I’m Black, Gay, and Frustrated — Deal with It
If the truth hurts, the forecast calls for (more) pain.
A comment on my recent essay “Underprivileged Blacks, Patronizing Whites” got me thinking about how tough life must be for straight white men. According to this one, I can get a little mean when I vent as a gay black man.
Why don’t I mince my words? Why don’t I put on some kid gloves or maybe just hug it out? Isn’t there a nice way to talk about race and racism that won’t make white folks feel bad? Their feelings, he seemed to say, are more important than mine.
Like many straight white men before him, he just doesn’t get it, and I get why. (If you’re a straight white man who does get it, this part isn’t about you.)
They don’t know what it feels like for a black person in a society that undervalues blacks. They don’t know what it feels like for a gay person in a society that undervalues gays. They don’t know what it feels like for a girl/woman in a society that undervalues female.
So whenever the undervalued talk about how the actions of the privileged affect them, sometimes the latter would rather close their ears and eyes: We don’t feel your pain, so can we please talk about something else?
The aforementioned reader tried to paint me as a bully because I dared to speak my truth, because I dared to express disappointment with how some white people patronizingly treat minorities. In his point of view, my calling out the words of a specific and select few somehow demonizes the entire white race. I’m the problem, and whites are my victims.
He threw in a few references to the current #MeToo/Time’s Up climate, which, as he apparently sees it, also has made victims out of straight men.
All I could think as I read his “Poor me/us” routine was, Spoken like a true beneficiary of privilege who has never had all the cards stacked against him due to the arbitrariness of nature.
You don’t turn all white people into monsters by criticizing the misguided words and deeds of some of them. And changing my tone (which I felt was more respectful and diplomatic than the offended reader’s) won’t change my frustration.
Anyone who is familiar with the breadth of my work here, on Queerty, on HuffPost, on The Root, and elsewhere knows that while -isms and -phobias are my primary targets, I don’t let black people off the hook. I don’t let gay people off the hook. I don’t let women off the hook. And most importantly, I don’t let myself off the hook.
I probably would make everyone feel more comfortable if I accentuated only the positive — “How to Be Fabulous and Almost 50,” perhaps — but that’s not the sort of self-improvement that interests me on most days. I’d rather get people thinking about their own actions and attitudes by calling out the actions and attitudes of others and, sometimes, of myself.
While every reader has the right to respond to my words as they see fit, I will continue to write about the oppression of black people, of gay people, of women, of all underprivileged groups, often by straight white men, though not always. I will continue to call out tone deafness until we’re all not only hearing but listening, too.
Everyone is free to bypass my articles and read something less confrontational. Or they can just listen and maybe learn.
For years, I felt the need to throw in my POV whenever women spoke about their lives as women. I wasn’t anything like the men who made them feel like crap. Why weren’t they making allowances for good ole boys like me?
Then I realized it’s not about me. It’s about them. I started to listen without feeling compelled to weigh in, without telling them how to feel or how to express themselves. I’ve never learned so much.
By trying to manage the way the underprivileged talk about and feel about the bigoted, the insensitive, the patronizing, and the tone deaf, you don’t challenge or change our disappointment. You justify it.