You Can't Stop the Beat
PICTURE IT… THANKSGIVING 2015…
My then-boyfriend and I were celebrating with my family at my mother’s new home. My two brothers and their respective spouses/families joined us, as well as my baby brother’s in-laws. We ate, we laughed, we watched television, we ate some more, and of course, with any family gathering, we had conversation. Being that it was Thanksgiving, we played that classic game of saying what we were thankful for (I know, being thankful on Thanksgiving… GROUNDBREAKING).
My brother’s mother-in-law said she was thankful to live in a country where everyone was free and seen as equal. As much as I loved her sentiment, I responded by saying that we live in a country where women made less money than men and that Gay people were still ostracized. WELL, that did not go over well, and I was told that I should be grateful to live in a country where I am not stoned or thrown off of a building for loving another man. I agreed that we, as Americans, had more freedom than other countries, but that it wasn’t THAT much greater. For example, Gay people had just gotten the right to marry several months prior, as opposed to Straight people, who never had to fight for it.
The conversation went back and forth for a bit longer until my mother finally stopped it, because “there were children present.” Shortly after that, my then-boyfriend and I left to attend another Thanksgiving gathering. Little did I know, that get together would be the last one I would have with my family. Although my family has continued to have a relationship with my baby brother’s in-laws, they cut communication with me for a full year. There was a single text a year later asking to start over and to come again for Thanksgiving dinner, but by then, the damage was done, and I declined. By that point, I had decided that my family didn’t get to pick and choose when I was part of it, and as much as I wished them well, it was just better to distance myself from them.
Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have told this story before about a million and one times. So, I’m pretty sure you are now wondering why I am bringing it up AGAIN. In fact, I was recently asked by a relative on Facebook why I always have to bring up the “Gay thing.” At the time, I was beyond outraged at their ignorance, but the more I sat and thought about it, I felt that the question, as well as the response I got from my brother’s mother-in-law years prior, both came from a place of privilege.
For those who don’t know, the definition of the word privilege is “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.” It’s a term that has come up a lot in conversation lately. A loose example of this would be an employer who brags about being part of the 1% and cuts their employee’s salaries, and then is outraged that these same employees, who survive paycheck to paycheck, are not happy with the cut and responds with “they should just be grateful to still have a job.” Being that they brag about things like their multiple homes and vacations, the employer could never understand, nor is in any position to say how their employees should feel.
It dawned on me that someone who is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community would not understand what it was like to be ostracized for loving someone of the same sex. Or having people use religion as an excuse to just hate for no real reason. Or being put through conversion therapy to “un-gay” themselves. Or fight for the same rights that our straight counterparts have. Again, Gays were given the right to marry FIVE YEARS AGO. There are groups out there that petition for a Straight Pride in response to Gay Pride. And currently, we are dealing with a man (and I use that term LIGHTLY) in a position of power who just took medical benefits away from the Trans community and is pushing for adoption agencies to NOT ALLOW Gay couples to adopt. They never had to deal with being harassed on the street, or in my case, being bashed and raped.
So as much as a Straight person wants to be an ally to the community, and as much as the community welcomes and appreciates their support, their experiences will always be different than that of a Gay person. Unless you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, then you will never fully understand homophobia or transphobia. This is not meant as a dig. There is just a certain privilege that comes with being Straight. That’s just the way it is.
Of course, this only applies to people who actually want to be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community. Unfortunately, I do not believe in either of the instances I mentioned earlier, that the people involved care to be an ally to the community or asked out of concern or genuine interest. Things have been said and posted on social media to make me think otherwise.
I’m sure you are wondering where I’m going with this, and I’m about to tell you…
Last week, I was in one of the Gay Facebook groups I belong to, and a member asked if being part of a marginalized group (in this case, being Gay) helped any of us relate to what Black people were going through in this country right now. Surprisingly, many of the members said no, including myself. For me, even as someone who has experienced being hated for no good reason, being a Gay White man gives me certain allowances that even my Gay Black contemporaries do not receive. Case in point, the murder rate of members of the Black Trans community is on the rise in this country more than any other group within the LGBTQ+ community.
As much as I would like to believe that I am an ally to the Black community, I will never understand what it is like to be hated solely for the color of my skin. Or understand walking into a store and being immediately followed on a suspicion of shoplifting. Or understand leaving my house and fearing that I will be stopped by a cop, or worse, killed by one. As a Gay White man, I cannot even begin to fathom what it’s like to be a Black man or woman in this country. And I would never pretend to understand either. You see, in this instance, I am the one who is privileged. Again, this is not meant as a dig. That’s just the way it is.
After the murder of George Floyd, many conversations were started about what we, as a people, could do in this moment to create the change we wanted to see in this world. Many suggestions were made; signing petitions, donating money, protesting and posting across social media in support of the Black community, just to name a few. In my opinion, as a member of the privileged, this is the least that I, or any of us, could do. But I also wondered what else someone like me, who doesn’t understand what it is like to be hated solely for their skin tone, could do to bring about change?
One night, I was sitting on the couch and talking to my husband about what has been going on in the world, as well as what was going on in my head, and it dawned on me what I could personally contribute as a White man. The first thing was to actually acknowledge that I am given certain allowances solely based on my skin tone. By doing so, I also acknowledge that we are not all equal under the law like we are brought up to believe. That, along with the belief that nobody should be less than anyone else, makes what is being fought for even more real and important.
