II:

Black Person: Oy, that was quite the schlep we just made, huh?

Non-Black Person [possibly Jewish]:  It’s weird that you use so many Yiddish words, what’s your deal?

Black Person: I grew up around a lot of Jewish people, this is just who I am now [shrug]

Example II (Alternate Version):

Black Person: Oy, that was quite the schlep we just made, huh?

Non-Black Person [possibly Jewish]:  It’s weird that you use so many Yiddish words, what’s your deal?

Black Person: I am a black Jew, my last name’s Cohen

(mind-blown.gif)

I have little to say about Sierra’s assertion that America “operates on systems of racism in which we all participate, whether consciously or unconsciously, to our benefit or to our detriment…”  There is nothing more American than racism. I will say that experiencing it is not a green card to say and do racist things to other people. Being maligned for your sexual preference is also a struggle (btw).  It’s not the same struggle, but it certainly cuts to the core of who we are as human beings, the prevailing historical notion being that it is our duty as humans to reproduce.

Contradictions & Conclusion

“…non-black people…get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness [but] never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black.

It baffles me that the author could have such a protectionist view of “stereotypes that reduce black females to loud caricatures.”  If any race/group of people want Madea, they can take her—damn that cooning clown right to the devil.  That is not who I am as a black woman, and I sincerely hope that it’s not who you are either.  While it’s easy to see that non-blacks throwing on the cloak of blackness for shits and giggles is offensive, it’s equally deplorable to condemn people for being who they are.

#NotAllGayPeople act black as an act of cultural warfare. Our quest for personal meaning in our lives begins with empathy.  Humans have survived as species because of our ability to empathize and emulate one another. Those skills and that desire to connect are bigger than race or gender.  While I understand Mannie’s outrage, I can’t condone her incendiary (ironically hyperbolic?) approach to dealing with her feelings on the subject of race and womanhood.

In the womb we are people, and when we die we become dust, everything in between is just peanuts.  If the aim of articles like these is to foster genuine, open discussions about race, I hope we are all taking up that yoke in real-life through acts of micro-activism (see examples above).  The truth of the black female experience begins with the constant assertion of real personhood, and not the protection of tired cultural memes.

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And seeing that it was a soft October night,

And seeing that it was a soft October night, I’ve decided to let it all go, all of my fears and anxieties, though momentarily, as I am sure they will be there to greet me in the morning.  

I love NYC, I love it more than any place that isn’t London.  I love the feeling of being anonymous, but not invisible, for all of the microinteractions and micromoments that I get to share with people.  It’s funny too the people that you remember in a day in this city, and much to my surprise many of them are the indigent and marginalized, always eager to offer a “hey sis,” or “thanks for the smile.”  It’s meant so much to me that the simple act of smiling is seen as a kindness, and in giving one you receive the joy of knowing you’ve made someone else happy.  Funny too that the people who are most appreciative are those without much in the way of worldly possessions or esteem.  To know that someone sees them and recognizes that they exist is more than a kindness, it’s called being a person–and I know that it’s the least I’d want in their shoes.  I hope that I am never so weary of the constant onslaught of nameless humans being (not a typo) that I forget to or lose the will to smile for no reason.

In other news, no one ever tells you how difficult it will be when you are just starting out…but that it is a necessary hardship.  That it’s important to embrace the moments of silence, as they “serve as the foundation for creativity.”–nicked that from a youtube video, and though those words were belligerently yelled at someone, they are profoundly luminescent.  This last 4 or 5 months have been a sustained pause in what in retrospect has been a chaotic 2 years or so, and I’ve fought it tooth and nail, looking for the next thing.  It’s only now that I am able to express gratitude, realizing that I’ve managed to somehow start a company and reconnect with old friends, and dream new dreams, and yea become a new person to a degree, all in the space of that overwhelming chasmic silence.  I won’t guess what’s coming next, but I am sure things will all work out.

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For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse

In my last post I wrote about my disappointment at not moving. Well that’s all over. My things have arrived from the UK, in a tattered box, but in tact. As I unpack it feels a bit like Christmas. All that I thought I’d lost is now with me again. I did give up a lot, but they were things that I didn’t need, remnants of the people I used to be. I can say for the first time in my life that I have a full account of all the things I own. There is nothing hiding in a dark corner, no misplaced nugget of matter leering at me through a pile of paper on a messy desk. And, I am for the first time replete.

In the twinkling of an eye everything has been undone, everything that I set out to do, but I feel more grateful than ever. And what I am most grateful for is the people in my life, who have supported me, despite a series of what turned out to be very poor decisions. Cyclically, I am one of the luckiest people I know, because of the people I know.

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