Thursday, April 16, 2009

MLK, Homosexuality and Race

“A Gay MLK?”

In his essay, “How Gay Stays White and What Kind of White It Stays,” Allan Berube discusses a privilege that is often forgotten or ignored. Berube uses many examples of how within the GLBT community, Whiteness is heavily rewarded, while those who are “non-white” are severely punished. Berube used the term “gay whitening practices” to describe an incident he witnessed in San Francisco, where the gay club was requiring three forms of photo ids from men of color in efforts to limit their entrance. I just thought that the club example was such a good illustration of how within any given oppressed community, the privileged group feels like they have to or can oppress another.

Berube argues that within the gay community there is a disconnect between people of color (gay or straight) and gay white men; he used the example of gay white navy veteran who had said that activist David Mixner “could be our Martin Luther King…(p.245).” That quote was jarring for me, why couldn’t MLK be for everyone? Because he was black? Because he wasn’t gay? I am always so disappointed when a member of any given community doesn’t see how his or her liberation is tied to mine. The fight for justice is ultimately for all, and if people of color are over here doing their own thing and not worrying about women’s rights or gays, and then the white folks over here aren’t bringing up race because it’s not their thing, then of course we aren’t being productive in achieving social justice.

Bringing up race is such contemptuous subject it seems, and the formation of organizations, clubs, work places and structures by and for White folks makes it even harder for race to be talked about. Berube’s example of the all-White, HIV-negative group that struggled with the lack of men of color present was hard for me to sympathize with. How do they expect gay men of color to be comfortable enough to join a group that wasn’t started with the expectation that men of color would be crucial? I see this happening all over campus where a room full of white students and maybe one or two students of color, and the white students don’t know where the other students of color are. You can’t just throw open the door and expect people to just walk right in, it doesn’t work like that.

Berube writes about his isolation as a gay white male and how he questions his dedication to antiracism. He asks the question: “do gay white men as white men (including myself) have a lasting interest in fighting racism or will we sooner or later retreat to the safety of our gay white refuge (p. 258-9)?” This question was poignant to me and really gave me a lot of insight into the white antiracist activist. I know that it can’t be easy for any white person, regardless of sexual orientation, to struggle with the politics and feelings that antiracism brings up, but I hope that there are more people who are willing to be uncomfortable and do the work that must be done. In my own life, I see many of my gay white friends who think that they are so far removed from racism, and because they are gay, they are the new minority and that racism and gay rights are two different things. Is it really? I don’t think so, because ultimately, we all want justice.

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