Yasmin Nair

An Open Letter To White Gays and Lesbians at the Silverlake Prop 8 Rally, by Alette Kendrick

Filed By Yasmin Nair | November 23, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay marriage, Prop 8, prop 8 protest, race and sexual orientation, racial politics, same-sex marriage, white people

This letter has been widely posted on the web, and I'm including it here for Bilerico readers. The writer, Alette Kendrick, is a friend of a friend, and I'm posting this with her permission.

Dear white gays and lesbians at the Silverlake prop 8 rally on Saturday (and dumb white people at large),

To begin, I am a Queer Black woman. I know this fact alone may be shocking. You probably thought "queer Black woman" was a mythological creature, made up by the writers of the L Word in the 4th season. You've probably never Noticed one in real life. Or have seen such a person when you're hanging out at one of your exclusive, slick, hipster-hideaways that line the streets of silverlake these days. But it's true, we do exist. Now, I understand this may require a moment to process. So go ahead, take a minute...

Rest of the post after the jump.

Truth be told, I have no personal investment in the struggle for lgbtq marriage rights. I'm not all that interested in a patriarchal institution historically used to oppress women. I'd rather explore more creative and liberating expressions of queer love, than conform to such a tired old convention as marriage. Yet I do recognize that there are certain privileges associated with marriage, that everyone should have a right to access. Still, this struggle is not on my list of priorities.

Despite this I was yet another of the many people who voted against prop 8, who were terribly distraught when it passed, and who joined in street protest to express outrage. This is because I was so moved by the obvious and profound level of hate which motivated and fueled the "yes on 8" campaign. These people only sought to further poison people throughout our state with hate against our LGBTQ community. They did so in the face of all the work many people have done and continue to do on the daily to make this place safe for LGBTQ people. So that we can one day walk down streets without any fear of suffering attack because of who we are. So when I saw "yes on 8" rallies with large groups of kids and children shouting out derogatory slurs and wielding those terrible signs, I could not be but totally overwhelmed by the hate.

So this past saturday night, I assumed I was attending an anti-hate rally. But that could not have been further from the truth. On stage was some white, dinosaur, les-biatch completely berating and tearing down the entire "african-american community". Blaming us for the passing of prop 8, she all but outrightly called Black people ignorant and foolish. She continuously used "us" in reference to gay people and "they/you" meaning black people. And to my surprise, all the folks around me were cheering and hollering at her every indictment of the black community. I learned that night that the racist rhetoric at this rally was in response to the divisive reporting propagated by mainstream media that Blacks voted in proposition 8.

There are two dangerous underlying assumptions insinuated by this woman speaker and all the news reports. Firstly is that homosexuality is White. And secondly, that communities of color are absolutely homophobic. The reason these assumptions are so dangerous, is that they make me and all queer people of color invisible, as if we don't exist. These assumptions render my perspective and my own life experiences invisible, and they leave no space for qpoc within the lgbtq rights movement. Just like there was no space for me at that rally. If "us" is the queer community and "they" are black people, then where am I? I wonder if you white gays and lesbians could not see the queer black woman beside you, when you rallied that black people had stolen queer rights.

And just to get this out the way, Black people did NOT make the proposition 8 vote. The media has hyped the exit poll that "2 to 1 black voters supported prop 8." Even if that were 100% true, there's no way Black people made the election. Anyone who bothered to think for themselves, or maybe even look at ALL the facts of the situation, would immediately see the fallacy of that conclusion. While the Black vote may have favored prop 8, the black vote still represents a minority percentage of the total voting population (Less than 7%!).The majority population in this state is still WHITE, and the majority of the voting population is WHITE. Therefore, even more white people voted for prop 8 than anybody else. The total number of black votes for prop 8 alone could NOT have made or broke the election, but 8 would not have passed without white people. DUH.

That this focus on misinformation is an obvious ploy to distract, divide and conquer the lgbtq rights movement, was totally lost on you all. Instead you white gays and lesbians just gobbled up this bullshit and swallowed hard. While I'm tempted to write you all off as ignoramus maximus, I think the fact that white gays and lesbians were so ready to point the finger of blame at Black people, further exposes the racist assumptions harbored within that community, as well as the lack of space for recognition of intersectional identities.

Last I checked the "yes on 8" people were leading a very successful campaign of lies and misinformation, confusing prop 8 as an issue of child education. Given all the people who voted in fear based on these lies, how is it that the Black community so unanimously voted in hate and bigotry?

