By: Joey Nolfi
Sierra Mannie, it’s time for you to lip sync for your life.
The song you’ve chosen to present to us is a bitter one. The lyrics to “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture” (which can be found by clicking here ) are passionate and fiery, though narrow-minded and ill-informed. They make the point that homosexual Caucasian males don’t have the right to “act black”, as you’ve put it, because they’re white and therefore automatically endowed with a clear path to a long, prosperous, privileged life.
Of course no one has the right to steal or mock someone else’s culture–especially the select few people who undoubtedly do this to black people. It’s wrong. No one is denying that. We all see where you’re coming from and where you started. The problem, however, is that you drove your point into the ground by dragging another culture through the mud by making grand assumptions and insulting generalizations (that derailed your initial point) for the sake of the argument.
But, I’m getting ahead of myself. The first verse of “Dear White Gays” goes a little something like this:
“Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best ‘Shanequa from around the way’ voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.”
That sounds incredibly spiteful, but I don’t blame you after the harsh critique you’ve received from the judges. Your runway outfit was, however, falling apart at the seams, my dear, and now the hem of your critique is tattered and ankle-length, when it could benefit from a bit more time, experience, and craftsmanship to extend it to the length of full red carpet realness.
Perhaps you should stop laying claim to all inequality and all struggle. You belong to neither exclusively. Struggle isn’t yours alone. You do not get to revel in your inequality only to use it as a license to box in other similarly-oppressed people. “White gays” as a whole are not the problem in this picture. You do not get to use and objectify inequality as an exclusive accessory, and as a tool to write edgy think-pieces that insult instead of inspire. You objectify things such as race and gender and take it upon yourself to make assumptions about ALL gay white males and define the lines. You’re segregating. The only thing “Dear White Gays” says is “You can only sit here. You can’t sit there,” though the factors you cite (Madea, Beyonce, names, an inflection of the voice) do not belong to or represent the black community exclusively. Still, this does not give someone the right to marginalize a black woman by assuming she’ll respond more positively if she’s called “girl” in casual conversation, and I truly believe that’s what you’re trying to say in “Dear White Gays,” it just gets lost in the steam of your anger.
The second verse is just as grating as the first, but still you make your best attempts at lip-synching through what you think you’re supposed to be saying, doing, and defending:
“Black people can’t have anything. Any of these things include, but aren’t limited to: a general sense of physical safety, comfort with law enforcement, adequate funding and appreciation for black spaces like schools and neighborhoods, appropriate venues for our voices to be heard about criticism of issues without our race going on trial because of it, and solid voting rights (cc: Chris McDaniel).”
“At the end of the day, if you are a white male, gay or not, you retain so much privilege. What is extremely unfairly denied you because of your sexuality could float back to you, if no one knew that you preferred the romantic and sexual company of men over women. (You know what I’m talking about. Those “anonymous” torsos on Grindr, Jack’d and Adam4Adam, show very familiar heterosexual faces to the public.) The difference is that the black women with whom you think you align so well, whose language you use and stereotypical mannerisms you adopt, cannot hide their blackness and womanhood to protect themselves the way that you can hide your homosexuality. We have no place to hide, or means to do it even if we desired them.”
I advise you to tell this assertion of black struggle over the struggle of others to Matthew Shephard. Hit a road block? That’s because he’s dead. Murdered in Laramie, Wyoming for his sexuality, for inciting a “gay panic” in two heterosexual males who took it upon themselves to end his life after inserting themselves into his with only violent intentions coursing through their veins. Matthew Shephard made no attempts to hide who he was. Hiding is dangerous. Silence is death, but dying as a victim of an ignorance-fueled crime–as who he was, refusing to change for anyone at the risk of his own life–is valiance in the face of injustice and hatred.
Tell this to all the gay men who are called “faggot” as they walk down the street. Tell them that your struggle is worse than theirs. Tell this to the gay people in your life who have to endure a colleague, a coworker, or a classmate saying something is “so gay” because they lack the empathy and vocabulary to describe something for what it really is, tedious and vapid.
Tell this to the gay men and women of states like Texas, Florida, and your very own Mississippi that do not offer any state level protection to LGBT employees.
Your “us-versus-them” rhetoric is dangerous. I think your intention was an “all-of-us” one, but your lack of empathy painted you into a corner and left you there.
