The Next White Flight?

I was speaking with a colleague from Detroit this week, lamenting our position as activist, black, gay men who are also clergy and we realized that we are often in situations where we are asked to choose our allegiance: are we working on/with black issues or LGBT issues? I also recently attended a meeting of local black LGBT leaders where the same question arose: black or LGBT? The way that communities of color and LGBT groups are so disjointed sometimes, leaves someone like me at odds. Too frequently, in black and brown spaces, we are asked to leave our LGBT selves outside, because it is felt that sexuality issues dilute the power of the race conversation, or that LGBT is a “white” issue. Likewise, in predominantly white LGBT spaces, people of color are frequently ghettoized (that is, called upon to speak for our entire race) or entirely left out of the conversation because of access (funding, location, cultural setting, etc.) Case in point, I also attended a presentation by one of our local LGBT politicians (a dynamic young man of color) yet I was the only African American in the audience, although there were a couple of Asian and Latino folks. Questions from the audience were all targeted at youth, marriage equality and local LGBT history; the only question on race was one that furthered the perception of local black communities harboring negative feelings for LGBT issues.

“What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown?”

There is a disturbing threat on the horizon. As a gay man who cannot ignore the issues of race in the United States, I watch the events of Baltimore over the last few weeks as well as New York, Oakland, Chicago, Ferguson and Sanford over the last few years and I am worried about the very real potential for “LGBT White Flight.”

What happens when the LGBT fight becomes predominantly black and brown? When the Supreme Court rules to make Marriage Equality the law of the land, will the funding from white LGBT donors dry up? Will the white LGBT allies fail to show up at the marches or more importantly at the polls?  Will we see an uptick in the number of LGBT folks who align with conservative fiscal policies that promote their personal wealth over the overal health and welfare of those who are marginalized? Right now, significant LGBT wealth is pouring into the fight for Marriage Equality. Even a cursory glance at major donors and supporters of this effort, shows how LGBT donors and organizations sometimes have significantly less connection to communities of color, and if they do, it is very narrowly focused. Yet organizations who are funding and supporting racial justice work, are much more likely to be public and financial allies of LGBT efforts.  If the commitment is only marginal now, what will the motivation be to make it more equitable in the future?

The face of the Marriage Equality fight is overwhelmingly white. Although there are a handful of plaintiffs who are people of color, and a significant number of children of these families are people of color, the positioning of the benefits to be gained from marriage status (tax benefits, partner, employment benefits, community and social standing) are portrayed on the surface as benefits that are associated with white affluence in our country. Yet, when this one battle is won, the LGBT fight for opportunity will be far from over for people of color. In a recent study from Movement Advancement Project and Center for American Progress ( PAYING AN UNFAIR PRICE: The Financial Penalty for LGBT People of Color in America) the numbers are clear that poverty and lack of opportunity and lack of security plague LGBT people of color more than their white or non-LGBT counterparts:

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A 2014 report from the Black Youth Project ( Moving Beyond Marriage: What Young People of Color Think about the LGBT Agenda) has some surprising numbers as well showing how a majority of young people of color think that the LGBT Agenda isn’t aligned with their priorities:

“This report demonstrates that while young people grant strong support to same-sex marriage, young people—especially young people of color—also believe that several other policies should have greater priority in the fight for LGBT equality. For instance, more than 80 percent of Black, white, and Latino youth support policies to guarantee employment rights, while 65 to 70 percent of young people support same-sex marriage….

Our findings also indicate that young people of color are skeptical about whether mainstream LGBT organizations advocate policies that are important for LGBT individuals in communities of color. Young people of color are perhaps uniquely situated to identify what policies are most likely to have the greatest impact on their communities.”

We cannot choose one identity or the other.  We all live at crossroads of identity.  The question is, will the same happy gay and lesbian couples who embrace and celebrate on the steps of the Supreme Court in victory for their ability to marry and share benefits, then be willing to turn around and travel the 29 miles up Interstate 295 to march in the streets of Baltimore to support their black trans* siblings who are targeted and murdered by police (Mya Hall)? Will the major donors to Equality California also fund safe spaces for Cambodian LGBT youth in Long Beach?

We cannot let the LGBT movement turn into a cultural Detroit, Oakland or Cleveland…abandoned by the people who can now afford to disappear into the suburban mainstream.

History

First Lady Michelle Obama meets with campaign supporters   - VA

Michelle Obama recently traced her white ancestry…

This post is part of a series this week that will honor the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, August 28, 1963.

– For Kimberlee – 

So the other day, a young black friend of mine posted on her facebook about being African American.  She had been asked “what African?” and of course she doesn’t know what the “African” part was because, as she said, well, she’s African American and we basically don’t have any history of our “African” ancestry.  It got me thinking…it is very, very true.  Many people have been oppressed throughout the history of America (both North and South) and particularly in the history of the United States.  The particular brand of colonialism that gave birth to our nation was pretty much all about standing on the backs of whoever was handy.  But in that history, only Africans were sytematically separated from their history and culture by the oppressing majority.  The Irish immigrants were scoffed at and beaten but were allowed education; the Jews were ghettoized and restricted in their movements but continued to practice their faith; Native Americans were outright slaughtered but they fought to the death maintaining their cultural beliefs and practices.  But Africans were denied their language, their religion, their customs.  In fact Africans were stripped of nearly everything except their usefulness as labor.  Referred to as soulless heathens by white society, the accepted concept of the African slave was that they were brutish blank slates and any “culture” they possessed was worthless.  The result of this is that today, those of us who can identify as “African” American have no idea what that actually means.  We carry the pigment and other physical characteristics, but we are absent of that original culture.

So what does that leave us?