The second part was to really look at the community I grew up in and the way I was raised. Growing up, the community had ways of talking about people they felt were different; Gay people were referred to as Lot 6 (don’t ask me why) and Black people were called Abeed. After a few years of Hebrew school, I realized that the term Abeed was a derivative of the Hebrew word for servant, which made me uncomfortable. This realization was important for me to acknowledge because no matter how much of an ally I want to be to the Black community, I, as does most of this country, have some old, hidden biases that were taught at an early age, and needs to be examined.
Another thing I could do was to educate myself on Black history and culture. After reading comments made by some people regarding civil rights in America, I began to see that, much like me, they were taught that slaves were brought here from Africa and that Lincoln freed the slaves, because they believed that Black people were equal to White people once the Civil War ended. Although it is true that slavery was abolished in 1865, it wasn’t until 1964 that the Civil Rights Act was passed, which is almost ONE HUNDRED years after slavery was abolished. During those one hundred years, segregation and lynching was a norm, and used to keep Black people down. And even after the Civil Rights Act was passed, Black people still had to deal with racism. Just look at what’s going on today, which is FIFTY-SIX years since it’s passing. It’s mind boggling to me why it seems that many people don’t know, or acknowledge, this?
What’s sad to me is that I’m not even referring to learning about important historical Black figures, like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte or Oprah Winfrey, or about things like the Underground Railroad or Juneteenth, or reading the works of Black authors like Maya Angelou, Alice Walker or Terry McMillan. I’m simply talking about BASIC BLACK AMERICAN HISTORY, which in actuality is part of AMERICAN HISTORY. By not teaching these things, our country is basically saying that this part of our countries’ history was/is not as important. There’s an expression that we must learn from history or we are doomed to repeat it. Well how can we learn from history if we’re not even being taught it?
While I am on the subject of history, can I please point out that most of the changes that have come about in American history involved some form of protest or riot. Women took to the streets and picketed for equal rights throughout the years. The Gay Rights Movement began in 1969 with the Stonewall Riots. And let’s not forget that the road to America’s freedom from Great Britain began with both the Boston Massacre and the Boston Tea Party. So, both peaceful protests and acts of rioting are built into the tapestry that is this country.
The last thing I realized I could do was to begin having conversations and confronting bigotry head on, even if it meant calling out a person I considered a friend or was related to. Unfortunately, just because you love a person or they seem nice, it doesn’t mean that they can’t be prejudiced. One thing I have come to learn, and this is solely my opinion based on personal experience, is when somebody starts a conversation with I am not racist/homophobic/transphobic/etc., they more than likely are. I have also found that those same people also post comments on social media that diminish marginalized groups, but for some reason, those postings are kept to their personal pages. In my opinion, if they feel that strongly, and there’s no shame in their game, then they should make their opinions public so the world could see how they feel. Or better yet, if they are business owners, they should post their opinions to their business page or website, so their customers see how they feel about certain subjects. Don’t you agree?
One response people have made since the Black Lives Matter protests began was that All Lives Matter. WELL DUH! There’s never been a debate nor has anyone questioned that all lives matter, but not all lives are persecuted solely based on the color of their skin. By making it about everyone, these people are diminishing what the Black community is dealing with. It’s along the lines of saying I don’t see color. It seems great in theory, but the point is to actually recognize the diversity and all it represents.
Another comment I personally have seen on a “friend’s” Facebook page was George Floyd’s murder was wrong, but… I tried to have a conversation with this person, and they tried to explain to me that they are related to police officers. My response was UMMM, THERE IS NO “BUT!” Using that word basically negates the murder, and even gives a reason why the murder was justified. How do you justify murder?
But out of all the conversations I have found on social media, the one I found most fascinating was when people would say how wrong it was that people were protesting for Black Lives Matter because they were spreading the Coronavirus by not social distancing, but the White protestors who stood outside of various capital buildings with all kinds of weaponry had the right to do so because their rights were being taken away by being forced to wear a mask. YES, YOU READ THAT CORRECTLY. I tend to respond with are you seriously comparing protesting about wearing a mask to being killed, to which I usually get the reply, oh, you just don’t get it. And they are absolutely right, because YOU CAN’T ARGUE WITH STUPID. And while we are on this subject, if you want to argue that you cannot wear a mask while you are outside because you can’t breathe with it on, imagine having a person’s knee on the back of your neck for almost nine minutes and let me know if you can breathe then.
By normalizing conversations about race, especially within a predominantly non-Black community, you open a dialogue with someone you may not see eye to eye with. I’m not saying it will be easy or there will be a resolution, but at the very least, you learn about the person you are dealing with, along with their values. It takes more strength and courage to have a conversation with someone you don’t agree with than to just unfollow them and act like they don’t exist. I personally have somebody in my life who would rather believe that I follow the “liberal agenda,” as they call it, instead of having an actual conversation with me about my opinion on any given topic. This person has judged me solely based on the fact that I don’t like our current president, and yet has probably had less than a handful of conversations with me in all the years that we’ve known each other.
So here I am, still part of the privileged, but hopefully a little bit wiser. I stand with the Black community and welcome conversation because it’s the only way to learn and grow, not only as a person, but as a people. I’m not going to kid myself, or anyone else here, by saying that things are going to get better anytime soon. The reality is that although we have made strides when it comes to equality, we also fall back into old habits very quickly and easily. This country has a LONG way to go before ALL of its citizens are seen as equal, including its female, LGBTQ+ and Black communities. But I do believe by working together towards a common goal, we will eventually end up on the RIGHT side of history and change this country for the better.
PS: one way to create the change you want to see in this country is by VOTING. If you have not registered to vote yet, please click here.
© 2020 Sebastian Kern