This week, Time Magazine syndicated an essay by a young woman named Sierra Mannie titled, “Dear Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture.” It’s a great read filled with refreshing and original rhetoric about privilege and oppression, and Sierra does a great job of thinking big girl thoughts that she learned in big girl school.
To be honest, I love reading about privilege. I thought I’d be tired of it by now, but I just keep coming back! There’s really nothing I enjoy more than someone using Time magazine as a soap box to tell me about how they’re systematically silenced. It plays into my white guilt, makes me feel bad about myself, and it allows me to pretend I’m thinking critically about who I am and delude myself into believing I’m improving and doing something with my day. But, the very best part is that I can take that indignation and use it when I scold others about their own privilege. It gives me more fuel with which I can power my brow-beating machine when I discuss these things with my white friends.
Young Ms. Mannie uses her platform of silence to publically call out, “white gays,” for stealing “black female” culture. After reading her carefully thought out screed in which she “spills truth tea” (a euphemism that at first felt odd and contrived until I realized it was cultural and deserving of reverence) on homosexual white men, I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. I really hate the way all gay white men act like all black women.
You see, as a white person, I often sit and fantasize about a situation where I’m surrounded by minorities and they’re all telling me I’m cool and hip and that I “get it.” They take turns saying that I’m not like other white people, that I understand their struggle, and that I’m allowed to listen to jazz and say the n-word. There I am, at the center of the table, like Jesus at the Last Supper, as my super friends impart on me a bit of their identity, and I become a universal woman; white in appearance and social status, but of color in soulfulness and understanding. It’s one of my favorite day dreams.
But, either due to a lack of imagination or perhaps my lack of exposure to actual black women or homosexual white men, the racist and homophobic caricatures I’ve constructed of these groups often become muddled, and I struggle to create sufficiently distinct fantasies of them in my head.
Everyone knows that gay white men don’t have distinct personalities or interests. They’re just carefully curated pastiches of things black women enjoy, campy trinkets, and cavalier attitudes towards their HIV status. We hear “gay white male” and we immediately picture Stanley Tucci sashaying through an apartment as Beyonce plays, critiquing the furniture with a comically ironic urban flair as DVD copies of Pink Flamingos fall out of his pockets. He probably has AIDS, and he’s calling everyone girlfriend or sister. He’s, you know, a gay man.
I’d be fine with all that if it weren’t for the Beyonce part and saying things like sister or girlfriend. As Mannie correctly points out, Beyonce is a musical artist that’s just for black women, and not one of the most successful mainstream popular artists of all time. And saying sister? Egregious.
When the fake gay men I picture in my head act like the fake black women I picture in my head, I get angry. I get offended. I get thinkpiecey. Not because I’m mad about cultural appropriation, but because it makes me feel like I’m not imagining hard enough. It feels like lazy writing. It makes me feel like I’m bad at stereotypes and that I’m bad at oppressing people.
And as a straight white person, the one thing I should be good at is being racist and stereotyping people. What does it say about me that I can’t differentiate between black women and gay white men when I start pigeonholing large swaths of humanity into little sets of interests and mannerisms? I’ll tell you what it says: it says I’m not good at being white, and when my identity is compromised like that, it’s fucked up and wrong.
So, standing with Sierra, I’m calling out the gay white community as well: get some new stereotypes. Stop enjoying the things black women enjoy. Stop saying things that black women say. How am I supposed to be like every straight white woman in the world if every gay white man won’t stop acting like every straight black woman? We won’t have true equality until we make a conscious effort to divide people further, and the best place to start is by telling gay white men to stop saying things like girlfriend and listening to Beyonce.