Chip Clapp

Racism in GLBT Culture

Filed By Chip Clapp | August 25, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: music, racism, society

Welcome to my first blog for Bilerico-Florida. I'm going to jump right into the offensiveness and say- For those activists who compare the fight of the GLBT community to the fight of African Americans in the 60's, please stop. Until we can say that we do not have racism within our own community, we cannot claim the benefit that movement gave this nation.

My father was American of European descent. My mother is Puerto Rican. I am keenly aware of race, and more so in the gay community which purports it's equality for all. I fought as a child in the US to be able to learn the language and heritage on my mother's side of the family, which I never saw reflected in the media. In high school I won out and was able to study as I wanted. I wanted to learn so that I could prove that even in my differences I was equal.

Being gay and seeing the same things on a societal level, I expected gays to be much more open about race relations. I was proven wrong in the city of Atlanta, where my white "friends" were appalled that I would want to go into a "swirl" bar, where chocolate and vanilla mixed. I didn't see anything wrong, but karaoke called me elsewhere, while that memory came with me. Although the city and its gay culture was integrated de juris, it was segregated de facto.

After I moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2001, with the mixed Caribbean demographic, I expected a much more open society would greet me in the new millennium. 7 and a half years later, however, I still see the same behavior, which brings me to the point of this blog:

I was visiting a friend in a bar and I know the video jockey. I love coming in on Sundays because he plays slightly more urban music, so he gives a good dance beat with just a little more edge. He likes the music and the customers that come to listen to him spin like the music. It's a win-win situation... until you bring management into it. Apparently, one of his higher-ups ordered him to not play any more "black" music... ever. Now I know that people across the country reading this may not know the bar or have been inside, but you should hear the boys yell "HOO!" Every time Mary J.'s "Just Fine" comes on. But alas, no more Mary. No more Missy. No more Whitney. And especially no more Li'l Kim.

It's obvious to a regular that the crowd that comes when my friend plays comes for the music. It's different than what they get from the other VJ's and they enjoy it. But that is all ending because he can no longer play "black" music. I realize that there may be a cultural difference between those issuing the orders and the artists, but if they looked at their crowd, they might see the difference is a little less than they think- The crowd loves it. Not only are they being racist and profiling artists, they are also limiting the VJ and crowd's freedom of speech.

I didn't have a solution for him that might not put my friend's job in danger other than telling him to play artists that aren't black- like Eminem, Pink (when she first started), Joss Stone and some of Ricky Martin's Latin music. The list of artists that tap into what may traditionally be considered a certain demographic's music can keep going on, but for all of the incredible music created that bridges race, class, religion and nationality, there are still too many people out there unwilling to hear beyond borders of visual difference.

When our own equality movement moves to eradicate perceptions of inequality within our own culture, then we have a chance of moving forward with equality from without.


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Dear Chip,

I can think of no more contentious issue than the music played at one's favorite bar, dance hall or bath house. This strife will continue long after all racial issues have been resolved, long after we have universal health care and long after we have gay marriage.

I am in the group that doesn't much care what is played but just wants the volume lowered by 90%.

I am also in the group that cannot differentiate between black and white music. When I hear a song I like, I rush up to the DJ and get the info. (This recently happened to me at a venue on W. Sunrise. The song I liked, "Frank Sinatra" by Miss Kittin", turned out to be the owner's favorite song.)

I hope you realize that a bar is a business and that it is in existence not for some social purpose but to generate revenue for the owner. In general, the owner hires a manager who in turn hires staff. One can never be quite certain at what level the decisions about music are made. You should complain to the highest level you can reach, but be forewarned. If the money is rolling in, the owner will keep trusting his manager who may be the one who says no to "black" music, and you would have a tough time convincing them that they could make more money by doing otherwise.

Recently, I was using the wifi connection at Java Boys in Wilton Manors. One of the staff is fond of cranking up the disco music even in the morning. I have repeatedly reminded him that this is a coffee house, not a disco, and that the hour is late AM, not late PM. I have even waited till I was the only customer in the place so that he could not claim that others liked his choice of screaming diva. He reluctantly turns off the noise but refuses to play soft music. Instead, he turns on the TV and cues up some loud and violent crash-and-burn movie. He is a high-decibel person with no inner calm, and he left me no choice but to complain to the (new) owners. I'm sure he doesn't like me, but I do not care. I buy the coffee that fills his paycheck. I am currently in NYC, but when I return to Florida, I fully expect the battle to continue (unless he has been fired).

