I remember watching a gay rights activist on a television interview discussing the importance of “natural alliances” in the struggle for equality. He stated that “African-Americans” were a “natural ally” for gay people as a result of the similarities in our shared experiences. I also remember thinking to myself, “Good luck with that one.”
While Blacks and homosexuals have clearly endured similar injustices and encountered innumerable expressions of hatred and disregard, there is a human tendency, in my opinion, to place one’s own plight and the plight of one’s own people above that of any other group, particularly when the plight has been particularly horrible.
Of course, things get complicated when speaking of people who belong to more than one historically oppressed group (i.e. Black women, gay Blacks, Sammy Davis, Jr., and so forth); however, even under those circumstances one group tends to insist that the individual choose a side, as it were. And what about those sides? Why must we assume that gay people aren’t racist? There are non-black gay people who could careless or want to be bothered by the same struggles their black “counterparts” go through.
In an article for the New York Daily News entitled “Gay Really is the New Black,” John McWhorter discusses homophobia in the Black community in particular and outlines how Blacks can and should participate in the struggle for gay rights.
He states, “One way we will know black America has fulfilled its responsibility in keeping the struggle alive for others is when (celebrity) figures … can own up to themselves in public — and their fellow black Americans are okay with it.”
He was speaking, specifically, of three unnamed, supposedly “closeted” Black celebrities, insisting that Wanda Sykes, Don Lemon, and Frank Ocean are simply not famous enough for their comings out to be impactful.
While I do agree that Black people should be empathetic to our gay brethren and should participate in the struggle, I believe that Mr. McWhorter makes a pretty weak argument. As much as I wish that Mr. Mother Dear and the chubby cover girl would proclaim their obvious sexual preferences from the mountaintops, we need to stop looking to celebrities for cues about what is right and wrong. Black people need to think critically and be reasonable about the topic.
We need to recognize that, although we built this country, we are still treated as unwelcome guests and that feels pretty awful. Well, guess what: gay people get treated the same way, and it feels pretty shitty to them, too. We need to stop hollering about “sin” and other nonsense. If you’re a believer, that will all work itself out, and judge not yada yada yada.
So, what do you think? Do we as Black people have a “responsibility” to participate in the struggle for gay rights, or are the differences in our histories too great to put that expectation upon us?