Michael Sam, race, sexual orientation, and commodities
The news that top NFL prospect Michael Sam, defensive lineman of the Missouri Tigers, came out of the closet and expressed his desire to be the first openly gay NFL player has elicited many responses.
Of course not all of them are positive and unfortunately, some came from the lgbt community.
On Monday, I read (and subsequently posted a link to) a Huffington Post article about the 18 worst reactions to the coming out of Missouri College football player Michael Sam.
I posted a comment in answer to someone who took it upon themselves to use the situation to play armchair psychologist and proclaim the African-American community intrinsically homophobic. My response got some people not exactly happy at me. I rolled eyes when reading their responses while thinking “here we go again.”
I hardly talk about how some lgbts take situations like Sam’s coming out and combine anecdotal evidence (in this case the number of ugly tweets coming from African-Americans) to suddenly declare black people to be the standard of community homophobia. I find these individuals’ lack of common sense to be annoying and their immediate reaction to be indicative of how unfortunately some in the lgbt community are always so ready to react rather than think things through. And you know how it is when some of us lgbts get into that mode of “righteous indignation.” Even Jesus can’t calm us down.
One would think that folks would refrain from making rash generalizations in lieu of the aftermath of the 2008 Prop 8 vote in California. Back then, the false story that black folks led the way in passing that awful law led to an awful community clash and by the time the truth came out, both communities were nursing hurt feelings coming from the exchange of ugly words. And why shouldn’t they? Being called a “ni – - -ger” by an lgbt hurts as equally as being called a “fa—ot” by an African-American
I asked myself why were some folks so quick to attack the black community today over the words of a few ignorant tweets. I think it’s all about a matter of mindsets and priorities. Some lgbts who are quick to call the black community homophobic will easily point to the times in which the anti-gay right is able to corral the black community to oppose marriage equality and other issues of lgbt equality.
But these examples don’t point out homophobia in the black community but rather a certain slack attitude in the lgbt community. Black people are like every other community in that we respond when it comes to issues which affect us. And on that score, the anti-gay right had the lgbt community beat. While they personally engaged the black community and convinced them with lies about children being harmed and Christians being persecuted, some in the lgbt community made – and some still do – make the assumption that the black community will generally come to their side because of our histories of being victims of discrimination. And when their expectations were dashed, some blamed black people instead of themselves for being so inaccurately flippant about what black people will do.
The semantic argument of “oppose discrimination when it happens to gays because you remember how bad it was when it happened to you” was insulting, particularly when the argument was made instead of pointing out how lgbt couples of color with children would benefit from marriage equality or how bullying affects lgbt children of color, particularly transgender children of color.
This was a problem in many ways, particularly the fact that it was duly noted by African-Americans who were on the fence about these issues.
In all honesty, lgbt community has gotten better in engaging the black community since then but there are still problem which engaging just won’t solve. In both the black and lgbt communities, there is an unconscious mindset which tells lgbts of color like myself that we have to sacrifice part of our identities. In other words, neither community seem to know how lgbts of color fit into the current diaspora of either being gay or being black in America. What’s more galling is how both groups choose to address lgbts of color, i.e. by pointing out past achievements. Yes we know that Bayard Rustin was the openly gay black man who organized the 1963 March on Washington and yes we know that black drag queens and lesbians led the way at Stonewall but lgbts of color like myself don’t want validation by past events. We want to see who is doing what now. We want to see ourselves in issues of relevancy in today’s environment and discussions regarding equality. And we want to see those who resemble us in both racial make-up and sexual orientation have a larger voice in both communities when it comes to these issues.
We don’t get that from either community. All we seem to get sometimes is the idea that we are not human beings, but merely commodities to be used further either the struggle for racial equality or lgbt equality. The sad thing is that we can do a lot to further both if just given the chance instead of the generalized brush-off.
With us, there is no “either/or.”