Why Cishet Black Men Calling Out 'Black Gay Privilege; Is Counterproductive
Directly addressing a belief system that subsequently limits the advancement of black people from within the community.
We can’t make an honest effort to advance in society without being honest with ourselves. The very existence of queer black lives remains under the threat of, among other things, black heteronormativity. But don't call us victims. This isn’t a plea for pity, but rather calling out inconsistencies that prevent us from winning the way we should: in solidarity. This is an honest observation that needs to be addressed.
The idea of movements such as Black Lives Matter is one of inclusivity and common understanding; one where equality is the prime focus of those in the African diaspora to find social, economic and political uniformity with our white counterparts in all parts of the world. Speaking specifically on the US within the context of gender and sexuality, it seems as though there is (and has always been) attitudes of indifference toward the black gay individuals from the community at large. From my experience, most of the inability to uphold our lives in a position of value comes from cishet black men. The term “black gay privilege” puts us in a position of isolation. It fosters the idea that we shouldn’t be protected by our own, and keeps us from our goal of leveling the playing field.
Some have argued that the notable success of black gay men in the professional world counts toward the idea of “black gay privilege”. A study first published in 2014 by David S. Pedulla, suggests black gay men and straight white men have a higher chance at employment. But as writer James Jones stated in his piece titled “The Myth of Black Gay Privilege”, (1) there are still many unanswered questions about how race, gender and sexuality intersect to determine the success of an individual in the workplace and (2) the study only shows the effects of being black and gay in the aspect of hiring. I’d also like to quote part of his piece that resonated with me as a black gay professional:
"While my sexuality might lead others to see me as less threatening, it does not stop others from confusing me with other gay and straight black men, opening the door to encounter racial microaggressions, nor does this intersectional identity minimize bonds of racial solidarity with my black colleagues.”
To add to the idea of being non threatening, I must say, within the context of the workplace, an employer may be more inclined to hire a black gay man than his black straight counterpart because it psychologically eliminates the threat of sexual and physical danger that is unfortunately tacked onto the image of the black man in general. This is doubly unfortunate, primarily because it reinforces the stereotype of the black man as the aggressor, and also because it completely undermines the diversity within the black gay community alone.
Photo: Gabriel L. Matthews
Black gay men are masculine, feminine and everything in-between. And while there is much to say about how being an effeminate gay black man can make you more approachable in the workplace, it is the complete opposite in the outside world. Hate crimes are the counterargument to black gay men being considered nonthreatening, because of the simple fact that masculinity itself is so fragile. Gender performance plays a huge part in the committing of hate crimes as black gay men who don’t subscribe to heteronormative standards of masculinity are more susceptible to being victims. Karen Franklin’s research on the psychology of a homophobe supports this claim by stating that "through heterosexism, any male who refuses to accept the dominant culture's assignment of appropriate masculine behavior is labeled early on as a 'sissy' or 'fag' and then subjected to bullying”.
The idea of “black gay privilege” seems to be a covert attempt to rationalize the irrational. It’s beginning to look like a strategy to keep black gay men as “other”, in order to allow heteronormativity to continue being the societal standard. It can also be just as effective in its attempt at doing so, simply because it is an easily adoptable belief in the mind of a homophobe. As a not-so-subtle reminder, the disadvantages of black gay men are generally threefold. They can easily be divided into categories of our race, our gender and our sexual orientation — most of which is shared with our heterosexual brothers. Black gay men are still subjected to racism, homophobia and other societal setbacks. We still encounter microaggressions based solely on our identities. However, like other minority groups, we challenge these setbacks daily.
There is bravery and risk in black queer counterculture that I would love to see embraced and supported by our black straight brothers. I do not aim to negate the struggles of the black straight man, and I can’t stress enough the fact that we identify with those as well. However, fueling the idea of “black gay privilege” displays complete ignorance toward the black gay male identity. It is not only counterproductive in the fight for racial equality, but it contributes to the erasure of an important subgroup of people, and is as divisive as rhetoric as any hate crime.