And here's a question, why is it that the most immediate response of the white gay rights movement in this situation, was to start pointing the finger of blame? Are you all in second grade, is this really the most productive thing that could be happening now? Even I know, with my short few years of organizing, that when you come to the end of an unsuccessful campaign, you come together as an organization/movement/etc. and ask yourselves "what did we do well, what could we have done better, and where do we go from here within a larger strategy?" You don't go pouting in the streets about whose fault it is you didn't win!?

But this response isn't all that surprising given that the average gay/lesbian within your movement experiences a great deal of privilige on account of race&class. And typically it is the people with the most privilige that have the most difficulty holding THEMSELVES accountable to anything, and not just blaming everybody else. In fact, the closest any of you have probably ever come to accountability is your white guilt, and Lord knows that's not even close!

Fox 11 news happened to catch and feature the rally's ignoramus supreme on the ten o' clock news. "We (gay/white) people made Obama president, and they (Black people) left us behind! That's it, we're the last minority left now!"

This guy (like many of you I'm sure) voted away his white guilt at the polls last week. And he clearly thinks that the country purged itself of white supremacy in a single vote last week. Now you poor, poor, white gays and lesbians- you are the last of the oppressed! Alas the tables have turned, and it is us Black people barring you from your constitutional rights. We funded the $20 million "yes on 8" campaign of lies and misinformation- oh wait, that was other white people? Well, we contributed the largest percentage of total "yes" votes- no? that was white people too!? Well darn, now none of this making sense..

I realize this letter has gotten pretty long, so I'll finish by saying this. If you white gaze and lesbiannes are so ready to leave Black people out of your gay rights movement, so be it. Who wants to be where they're not wanted anyway. We'll take our beautiful brown selves elsewhere, and start a real rainbow movement. And we'll take all references to our civil rights movement with us. No more appropriating that legacy. Nope, not allowed. Because how you gonna hate on us, and then allude to our struggles in your commercials. I don't think so.



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As a white transguy (who, truthfully, has no interest in marriage, same-sex or hetero because of capitalist nature of it), I'm sorry for the stupidity of my brethren.

It's a shame that society is happy with the slurry that fed to us from the likes of Fox News and such. And we never question what they tell us. Hopefully, someone will get a clue and realize the importance of fact checking, particularly to avoid foot-in-mouth syndrome.

As for "brilliance" on Fox, he's rather blind to his own privilge and Fox capitalized on it. I found it more frustrating that all this hype was done over Prop 8 but no one was outraged or upset at the murders of trans women (all POCs). I guess it's only the white LGB that matter, eh?

Anyways, thank you for a great piece.

Speaking of rights - she has every right to be angry. I see her every point and I agree completely. I am sorry Queer Black Woman, I really am. Its a sad wold we live in. Incidentally - I am a white bisexual Canadian woman and I have an idea for a rainbow too.

I would like to include everyone under my arch. I would like to include my beloved sister Abby in Ontario who was born with the wrong parts to fit her soul and I would include Kristie too - she suffers the same condition. I would like to include Doug who is a smooth and sweet white leather daddy that likes to share time with grizzled and weathered older gentlemen, I'd include pretty brown Darren who is ever striving to be the next 'top model' in heels and a bender.

I'm going to invite Pat who babysat me along with her wife Joanne long before anyone in Canada was allowed to use the term 'wife' so casually.

Rather than use up so much space inviting - how about I just say that everyone who wishes to be under my arch, in my rainbow, is welcome. Colour, creed, identity, as long as you love and agree to let live - c'mon over.

I realize this letter has gotten pretty long, so I'll finish by saying this. If you white gaze and lesbiannes are so ready to leave Black people out of your gay rights movement, so be it. Who wants to be where they're not wanted anyway. We'll take our beautiful brown selves elsewhere, and start a real rainbow movement. And we'll take all references to our civil rights movement with us. No more appropriating that legacy. Nope, not allowed. Because how you gonna hate on us, and then allude to our struggles in your commercials. I don't think so.

Thanks for sharing this, Yasmin. I've been really disturbed by the way the white LGBT community has been co-opting the struggles of people of color. The chants of "Yes We Can" were obviously borrowed from the Obama campaign. But it goes back even further than that to the UFW and Ceasar Chavez. The "Day Without a Gay" movement to call in sick to work on December 10th is a co-option of the "Day Without a Mexican" rallies on May Day of 2006. It's all well and good for people to "call in sick," but it overlooks the fact that most people who participated in the 2006 May Day rallies didn't have the luxury of "sick days." Way to co-opt the labor rights and immigrants' rights movements without even bothering to work on the behalf of either of those communities. Most gay organizations claimed that this wasn't a "gay issue" in 2006. (Because apparently there are no gay immigrants . . .) Needless to say, I participated in 2006. I won't be participating this December.

