Racism

My Pledge of Allegiance

I went camping this weekend.  I went camping with my two best friends.  I went camping at a gay campground on a weekend that celebrated light with amazing displays of neon colors and festive creative looks.  Gays from all over converged to indulge in a free spirited playground of poolside drinks and long nights of sweaty filthy dance parties.  It was wonderful.  

As a treat to myself, I decided I’d disconnect from my phone and give my full attention to the beautiful souls in front of me, checking only once a day just in case someone I loved beyond the campground needed me.  

On Saturday night, as I was still buzzing from the libidinous energy of the night, I settled into my air mattress and turned on my phone.  

Fortunately, my texts were few and about nothing significant.  

And then I opened Facebook and felt my heart shatter into a thousand pieces.  The real world crashed down on me as a helplessly scrolled my newsfeed.  

I don’t need to recount for you the horrible details.  By now you know about the incomprehensibly devastating actions of the Alt-Right movement in Chartlottesville, Virginia, how they inflicted terror on their fellow humans in an act of unspeakable rage and hatred.   

It’s moment like these that ask me to reflect on my own actions and think about my responsibility in all of this.  How easy it is to say, “Who would do something like this?,” or “These are the worst kind of white people,” or “I’m nothing like them,” with an inflated sense of pride as if not having the impulse to drive a car into a crowd of people is something to be proud of.  It’s not.  

It’s not enough anymore to be a white person who simply distances himself from white racist xenophobes. It’s not enough to feel sad and mortified and feel comfortable because I know I’m not like that.  It’s not enough to accept that simply loving the people of color in my life will bridge the vast violent expanse between us all.  

It’s time for me, and frankly all white people, to take action.  As I figure out how to begin, how to turn this heartbreak into action, I write this pledge to clarify my mission and to hold myself accountable to you, whoever you are who reads this.  I hope you will support me.

To people of color:

I pledge to:

  • Continue to read, watch and listen to your stories so that I may better grasp your experience.
  • Push myself to become an accomplice, not just an ally.  
  • Remember your needs have to come first.
  • Accept that my privilege may always be a barrier between us.
  • Find ways to leverage my privilege to help advance your cause whenever I can.
  • Stand behind you when you need my support.
  • Stand in front of you in order to protect you from dangerous white aggressors.
  • Always ask you what you need instead of assuming I have any fucking clue what that might be.
  • Respect that you are all individuals, nuanced in your reaction to every act of violence.
  • Understand that sharing a post does not equal activism
  • Help other white people understand our privilege.
  • Allow other voices speak before mine and engage myself in true listening.
  • Love you as fully as I can.

To my fellow white people:

I pledge to:

  • Use what I learn to help teach you how to be a better citizen of our world, in the end always directing you to the source, accepting that I am never an expert on the feelings of people of color.
  • Encourage you to do better by confronting you when you say something problematic and not just silently rolling my eyes.
  • Have difficult conversations which might make us both squirm because people are dying in these streets and that’s way worse than a botched dinner party.
  • Remind myself that loving someone fully also means embracing the worst of them but progress comes when we work through those hard moments rather than pretending they don’t exist.

 

To everyone:

I remind myself that love should be unconditional and active.  I accept that by turning this pain into positive action, I might see sides of people, white people, that I do not like.  I already have.  But turning away or blocking these people does not solve the problem.  It only makes us more oblivious to each other’s point of view.  

I hope that our world can be better.  I’m not sure how we can fix it or how I can make a difference but I intend to work towards a better tomorrow that embraces us all.  You are all beautiful and I respect you as much as I love you which is a whole heck of a lot.  

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On vulnerability…

I’ve been feeling vulnerable recently. I mean, we all have.  The recent gay bashing sent a shiver of fear down all of our spines. Violence towards a member of the LGBT community is not something new. Over the years, we’ve all received emails from the HRC or have seen posts on Facebook or the NYTimes about some one gay or trans being victimized by some ignorant straight person in one town or another.   But they have always felt removed to me. In the 5 years I’ve spent living in Philly, I can’t recall anything being so brutal, the reaction so public or hitting so literally close to home.

