Last week as many of you will remember, Time published a piece by Sierra Mannie entitled "Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture." As a refresher, Mannie presented the following racial inequity that she observed as a young, female, Black college student:
To claim [as a White Gay Man] that you're a minority woman just for the sake of laughs, and to say that the things allowed her or the things enjoyed by her are done better by you isn't cute or funny. First of all, it's aggravating as hell. Second, it's damaging and perpetuating of yet another set of aggressions against us.
This piece has been discussed very, very, very, very, very thoroughly. And that's perfect. If we're going to get progress on any racial issue in this country, it's inevitably going to take some fucking painful conversations in the public forum. Excess discussion is good here. The more essays the better.
But this essay isn't about appropriation. We need to start by making sure we're having the conversation correctly.
The issue of racial appropriation is patently different from the issues that the gay community has faced in the past (and yes, to be clear, I'm a White Gay Male). Unlike fighting for our rights—guided by libertine principles—to marry, to love, to talk, and generally to act as we see fit, a young Black Woman, citing systemic racism, has essentially requested a curtailing of gay culture, specifically, a curtailing of the white male flavor of gay culture. And that's undeniably huge.
A Black Woman standing up to White Gay Men is perhaps as significant as the request to stop racial appropriation itself, for all the same reasons as if a young Black Woman had addressed the white patriarchy writ large. White Gay Men are a part of White Male culture, so confronting us is confronting the oppressive forces. That takes a crazy amount of courage, and in this country we have provided very few means to achieve that difficult task. So why don't we take a lesson from our history books and make the conversation easier?
All People of Color, especially Women of Color, need the space and platform to vocalize their injustices, and just as importantly, we as White Men—gay or straight—need to allow this conversation to happen without injudiciously attacking, demeaning, or discrediting any of the arguments. It's imperative that we maintain proper decency among each other, even when we encounter statements that offend us or are even incorrect. People don't always present their arguments perfectly, but to discredit someone's overarching points on such a serious of an issue simply because they brought an imperfect turn of phrase does nothing to help the actual progress that we're all looking for.
Perhaps Mannie shouldn't have claimed that Gay Men can "hide their homosexuality"—an issue that rightly offends many Gay Men who have lived countless painful years in the closet—when Black Women do not have the luxury of hiding behind their gender or race. Or perhaps Ali Barthwell, responding in XOJane, should have provided more evidence of how "[w]hite gay men spend their Saturday nights pretending to be black women to make their friends laugh,"* a statement that, to some, without further evidence may diminish Gay friends into token clowns. But the fight isn't in these details. These imperfections need to be addressed—undeniably leading to more essays and more misunderstandings—but they should never lead to an outright dismissal of the underlying injustice of appropriation. To do so sidesteps the hard work we must endure and attempts to claim victory over technicalities.
No matter what consensus we arrive at regarding White Gay Men's appropriation of Black Female culture, we as Gay Men—a group that knows a thing or two about being silenced—need to give Black Women the opportunity to respond without engaging in pointless screeds that can become inflammatory and destructive. As we settle into this country that has finally started to give Gay Men their rights, we need to listen and protect those rights—most of all, the right to air injustices—when others come to us with their grievances.
*This point, which although may not be rigorously proven yet, holds up well in the court of the Internet. Cazwell voices over a black woman's lips in I Seen Beyonce [sic] at Burger King, a Tumblr user has received 2,992 notes for their post published before Mannie's article titled Gay men and their Inner Black Woman, in 2011 the topic of White Gay Men emulating Black Women was discussed in this article published by The Advocate, and almost every White Gay Man on RuPaul's Drag Race has impersonated a stereotype of a Black Woman at one point or another. All of this to say, the occurrence of White Gay Men impersonating Black Women is not fabricated.