On Wednesday, the same day as the Charleston, South Carolina terrorist attack on a black church near the central tourist district, I received an email from a young black college student that broke my heart. Usually I get emails from people seeking sex advice, relationship advice, and sometimes there’s an email or 50 from people who want to tell me how much they hate me. But this email really made me mad.
It came from a young black gay college student in a major metropolitan area who said he desperately wanted to get out of the country when he graduated.
“Have you ever been to London?” he asked, perhaps unaware that I live there.
“I’m scared to stay in America because of the racial issues,” he said.
This made me really mad, mad that young black boys don’t feel safe in their own country and that young black gay boys don’t feel desired there, either.
He told me he felt completely ignored and undesirable as a black gay man living and trading in the mainstream gay marketplace of desire, and he told me he felt unsafe as a black man living in the United States.
The part that hurts is that, actually, he’s not wrong:
You can’t protest if you’re black in America.
You can’t see yourself on TV if you’re black in America.
You can’t be a kid if you’re black in America.
You can’t shop if you’re black in America.
You can barely date if you’re black in America.
You can’t be a professor if you’re black in America.
You can’t be a model if you’re black in America.
You can’t wear a hoodie if you’re black in America.
You can’t buy expensive clothes if you’re black in America.
You can’t pray if you’re black in America.
You’re easily a racial stereotype if you’re black in America.
You can’t be in a movie if you’re black in America.
You can’t be a bottom if you’re black and gay in America.
You can’t complain about a real race issue that bothers you if you’re black in America.
When I saw his email my stomach dropped because it’s a narrative I’m all too familiar with. You read about it in all the black cultural studies courses. The promise of a better life abroad is the same reason I left the country and have absolutely no desire to come back, and it’s the same reason I was fascinated by Nina, James, Richard, Josephine and other black artists who found a wider and better life for themselves in Europe.
This is not to say that Europe is better. Europe is different. There is racism in Europe. There is prejudice in Europe. Not every brown person can move to Europe.
So in my email reply I told him he should leave America not to escape or run from racism because it is everywhere but to run to find himself.
Still, it makes me sick to my stomach to know that young black boys in college feel so smothered by the oppressive regime of racism in the United States that they actually feel they would be safer abroad.
Think hard about this email the next time you think “sexual racism” isn’t a thing or that race doesn’t matter.