This attack, which rendered a couple battered and bruised at the mercy of a drunk group of 15, has been a cruel reminder that even though our beautiful gay community is so close knit and strong and this city seems to embrace us with open arms, still we are endangered.  Sometimes I forget that.

On top of all of this, my car was broken into on Wednesday.   I had a particularly rough day at work; one of those days wherein everything I did was wrong. Being the perfectionist I am, you might understand why I felt particularly frustrated with myself. After work, I forced myself to the gym despite my despondency.  30 minutes in, I was spent. I left deciding to treat myself to something lovely for dinner and a six-pack (because grocery stores sell beer now and it’s amazing.)

I got in my car, put on my seatbelt and that’s when I noticed the shattered glass on the seat next to me. I let out a “What the fuck!!” before noticing my backpack, which had in it my wallet, phone charger and various work materials, had been nabbed. Without screaming, crying, panicking or freezing, I got out my phone, dialed 911, reported the crime and my location, then called the bank, cancelled my credit cards. I, then, informed my coworkers of my situation alerting them that they must cancel my company card.

I did all of this while remaining steady and focused.

In the half hour I had to wait for the police, I congratulated myself for handling everything so calmly.  How adult of me. The cops arrived, I gave them the necessary information and waited (and waited) for them to fill out whatever paper work they needed.

Still calm. But eventually the breath gets heavy and the chest feels tight. The realization that I have been violated hits. I maintain my cool even though I start thinking about what needs to be replaced, how much a new window will cost, that the mechanics are closing and it’s going to rain tonight and these damn cops are chatting and smoking a cigar (no exaggeration) when they could be chasing this criminal!

But the thing is, I know the rules. Losing my temper and displacing my anger does not make the situation better. Suppressing keeps me safe, right?

I started thinking about the couple, those victims. So the story goes, the drunk assholes called the couple “dirty faggots” and other harassing terms. And they yelled back. My friends and I debated this action recently.

All of us had been there. Had been walking around holding the hand of a boyfriend or displaying our gay in some other way when a person of group gave us a look or shouted from a car or did something vile to let us know that they hate us for being who we are and either verbally or physically wanted to destroy us.

For the most part we all agreed on the appropriate response: You shut the hell up and move along. Don’t yell back. Don’t even make eye contact. Because if you engage then it’s going to escalate.  (For the record: I get why those boys defended themselves because no one needs to be harassed walking home.  They had every right to tell those assholes off and NO ONE should be attacked for that.)  But we all learn that the safest move is to ignore, ignore, ignore.

So there I was: standing next to my car, furious that my shit was stolen and outraged that the police were taking their sweet time to dismiss me and catch this perpetrator. (Didn’t they hear me when I said my boss was told by the credit card company the perp made a purchase at 7-11? Why weren’t the on the way immediately!?) But I kept it all in because yelling at the cops or chasing the perp myself would only make this worse.

IMG_3308Instead, I posted this picture of my car on Instagram and Facebook. I typically only use my social media to post funny non-sequiturs, news stories I feel passionate about or Beyonce. Shitty things that happen to me are kept away from the FacePlace because when I’m upset I tend to want to be left alone. But I figured the condolences or likes might lift my mood. They really did. Knowing I have a community of people who not only felt badly for me but are willing to help me out meant more to me than I even knew.

Like the “I’m sorry” comments left for my broken-into car, seeing so many friends, gay and straight alike, posting about the gay bashings was another warm reminder that people in the world do care. Not everyone is as despicable as the “La Viola 15” (a name I’ve now coined so please credit me, all media outlets.)

Sometimes pain and tragedy teach us valuable lessons or show us what we need to fix. We are all now fervent that Pennsylvania must include sexuality in its hate crime laws. I know now that I must hide my belongings in my trunk when I go to the gym. Change is in the works.

The day after the incident, I went back to the gym, admittedly, with some trepidation. After talking it over with my mom she reminded me that if a criminal can’t see anything worth stealing, they won’t break into my car again. So I went.

I stopped at the front counter just to tell the employees what happened. They apologized profusely, which was sweet since it wasn’t their fault. They also told me they noticed some guy suspiciously riding his bike around the parking lot, looking into car windows right around that time of the break-in… probably the criminal. Hopefully next time they see something suspicious they’ll deal with it before any one else is robbed.