Well if we want to talk about racism you can look at the first line of the letter and see that this person is also engaging in the same thing that she is complaining about. When she starts off addressing "dumb white people at large" I have no interest in engaging with her and no interest in what she has to say that exact same way that I have been refusing to engage in discussions based in racism about LGBT vs black communities. While she makes valid points she invalidates her position when she comes at it from a racist angle with a racist statement. She is contributing as much to the discourse as the people again whom she speaks and contributing the same quality of discourse as they.

Oh no not this again. Someone help us! This just proves that in fact some will NEVER get it.

Untrue.

He not only gets "dumb white people"...he lives it.

I had some asswipe on a list call me racist for making many of the same asertions...and he is back tonight for more.

Wanna see an entitled white gay dude shit all over woc? watch this dude swing out.

Of course, some of us know that his clones roam all over the lgbtq landscape.

Yasmin, thank you. No one gives a damn when trans woc say this stuff. Maybe coming from a woc lesbian, it will finally hit home.

Dear Queer Black woman. i am a dumb white man. i am so enraged by that one comment of yours. "dumb white people at large" you complain about white folk being predudiced, but you open your commnets with just that. i stopped reading at that point and came down here to comment. your statement had no value to me at all because of your opening sentence. shame if it was a good statement. i'll never know.

as for your comment ms. freewomyn, i never read your posts either, so your participation in the sick call day is not even missed. so go join up with queer black woman and make babies. then be denied the rights that everyone else fought so hard to get. because i dont care about either of you.

Why are we still rehashing old news? Prop 8 passed, lets move on and make sure we get our marriage rights next time. If it is not cool to point the finger at blacks in general, than it damn sure ain't cool to blame white gays for racism in general either. Anger needs to subside now, I know mine has. It has its place, but now it's time to struggle on.

Dave,

This isn't old news. These are issues that needs to be dealt with in a meaningful way. As Kumasi's note points out, some people don't get it and their comments only show us why the problem isn't going to go away. I don't see the writer blaming white gays for racism in general - if anything, she's pretty specific about the kind of racism she's encountered, and from whom.

It's also important to keep in mind that this isn't someone who's necessarily interested in marriage rights per se and who nevertheless showed up at a rally to show her support. The suggestion that this is a merely "rehasing of old news" is a way of sweeping issues under the carpet.

agreed, except for the "second grade" comment - ageism doesn't need to be a part of our struggle against institutions of marriage, racism, heterosexism and sexism. comments like that only reinforce the idea that people under 18/21 have no value and no worth. it's these ideas that take away me and other young people's ability to vote about stuff that actually concerns us. when i can't vote about who gets put on the school board, which directly impacts my everyday life, but adults with no connection at all to any youth in the school system can? that's fucked up.
besides that, good piece.

As a dumb, pretty mainstream, white gay man I completely respect your anger, Queer Black Woman. I am also appalled at the quickness of so many white gay men and lesbians to point fingers, and then to get snippy when being called out on their privilege.

To Rob Barton and Michael (the two dumb white men)

Please do us all a favor and get a clue because you both are apparently too dumb to realize that it's you, in particular, that this letter is addressing. Neither of you seem to understand racism nor do you understand what it means to be racist.

In order to have a real discussion about racism in the LGBT community, we must first address the privileges associated with gender, class, race, etc. It's these privileges in particular that define racism and is why nothing she says is in fact racist.

As a lesbian woman of color, the writer does not have the same privileges the two of you have as white men. So your unwillingness to even read her article or discuss her ideas is far more offensive than her comment about dumb white people and further illuminates your own privilege, arrogance and ignorance.

Wow Carlo, you sound pretty racist to me....

There is a bitter irony in a woman objecting to being lumped in with the entire black community who starts off her rant by insulting every single white LGBT individual at the rally. Pot, meet kettle.

As a gay white man, I share her concern that the black community is unfairly being blamed for losing the Prop 8 battle. However, the small role the black community played in the vote does in no way absolve them of the issue at hand. If 2 out of every 3 black people don't believe in equal opportunity for LGBT individuals, it doesn't matter if we're talking about 30 black people or 300,000--there is still a statistically significant issue of ignorance, or homophobia, or bitterness, or whatever you'd like to call it, in the black community when it comes to LGBT. Why? Because the total measure won by only 5%, not 33%, which means (if you do the math) that other communities (white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian) were probably not as biased as the black community. And while the black vote didn't necessarily tip the scale in California, who's to say that it wouldn't do so in other states?

