A century ago W.E.B. Du Bois once stated 'that the problem of the twentieth century will be the problem of the color line'. He was not only dead on target with his assessment, but eight years into the twenty-first century it's still a problem.
It's also a problem in the GLBT community as well.
One thing I have constantly stressed is that the GLBT community is a microcosm of our society at large. It's unrealistic to think that if the parent society is wracked by the problems of racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia, that our GLBT subset of it would be free of the same issues.
For those of you who are in denial about that, may I suggest that you pick up or download a copy of a March 25, 2002, Task Force report entitled, Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud. It was a collaborative effort of the Task Force, a team of African-American researchers and nine Black Pride organizations.
In the summer of 2000 the Black Pride Survey was distributed to 2,645 attendees at nine Black Pride celebrations in Philadelphia, Houston, Chicago, Oakland, Detroit, Washington DC, Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. It represents the largest statistical sample of Black GLBT people ever surveyed on a wide variety of issues.
And if you're wondering, there was a significantly large enough group of Black transgender people (2%) who took part in this BPS survey to have our stats quoted in the report. It was authored by lead researchers Dr. Juan Battle and Dr. Cathy Cohen with Dorian Warren, Dr. Gerard Fergerson, and Suzette Audam joining them as report authors.
One of the key findings of the report I want to touch on was this.
Half of the respondents say racism is a problem in the White GLBT community.
48% of the BPS 2000 Survey respondents agreed that when dealing with the White GLBT community, the racism of whites was a problem. An even higher percentage of transgender respondents (57%) agreed with that statement.
The percentage gets higher if the person experienced negativity while interacting at predominately white GLBT community events, in predominately white GLBT bars and clubs, and predominately white GLBT community organizations.
I can cosign on that one. I've been called the n-word more times since I transitioned in GLBT/transgender spaces than I have when I'm interacting in the world at large during the same time period. In 2005, when I was part of a team of African-American transpeeps organizing the first Transsistahs-Transbrothas Conference we held in Louisville, we were stunned at the level of negativity we received from some elements in the white transgender community.
One person wrote at the time on a transgender Yahoo list criticizing the effort, 'it'll make it easier for them to service their tricks.'.
The differing reactions to Shirley Q. Liquor is another issue in which the GLBT community color line affects perceptions of it. Some White GLBT people find it funny, some Black GLBT people (myself included) find this new jack minstrel show offensive.
That unaddressed prejudice and racism is a major factor as to why we have Black GLBT clubs, Black Pride celebrations, Black GLBT social and political organizations and even Black GLBT pageant circuits.
One key piece to understanding me or any African-American GLBT person is that race, gender, sexuality and class are not separate identities for us. There is interplay and intersections with each of those identities in various combinations in our lives.
The color line has been around longer than the United States has been in existence as a nation, and to downplay or ignore it will not help it magically go away. Neither did 40 years of affrimative action policies erase a problem that took 200 years to make. Only a sustained, head-on assault by all parties affected by it will make it permanently go away, and it can't be just African-Americans working to dismantle it..
The way I see it, we GLBT peeps should strive to be better than our opponents and the parent society. I realize that our parent society is still in denial about it, much less won't even take the first steps in solving the problem by acknowledging it exists.
We have an opportunity to lead on this issue. We can take the rainbow of diversity that exists in our GLBT community and mold it into a society that comes close to realizing Dr. King's dream.
But the question is, will all of us step out of our separate Americas, meet each other halfway, and do the hard work and honest soul searching dialogue that's necessary to achieve it?