I got on the elliptical, still feeling uneasy and eager to finish up quickly so I could return to my car before another incident or, worse, return home to ensure that that wasn’t burgled too now that the criminal had my license and address. But I breathed and was proud of myself for being there.

As I got my cardio on, I was listening to my gym playlist, sinking into fitness mode and glancing once in awhile at the various  TVs broadcasting the evening news. Eventually, I noticed one of the stations talking about Brian Sims and the rest of gay Philly at Thursday afternoon’s rally. It was a wonderful sight, seeing our community stand together to demonstrate that we deserve equal protection.

And just then, I caught the guy two ellipticals away from me scoff. I took my headphones out and tried to surreptitiously listen to his mumbled rant when I caught this:

 “We’re still talking about this? Who gives a fuck? Get over yourselves!”

It was like some one ripped the air right out of my lungs. My eyes began to water and I wanted to just stop moving and collapse into a lifeless puddle of tears and fear. Like the slight pinch of pain I felt when my finger caught the tiny shard of glass left behind on my passenger seat, I was brutally reminded that I am still not safe. We are not safe.

Hiding my bag will not totally prevent future burglaries just as including sexuality into hate crime laws will not stop violence. If laws could prevent this, then no one would ever be robbed and white men wouldn’t kill black children claiming self defense and no one would ever be raped or abused.

Our problem isn’t legal; it’s ideological. We can pass laws until we are buried in rules and regulations, but when we still live in a society that teaches us to celebrate certain traits in people (straightness, whiteness, maleness, wealth) and devalue and denigrate others (gayness, anything not white, womanhood, poverty, etc) maintaining dominance will always lead to violence. And we learn this from childhood. (I shudder when I think that Kathryn Knott, one of the attackers, was allegedly raise by a police officer, some one we entrust to uphold these laws.)

Sure, we cognitively know that racism and homophobia are wrong. But even in this “progressive” or “post-racial” society, I still hear of my own students sitting alone at lunch because they are bullied.  Somehow our knowledge is not guiding our actions.

I do not profess to know the answer to these large sweeping problems. But it seems to me that passing a law teaches us that we shouldn’t commit a crime because of the punishment NOT because it is inherently wrong and every life is valuable and should be cherished.

I know now that hiding my belongings might prevent future burglaries. And witnessing my beautiful community come together to fight for a common cause fills me with a love and pride I can’t seem to find the words to express. But I don’t feel safe.

And yet…

 

And yet, I’m going to continue to be out and open. I’m going to sashay when the music and spirit moves me. I’m going to hold the hand of a man who is lucky enough to be the object of my affection and kiss him hard on the street because I can’t help myself.

We all will. Because, no matter the act of violence, we won’t hide. We won’t disappear.

 

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela

We interrupt our regularly scheduled program…

I started this blog so I could share funny stories from my woefully tragic dating life.  I started this blog because I was spending too much time trolling the dating apps, sites and bars and it was driving me crazy.  I started this blog to entertain and to fill the hole that being single created.

But once in a while I come across something so ignorant, so virulent, so damaging that I must stop what I’m doing and call attention to the big pile of bull shit some one is trying to pass off as a red velvet cupcake.  (Can you imagine a more heinous offense?)

The other day, I read a post on Thought Catalog that was entitled “I’m Not Racist, I’m Just Not Attracted to Black Men.” (I’ll give you a moment to let your eyes roll back to the screen.)  The author, Anonymous, bravely explains how his distaste for black men does not mean that he is a racist.  It’s simply a preference and is not meant to hurt any one.

He continues on bemoaning the response he receives from people on Grindr when they see his “white for white only” tag line.  As if everyone who reads that and takes offense, black, white or otherwise, is patently wrong for chastising him.

I won’t waste my time summarizing the whole thing but if you wish to read it, click here.

I know I’ve made sweeping statements like that about a whole type of human being.  We probably all have.  And I’m the first to admit it’s pretty fucked up. But everyone is entitled to having preferences and a type.  For example, my type is a hilariously intelligent, gorgeous, wealthy, single, non-sex offending, sane man who texts back (If you know any one who matches this description, please send him my way.)