I don't know how to heal the divide, other than to emphasize LGBT rights, period, regardless of race, and I think the No on 8 ads--even if they weren't all that persuasive--managed to send that message. But lumping all the white LGBT individuals into one group is as bad as those who lump all the blacks together--and two wrongs don't make a right.

White Gay priveledge is a myth like the YETI. Dont be stupid people and fall for this line its used to divide just like all the other racist comments. You cant call racism on the white site and then call white people dumb...it hypocrisy.

The writer of this article has issues beyond these comments, shes obvioulsy bitter and hurt and lashing out.

White people didnt try to get ride of white guilt by voting for Obama, after all he's half white (obvioulsy she has forgotten this) he was th right guy for the job.

The struggle for civil rights for all minorities links us together, and we need to cooperate and support each other rather than to blame and fight against each other. Both movements have existed through the same time the same time and have been intertwined. Black civil rights leader Bayard Rustin (one of Dr. King's top advisors) said back in 1987: "The barometer of where one is on human rights questions is no longer the black community, it's the gay community. Because it is the community which is most easily mistreated." Remember, an injustice to any of us is an injustice to us all. It matters not what is the level of the offense, but that there is any offense at all. Most while people understand it was religious prejudice fueled by conservative religious leaders of all colors who used fear and belief systems to overcome logic, reason and fairness. Don't let Faux news divide and conquer.

It's interesting to me that some of the white gay men posting here jump right onto the one line this woman wrote about "dumb white people" and go no further to respond to the very valid things she says about what she experienced at the No on 8 Rally.

Where's your outrage about the comments of our white cohorts? Why are you in such a rush to point out your charge of "reverse discrimination" but don't have a second to validate this woman's experience as a queer person of color in a white-dominated movement?

Face it. The LGBT community rushed to judgment on the issue of Prop 8 and the African American vote. People said stupid, damaging things, based on misinformation fed to us by inaccurate exit polls, and now we are playing even more catch up on race relations than before.

Let's please focus on building bridges and letting LGBT people of color lead discussions on these issues so that there can be some alliance building with the mainstream communities of color. Otherwise, we'll just see a rerun of this election the next time we have to fight this fight again.

*sigh*

There seem to be several white commenters who are a bit sensitive today. Why don't you all read that first line you're so upset about again. It's not all white people, it's two specific populations that the letter is addressed to. First "white gays and lesbians at the Silverlake prop 8 rally on Saturday" (who apparently all did nothing to speak out about racism happening at their event) and second "dumb white people at large"

That's not to say that all white people are dumb, but that this letter address those who are. If you're not a dumb white person or weren't at the Silverlake rally, then this letter isn't directed to you.

Then again, if you refuse to read this because a black woman isn't paying proper respect to white people, if you think that calling whites racist and calling blacks homophobic are parallels, if you jump to the conclusion that you are being attacked by a letter that calls out racist white gays, then maybe the letter is directed at you.

I'd like to see proof that white gays over at that rally were actually predominantly dumb and racist.

I'd also like to find out why this person expects a rally protesting prop 8 to turn into a discussion of racism in the LGBT community.

Perhaps it would've been in the best interests of this writer to cut the condescending bullshit and get to the point without being so smug about the unique insight she has that some people can only hope to grasp.

I also like to point out to Merrill's comment. Not because I agree with it, but because it points out with the double-standards we set for "patriarchal institutions". Religion, a patriarchal institution? Totally OK for LGBT people and other minorities to assimilate and shape accordingly. Marriage? Totally off-limits; anyone who gets married is promoting a "patriarchal institution". Never mind the fact that as an institution it has constantly evolved, and so each person could take it to point where it is no longer a "patriarchal institution".

I'm not going to pretend that I can speak for Alette, but the simple sentence structure we're looking at is talking about those who were at the rally, then for good measure it's mentioned that this criticism could be applied to dumb white folks in general.

"Proof". I don't understand why people are getting so rabidly defensive. Shouldn't we be more upset at the people who were being racist rather than the person calling out that racism?

The criticism is that the speaker was saying racist things and no one at the rally challenged it. That was a failure of the movement. In a time where someone needed to say something -- when white allies were needed -- no one did anything. Do you have any reason to contest that? Do you have any reason to believe someone did confront it?