The point is not to equate the black struggle with the gay struggle in every instance (there are varying degrees to both), but instead to embrace our differences and find community in shared oppression and acknowledge that regardless of whatever group society has assigned us to, we are all fighting a battle. Racism exists. It’s terrilble. Sexism exists. It’s terrible. This diversity in our collective, shared experiences as Americans being oppressed by the majority is what makes our culture as a nation so powerful. This shared struggle and mutual respect for one another is what it means to be American. No one is demeaning the struggle of any particular race—certainly not yours, as black people have had it hard over the years—and that means you shouldn’t demean the struggle of others, because ignoring the gay struggle makes your argument (that cultural appropriation is wrong) get lost in the process.
How you have written your opinions on white gays as fact is so problematic. You have no place or authority to tell others how to live their lives or how to endure their struggle. You do not get to say that your struggle is more important than someone else’s just because you’ve encountered a few assholes along the way. One group’s oppression is no less valid than another group’s because of the color of their skin. You don’t have to keep score because Americans have been working hard to promote equality to make sure no one has to. You say “black people can’t have anything,” but I don’t think that is fair to the members of a community who have worked hard to succeed.
Especially people like Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Mo’Nique, and Hattie McDaniel. These Americans prove that black people can have Academy Awards. Whoopi Goldberg, Lupita Nyong’o, and Maya Angelou prove that black women can make it in industries that are dominated by white men and dictated by the male preference. Barack Obama’s presidency proves that our country is breaking down walls and changing the future of diversity in America for the better. He is proof that black people can have the most powerful position in the world.
To say that black people can’t have anything is to demean the leaps and bounds by those who have fought to achieve. Your words demean the accomplishments and perseverance of an entire race of people for the sake of grinding your axe over the way a few men (who happened to be gay and white) talked on Vine the last time you scrolled through it.
The characters you drop in “Dear White Gays,” the “attitude” you cite, and the stereotypes you acknowledge are only your perceived notion of what black culture is. On what day and at what conference did every black person decide that Madea was an ideal representative of the community?
Let me tell you this: Madea is not only a camp character, she is a heterosexual black male dressing in societally-coded “female” attire; essentially, Madea (and Tyler Perry, the man under the wig) is appropriating the quintessentially multi-racial, multi-cultural, all-inclusive umbrella that is the art of drag.
No one talks about drag being filtered through the lens of straight culture to fit the “tastes” of the black culture you assume elevated Madea to some level of universal representation for the black community. Still, Madea as a character reduces drag to a cheap joke. Look at the funny man in the funny dress. Yet, drag culture perseveres. Drag culture endures. Drag culture ignores this sort of trivial squabbling about what belongs where and who can do what.
Would you be offended if I used the cast of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” using every opportunity they have to talk about “shade” as a means to springboard a campaign against all black women to stop appropriating queer drag culture and its vernacular? (Hint: You’ve done it yourself in “Dear White Gays.”) I ask you to re-visit Paris Is Burning and think twice before you consider using the terms “shade” and “truth tea” before you write a piece about appropriating another’s culture.
But, even still, it’s ok. The gay community will not attack you for finding worth in something from their culture.
The bottom line is that things you cite as being “black” are superficial at most. A name. A movie character. An accent or way of speaking. A bit more life experience will teach you that being a part of something–whether racial, sexual, spiritual, or just plain human–is more than skin deep. It’s seeing the man under the wig, but still giving him two snaps and a crisp dollar bill for celebrating the dynamism of his taste without labeling it as appropriation in a reactionary bout of masked hatred.
Back to the stage. It’s almost over. Your lace-front is receding as you dip into the final bars of the song. You’re beat. You’ve lip-synched for your life. You’re sweating before the judges. The heel on your studded Jimmy Choo is giving out. But was it enough? Was throwing the gay white male struggle under the bus for the sake of promoting your own prejudice—thinly disguised as a critique of what a few gay white men have done—worth it?
Won’t you rip off the drag and strip away the ugliness you wrote and understand the acceptance of struggles other than your own? Or will you hang on to the faint, dated chorus of “Dear White Gays”? Either way, you’re going to have to join the ranks of all the queens–male and female–that have struggled before you, regardless of race, color, or sexuality.
Your points about cultural appropriation are valid. Of course someone who is white cannot possibly understand the full extent of the racial injustices black Americans must endure on a daily basis. No one is denying that. However, your critique of gay male culture and your insistence on making grand assumptions and assertions over the entirety of it is nothing but ignorance in bad, click-bait day drag with horrible foundation and a bad Shangela blend.
Now, sashay away.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @joeynolfi