Identifying what we want in a partner is a critical part of finding love.  So if Anonymous here “just doesn’t feel a sexual attraction to them,” (“them” meaning black men, in case you forgot) then shouldn’t we respect that that is his preference and back the hell off?

Sure.  But the problem, and what is really rubbing me raw here, is that he is trying to justify that his preference isn’t racist.  It is.  It is undoubtedly racist.  Whenever you lump a group of people together on the basis of race and then draw one conclusion about them, you are being definitively racist.

By claiming that Anonymous is not attracted to any black man on the planet, what he’s really saying is, “I will only see you, black men, solely for your color.  And because I feel that your skin color and all of the assumptions that I make because of it are undesirable, I will never allow myself to consider the possibility that we might enter into a meaningful intimate relationship despite any compatibility of our personalities.”

What’s worse is that he references a conversation he had with his many gay black friends as if it validates his statement.  A “Don’t worry, my black friends are cool with it” ethos.  Only he doesn’t actually reveal to them his Whites Only sexual policy.  Rather he expounds upon an argument he had with a black friend who shares his proclivity for the White wiener.  (For the record: I would also argue that the black friend is being sort of racist too.  And no “reverse racism” isn’t a thing, but I’m not here for that right now.)

I wonder why he doesn’t tell the room filled with black gay men that he’s not buying what they’re selling.  I wonder if on some level he recognizes that it might not be well received by this dinner party of wall to wall black gay men when he admits that by virtue of their skin tone he finds them all sexually repugnant.  I bet he knows he would be casting a shade so deep we may never again see the light of day!

I’m going to make an assumption that this man is probably some where close to my age because he’s writing on this blog that seems geared to people of my generation.  Like me, he probably first learned what “racism” is in social studies when our teachers covered the Civil Rights movement (because no one calls it “racism” when they are actually practicing it.)  They taught us about segregation, sit-ins, fire hoses, lynchings and other horror stories from the Deep South.

But things are different now and we don’t live it that world with those overt displays of hatred, right? We live in a world where black and white kids go to school together and a black man is even president.  We get that we need to be tolerant of all peoples.  We’re not like they were in the Jim Crow South.  So we’re ok, right?

Wrong.  And what Anonymous is demonstrating here is that he doesn’t actually understand what racism is.  Sure, he may not be depriving gay black men the ability to be employed or sit where they want on a bus, but he is replacing their individuality with their color. And he’s trying to justify it publically.

I’m very lucky.  Like Anonymous, I grew up in an almost entirely white community (wait, that’s not why I’m lucky. Keep reading!)  In fact, when my hometown was established just after WWII, the sale of homes to any person of color was strictly prohibited.  Racism runs deep there.  But many of my mentors, collaborators, peers, and friends (some of whom are more like family) are of various races, ethnicities, orientations, sexes, and levels of crazy.  And they have challenged me to have these hard conversations.  I have learned from them because I have listened. (Admittedly, not always without crossing my arms, pouting my lips and getting defensive but I’m a work in progress.)

I’m not a paragon of equality and political correctness and, honestly, I’ve never dated any one outside of my own race (this probably has more to do with their lack of interest than mine… which is actually a trend that seems to transcend all races at the moment.)  But honey, I work at it every damn day.  I don’t think anything Anonymous’ gay black friends said at that dinner party sunk in.  I get the distinct impression that Anonymous hasn’t been paying attention.    And I’m pretty sure he’s not the only one.

Sometimes, my fellow white gay men make me uneasy.

A few months ago, I had a one-night stand with a white man.  Let’s call him Cranston.  (Prepare yourselves for a bad date story because I can’t help myself!)  This isn’t something I do often.  I met Cranston at a bar.  He was relatively funny and looked vaguely like a man from Michigan I once loved.  So I invited him back to my place.

We were in my room and I started asking him probing questions in an attempt to get to know him better. (I’m really bad at these casual encounters.)  Eventually, we started sharing our coming out stories and talked about our families because seriously I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

He told me coming out was challenging because his family is “very small minded.”  Sure, I get that.  My coming out was a struggle too.  But he insisted his family is worse than mine or anyone else’s for that matter.   Then to demonstrate how bigoted they are he tells me this charming anecdote about a family party where his grandfather went on a racist rant.  And in order to further prove his point, Cranston dropped at least 4 N-bombs recounting Pop-pop’s tirade right there in my boudoir.