The people who complain about the music at their favorite club are often the same as the people who complain about the dirty locker room at the gym they visit every day.

Once you understand the rules of business, you can make an effective campaign to get what you want.


Dear Father Tony,

Thank you so much for replying to my post. I suppose I should clarify that, being friends with this particular VJ, I spend a great deal of time in the booth with him and hear requests for urban music all the time. The crowd loves it. I used to work in bars and always wanted whatever music the crowd wanted to keep them there and get my tips. As business decisions go, not playing "black music" is a poor one at this particular establishment. There is a proven history of the clientele liking urban music. I have even tried reasoning with the supervisor, informing him of black artists' ballads that lack an urban beat.

When this supervisor VJs and people request "black music", the requesting party will oftentimes hear the phrase, "I'm not going to play that black s%!t". It's not about the style of music that's played. I'm happy just to have two ears with which to hear the music. What I cannot tolerate is the attitude behind the decision. It is a closed-mindedness reflective of stereotyping and an underlying racism. It's also an issue of censorship against a VJ who has been doing his job for years and never chased away any patrons with "black music". I can't abide by it and have to say something.

The gay community is in the minority and as long as we allow racism to continue in our community (and it is far more widespread than this one bar - that's just a microcosm demonstrative of the greater problem), we will never understand or accept equality well enough to acheive it.

Here's a solution that'll make no one happy: play Belle and Sebastian, Owen Pallett, Westlife, and Paula Cole non-stop. They want white music, so give them some whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiite music.

Great first post, Chip! keep it up!

Thank you very much Alex, and that's another great option on the other side of the spectrum from playing crossover artists. Show them that being of a particular race doesn't automatically give the ability to make tolerable music (although I am a fan of Paula Cole's "Feelin Love") Love it! :)

Chip, I echo your resurrecting Paula Cole from Alex' suggestion.

You and I have both lived in Fort Lauderdale and in New York.
I wonder if you share my opinion that the racism found in Fort Lauderdale is quite different from racial interaction in New York.

I'd be interested in reading a separate post about that, if you are so inclined.

This is a very true statement. Racism is so broad and fresh, we'll say, in the gay community it's almost a double standard. But I will say that you can tell the modern progression of a city by the internaction of all races within your city's GLBT community. I never had a issue about race (me being a gay African American) until I lived in NYC for a year and made the mistake of moving back to Washington, DC. Since, I have taken a mental note of the levels of racism in our community and it varies depending on the city and region of the US. Until everyone is seen and treated equal, no matter if you're gay or str*, then this type of backward thinking will continue, even in a community as liberal, forward-thinking, and original as ours.

Shabobe,

It's not clear to me whether you are saying that racism was worse in New York City or in Washington DC.

I agree that there are some significant differences in the levels and expressions of racism in the GLBT communities in urban communities.

Great opening post.

One of the more difficult lessons I've had to learn was that being a member of one marginalized group didn't mean that anyone got how prejudice affects other marginalized groups.

The racism in GLBT culture goes all the way up to the activism and lobbying in Washington, where the political needs of LGBT people are defined largely by white, middle-class gay men and lesbians. You can see the effects of this in San Francisco as well, and Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore talks about it occasionally.

And what's happening with your DJ friend totally sucks. :(

Forgot to turn on e-mail notification.

There needs to be a way to do this without commenting. Am I missing a totally obvious button?

I haven't noticed the discrimination in clubs. But I can see it in sites like Craig's List.
There's another observation that's difficult to cal discrimination, but I've noticed an antipathy with gay's to Lesbians and Lesbians to gays.

Your comments on racism in the GLBT community ignore the racist views of many blacks toward the gay community, to whom being gay is seen as a white thing, and not of concern to the larger black community. The black community's devotion to religion of course does much more harm then good, when viewed in keeping blacks in denial about the GLBT community - of whom many blacks belong.
I'm certainly not saying you're wrong, but at please include the full picture.

Thanks Bob,

You bring up a great point. Racism, bigotry and marginalization work in many directions in our culture, from sexuality to race and back again and often to other areas not generally addressed, or areas that can even be socially accepted, such as our community's marginalization of Log Cabin Republicans. All of it is worth talking about and I hope will be in the future (the near future if possible). That was the hope of discussing this particular instance. Thank you again.

Is that racism or homophobia? Doesn't that do more to erase the black LGBT community than to harm any part of the white community?

I'm really hesitant to take antipathy toward white people as racism, due to the lack of institutional weight behind such antipathy.