24 November 2008

on being invisible

The last few weeks, post-election, have been intriguing & disturbing to me for a number of reasons: the blame game for prop 8 in California with Black people as the scapegoats; the media trying to talk about this issue but failing miserably (for the most part) & pitting 'Blacks' against 'Gays'; and the invisibility of Black LGBTQ people in these debates.

After I read Kai Wright's thought-provoking article "Blaming Blacks for Prop 8" on The Root, I immediately sent it to my friends and posted it on my facebook profile because I thought it did an excellent job of calling out both racism in white LGBTQ communities and homophobia in Black communities, while at the same time pointing out the obvious - there are LGBTQ Black people. I want to take this point further and not only support Wright's call for white LGBTQ communities to do a better job of reaching out to people of color AND also for Black communities to really discuss sexuality, BUT ALSO suggest here that we need to talk about what "civil rights" mean at this particular moment and at the same time deal with the reality of homophobia.

In order to do this work, we must stop referring to civil rights as what Black people have "won" on the one hand and what LGBTQ are still fighting for on the other. This makes it seem as if the struggle for civil rights (for Black people) is over - when this is clearly not the case - AND this does not account for people who experience multiple forms of oppression (i.e. for example, being Black, female, queer, and working class). If we talk about what the struggle for civil rights continue to mean for communities of color and marginalized groups around the United States (and other parts of the world), then we can build/create much needed collaborations (building alliances across difference as the great Audre Lorde says) and make spaces for people who exist in two or more communities.

To do this work, we must also talk about different kinds of oppression and highlight that all oppression is not equal oppression, nor do systems of oppression operate the same. Racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia are NOT the same. Certainly, systems of oppression are inter-connected and feed on each other. But there are differences that must be acknowledged (and privilege must also be recognized, whether it be white, male, class, light-skin, or heterosexual).

If we think about what it means for ALL people to be full and effective citizens in the world (and in the nations where we live), then it may help us to push the boundaries and breakdown the divides that separate us. We need to challenge ourselves and our communities to talk seriously about race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, and nationality. We all have multiple identities even if/when we identify more closely with one over another. And so we may (and will) disagree about many things in terms of our beliefs and ideologies. But is there a way for us who have common & progressive goals and visions for the future to meet, talk, debate, and organize? Let's say we want to fight for jobs, health care, safer neighborhoods, and good schools, then don't we find a way to work across the divides of say religion, race, gender, and/or culture?

Many organizations and communities do this kind of work - meaning set aside differences in terms of beliefs/morals/religion and fight for a specific cause or the bigger picture (human rights, social justice, equality). But this doesn't happen enough and morality along with belief systems can be mobilized to take away rights and work against equality. As a number of articles have pointed out in the past couple weeks, religion and various churches have played major roles in the passing of anti-gay legislation around the country. And some Black communities in particular tend to use religion (Christianity & the Bible) as the reason for homophobia.

So this brings me to some big questions: How can Black communities effectively talk about sexuality, homophobia, and same-sex marriage? (particularly in the face of more pressing issues of education, prison, policing, economic crisis, and the daily realities of racism)? How do we stop the silence and denial? How do we begin the conversation among people who have different beliefs? Can someone be Black, Christian, and straight AND be a LGBTQ ally? Can we all support same-sex marriage as a civil & legal right regardless of our religious or moral beliefs? Can someone be Black and LGBTQ and not "believe" in gay marriage? BUT perhaps still support it in legal terms?

How do those of us who are both Black and LGBTQ become visible? Do we have to be like Wanda Sykes and come out in public ways, meaning in our own communities and families? (Wanda is a celebrity, so her "public" is arguably larger than ours.) Can we be safe and visible? How do we talk about hate crimes and violence happening to 'visible' Black (and of color) gay men, lesbians, and transgenders? Why are so many of these acts of violence coming from Black men? And finally how do we talk about these issues in a diasporic context (thinking about the Caribbean and Africa - with different yet similar issues)?

These are the many questions and debates going on in my head... I have no answers, only more questions... hoping for open & honest conversations that will create and sustain acceptance of difference. I know it will be a struggle. And I struggle with how to be in this struggle as a Black Queer woman who may not be 'visibly' Black & Queer to most. I struggle with how to describe my feminist ideologies and beliefs that sustain me and keep me in the struggle for social justice, which includes an end to sexist, gender, and racial oppression. I struggle with how to explain that I believe feminism will save us as long as it is anti-racist, class-conscious, and queer. I struggle with how to fight against all that marks me as invisible and the fear of being visible.


Unknown said...

My response is brief. Thank you for articulating and circulating the debates and continued issues that confront many of us. As far as visibility is concerned, it seems to me that staying in the fight--whatever & wherever that means for you-- is the best way to be visible. Let your work speak and your impact (on various levels of connection) will be its own type of visibility, its own end.

lawanliss said...

This is a fascinating argument one built on the hopes that all gay women bear. And this hope has left so many of us pregnant and giving birth to the trauma. This is the effect of silence and the effect of the ignorance of christianity.

However, it is funny to note that the struggles that face America after integration still come in the shape of racism. I wonder now what would have happened if the UNIA had an effect on civil rights instead of NAACP.

Now there you are fighting this struggle in this openly gay society of the United States of America, whilst other people struggle in the Caribbean esp Jamaica where the only thing the brings this nation together politically and intellectually is to divide and destroy sexuality either through the de-constructing music and a rigid ideology of bun-ing a fire on gays.

I pray that the fight continues till the hatred and the confounded stupidity stop.

Fight the struggle. We need sister like you in the war to motivate those who have grown comfortable with complacency and nonchalance.

With that thank you for inspiring thought

Ephemeral Lover said...

Reading this, I can't help but think about the ways that "invisibility" also wields its own power...for instance, in this violent moment when
queer bodies are being distinguished because of homophobia, the ability to blend in,to possess an unreadable body, becomes a way to escape unharmed...in the church, our meticulous absence, either mentally or physically, becomes a way to avoid the violent rhetoric that excludes us, Adam and Steve, Eve and Ada, from the myth of creation...those in the public eye--our celebrities--can escape the troubles that a fan might have with a songwriter whose muse may be of the same sex, a fan disgusted only after learning that they are singing a song that slipped from same-gender-loving lips...in all of these instances, i notice the power of maintaining a kind of invisibility...as the bible says "to be absent from the body (rather
the body of believers or the body politic) is to be present with God"--whoever that might be--understand that those lost in this violent and fragmentary translation of culture from one of homophobia to one of peace are martyrs; that those who are absent from the church body can have a direct relationship with God as he has provided a place in his presence; or, those whose rhythm and blues came from not being able to fully articulate their love, their songs are sacred and holy. However, we know that the power of invisibility is a privilege--one not afforded to all LBGTQ people. Oppression, as Angelique says, is not the same for everyone or everywhere.