On one level it leaves us with young black people who grew up in this world with no sense of belonging or feeling as if they had something great to aspire to that belongs to them; they’ve assumed that they will always be “the other” and vilified; their only future is in what they “take” from society that is made for and by “the man.”   They live on the margins of society with maybe a glimpse here and there of something called success, only to see it taken away or held just out of reach.

But maybe there’s another way to look at it…

When our “African” history was obscured, and when we were raped and shuffled around and traded like so much grain, true to anything as resilient and old as the human race, we were still fertile…so fertile that even in a place with no soil and no nutrients, we grew.  We grew not just in terms of finding and equaling our education, not just in terms of flourishing creatively, not just in terms of discovering our political and communal strength, not just in terms of evolving spiritually.  We grew as a brand new and unique race with a unique set of potentials that is still waiting for us to acknowledge.  Like jazz music, we were a blend of everything we carried in our genetic code, plus all of the hardship and obstacles put in our way.  Eventually, we had to ignite.  We are not just “African” Americans, we are Native, Irish, German, Spanish, Asian…and we are the only ones who can truly lay claim to being all of those things…the embodiment of the melting pot.  We are the worst nightmare of colonial European cultures that prided themselves on racial “purity”…we are the combination of all of the strongest parts of all of the cultures that have mixed here in the United States; and we are irrepressible.

I had a lovely conversation with a friend recently where we were talking about potential.  We were discussing how some people can look at someone based on one world view and see them as a “waste” of potential.  On the contrary, potential is never wasted.  Potential is a well that is always ready to use.  Each time you access any part of that potential…any time you dip into that unfathomable reservoir of ability, you will pull out something that is far beyond what those with less potential are capable of achieving.  Whether it is Nobel Prize winning diplomacy or cooking dinner.  This is how I view the black American; a people who contain the richness of many cultures, visible in skin and facial features, but also language, faith, creativity, aptitude and a host of unmeasurable gifts.  These aren’t wasted.  They are present and ready to use at any moment in time.  It is simply up to more young black Americans to use them.

The different and distinct cultures that people lift up and identify with so strongly are beautiful and deserve their spectacular place in our modern society; but so does the melting pot “African” American. So to Kimberlee, I say, yes, you may have no idea where your “African” really comes from, but you have something that is completely unique.  Think of yourself as the “Jazz American.”  You can swing and waltz; you can paint and calculate; you are mother and father, child and parent.  You are the dynamic blending of all of cultures that are gathered here as one.  You more than anyone, own this American experience and with it you can change the world.

Colonial Fool Part I: Are You Being Served?

So, I just have to be cranky for a minute.  This morning when I went into ‘Sweet Inspiration’ cafe in the Castro for a nice cup of tea before meeting with friends for brunch, I experienced something that is unique for black men who frequently have to navigate white worlds.  The gentleman before me was greeted by the counter person with the words, “how can I help you sir?” to which the patron replied with his order.  This customer probably looked to be a fairly typical Castro-ian (35, white, male, decent income…judging by his backpack, etc.) he was wearing tennis shoes and a t-shirt.  When it came my turn for service, I was greeted with “Hey, man…”  As far as I know, I look fairly typical if even a bit affluent as Californians go (shorts…it’s 70 degrees, sunglasses, casual linen shirt) but I do have dreadlocks and brown skin and these I believe are the exclusive reason for not being greeted without any kind of deference of respect.  I was greeted according to my race and not to my status as paying customer.

Why am I cranky?  Because this happens to me every day, everywhere I go…except for black establishments, where I am always greeted as “sir.”  I feel a right to be cranky about this because, for many years, I was in the service industry.  I learned early on, that if I didn’t greet a customer as “sir” or “ma’am”, it would surely show in my tip.  I am greeted this way by both young and old, male and female.  The only consistent thing among these service professionals is that they are all white.  Now, this isn’t everyone.  I think there are some people who have gained a little bit of a clue and realized that by greeting me as “man” or “bro” or “dude” or “blood”, they are not showing me any kind of solidarity.  Instead, they are only showing me the fact that they are aware of my skin color and the history in this country that surrounds my skin color…oh, and their deep rooted fear of being in relationship with me.

I suppose I could be happy to be greeted at all. My parents have shared stories of traveling to the South in the 1950’s and not being served at all.  I have also experienced the “we’re just not going to serve you until you leave” thing in more than one state north of the Mason Dixon.  But somehow I thought we had passed a law against that…

So with this brief blog entry, I will begin a series of pieces all about deconstructing American colonialism.  For me, colonial rule is alive and well.  Not only in white people trying too hard, but in where faith sits in our culture and how it divides us racially and culturally and economically.  Colonialism is also alive in how we continue to purpose women toward sex and procreation.  Colonialism guides us in how we see masculine and feminine and it continues to create systems of “us and them” that began with the decimation of the native peoples of this land. On top of it all, I own part of this way of being; I am at times responsible for perpetuating the legacy of colonialism as any “Taylor the Latte Boy” who calls me “man” or a black woman “sister” or greets Latinos with ‘hola’, etc.  As far as I can tell, more than any other ill in American culture, it is the continued perpetuation of colonial values, ethical priorities, relationships, social definitions and a host of other cultural perversions that stands in the way of our living into the most important value that is espoused by both lofty world thinkers and children everywhere: to be loved.

Therefore, dear ‘Sweet Inspiration’ Barista, cute though you may be, you have a lot to learn.  For although I do identify as a man, I am not your “man” and you can’t relate to me better by assuming a linguistic posture that you think might be “familiar.”

You can call me “sir,” thank you very much.

Kristin Chenoweth singing “Taylor the Latte Boy”