I delivered a side eye so wicked, my cats scurried under the bed.  Aware that he said something wrong, Cranston looked confusedly at my cross face and said, “What? That word? It’s ok. I’m not a racist, I’m gay.”

Alllllrriiiight.

Let’s decode the meaning behind his cryptic choice of words, shall we?  The idealist in me wanted to believe the subtext was, “Please understand that now being a part of a marginalized group, I am critically aware of systems of oppression.  I decided to appropriate that word so I may further the discourse of hate speech.  I meant no harm or disrespect.  I’m sorry.”

But I wonder if what he was really saying was “Hey man, we’re minorities now.  We have license to say anything we want because we’re in the Oppressed Peoples club.  We get it what it’s like.  Don’t be so offended.”

But, really?  We were two people, absolute strangers, and he made an assumption that he could freely use that word because somehow the fact that we were two gay men together granted us that permission.

This isn’t the first conversation I’ve had like this.   And so I worry.

We, as gay people, understand oppression.  I starting noticing my attraction to men at puberty, I had my first gay experience when I was 17 and didn’t come out until I was almost 21.  In all that time, external factors of my environment made me afraid and ashamed to admit who I was.   That is a system of oppression.

But our queer identity is quite unique when you look at other marginalized people.  For many of us, it’s not something that is necessarily visible.   Stick with me for a minute.

For a number of years I worked in a coffee shop in a massive office building.  Every day, I would serve hundreds of 9-5ers, many of whom were much older and had probably not interacted with (m)any gay people.  I’m not particularly masculine; I’m usually gesticulating with my hands too much and referencing some broadway show or pop diva in conversation.  I sit into my hips when I stand.  And yet, I could regale you with countless stories of when a male customer would make an inappropriate comment about my female coworkers and their attractiveness when they weren’t around or of when a female customer thought that my lady coworker and I would make a cute couple.

They were so conditioned to expect that everyone is just like them that they compulsively assumed I was heterosexual.  I “passed.”

For many of us (but certainly not all), we can tuck away our sexuality.  How many times have you been to a grocery store and some dick drop an F-bomb to his friend at the check out counter?  Do we always confront Joe Dumbdick?  Probably not.  Should we?  Absolutely.  But sometimes, I’m just trying to get my eggs and get on with my day.

We face these little coming out moments every day and sometimes, for the sake of our own convenience, we keep ourselves closeted because ain’t nobody always got time to be teaching life lessons.  But I worry that sometimes those of us who are white gay men forget that in these little moments when we decide to “pass,” we jump back into our seat of white male privilege.

So what am I getting at here?  Opinion pieces like the one written by Anonymous, by a gay white man, horrify me.  Because they make me think that we, white gay men, forget that there are people out there who have it worse than us.  Who undergo more layers of oppression that are far more complex and damaging then our own.

Don’t get me wrong.  Being gay is a struggle for all of us.  We face laws that block our basic freedoms, bullying, being disowned, violence, and a host of other fucked up shit.  And arguing over who has it worse is pointless.  I think most people at some point have a shitty go at life.  The actual amount of people on this planet who have never felt marginalized in some way is probably ridiculously small.  It might just be George Clooney.

But when we, white gay men, come out and accept ourselves for the beautiful creatures we are and join this community of love and support, we are not freed from the responsibility of critically examining our culture and ourselves.  No one is.  So when some Anonymous boy says something as foolish as “I think black men are icky, but I’m totally not a racist for that,” it’s our duty to politely say, “Yes, ma’am, you are.  I love you, but you are.”

We don’t need to run out and have sex with a person of every race like we’re trying to earn our “Egalitarian Lover” badge at the next troupe meeting. (Oh man, if the boy scouts gave out badges like that I might have lasted longer than two meetings.)  But why draw a firm line in the sands of sex and love and declare that one type of person may not pass?   Aren’t we just closing ourselves off to unfathomable possibilities.

Rant, over.

audra mic drop

Because I could never resist this GIF, not in a million years.