This isn't a conversation about what they are, but what they did. "Being racist" is a red herring, which too many people assume means pulling out the fire houses or white hoods. In reality, it can simply mean growing up in a white supremacist society, internalizing racist messages, and having those messages influence your (in)actions. The lack of action in this case is a failure, and I think it's pretty fair to say that failure was influenced by an internalization of racist messages that made the speakers racist comments appear reasonable.

They were white. That, in and of itself, is proof.

Now, keep in mind that it *seems* like I'm saying all white people are racist, but I'm not.

THe culture we live in is one where privilege and power are afforded based on the color of one's skin. THat makes the culture racist, and, as the primary beneficiaries of that culture, they are, de facto, racist.

They have it.

By definition, privilege is not something you see until you are forced to confront it.

That makes them fairly dumb to its presence and use.

I've lived my life as a member of four communities. Four "races" (since I'm pretty much an anthro-specialist, race is sooo 19th century, ya know), if you will.

By birth I'm African American, Caucasian, and Native American. By culture and marriage and family, I'm "Hispanic" (Quotes because the white part of me - left hand, often - has issues with that, it prefers Chicana, while the black part - right hand - of me prefers Latina, the the Native part - don't ask - is thinking "wtf?").

As I've moved through any enclave of those races, I get to see *my* privilege, being multiracial I can rely on all manner of it, in all its glory and I'm going to tell you point blank that yes...

White people are dumb and racist. So are black people. So are Native Americans.

Can't really say the same for Hispanics, but, well, we all know we are superior in all ways to everyone else, so its ok, really. The rest of you can have your dumb racism, whilst we simply wait for you to stop throwing us over fences.

All of which is a really complex way of saying what is often said in other circles more aware of it much more succinctly:

Check your Privilege, Lucrece.

There seem to be several white commenters who are a bit sensitive today. Why don't you all read that first line you're so upset about again. It's not all white people, it's two specific populations that the letter is addressed to. First "white gays and lesbians at the Silverlake prop 8 rally on Saturday" (who apparently all did nothing to speak out about racism happening at their event) and second "dumb white people at large"

Oh puleese. The letter is addressed to whom it is addressed so the writer can be as incendiary as she wishes and when called on it has the out of saying, "I didn't mean *all* white people". We all know that there are good white people and then there are "those" white people.

You can't BS a BSer on this. White people have been using this passive-aggressive tactic since before reconstruction. We all saw through it and drummed Trent Lott out of the Senate leadership when he played a similar linguistic game at Strom Thermond's 100th birthday party. Dumb white people, they're kinda like obvious fags, right? You know, the ones who flaunt it in your face.

The pity is that the writer made some points that need to be made, but few will actually hear them because of the ill considered rhetoric.


Dumb white people, they're kinda like obvious fags, right? You know, the ones who flaunt it in your face.

The problem here is that the rhetoric I keep hearing is positioning white people as the oppressed. No, not like the obvious fags, like the straights who "don't understand" what two people of the same sex do in bed. Like the rich who don't know how much a gallon of milk costs. Like the men who don't understand how certain behaviors toward women can be condescending. Like the able bodied folks who don't think to ask before non-consensually assisting a person with disabilities.

Each of these comments are coming from the assumption that white people and people of color are starting on even ground. But that's not the case. Talking about "dumb white people" and "dumb people of color" do not both have equal impacts. Generalizing is just one part of it, but the real power in the statement comes from the society-wide validation of your generalized statement.

Take your obvious fag example. I could certainly talk about how straight folks "flaunt" their sexuality, condemn them for their flagrant display of sexuality when they mention their spouse, but is anyone actually hurt by that? Does anyone even take it seriously? But if you say the same thing about gay folks, people can lose their jobs. Again, the impact isn't the generalization, it's the societal validation of the generalization.

Besides, in this case we're not even talking about white people being radically deficient. In this context we're talking about white people who don't understand racism. White people who aren't able to challenge racism in their midst. White people who don't understand how hurtful their statements are. Generalization or not, is it really that unfair to talk about the white people who are dumb because they don't understand racism? Would you all so vehemently call out someone who was talking about those dumb Republicans/Religious right folks/straight relatives/etc who keep saying stupid things about the gays?

I am in an ltr with a white trans woman.

In my 4 decades plus in and mostly out of queer communities, she was the first white trans woman I met. I have more trans woman friends than many folks have gay friends.

Its been three years, and I am still taking her ass to school on anti oppression.

white = stupid is an extremely fair statement.

and Mija, the mythical creature isn't the black queer woman for some of us. The myth is the white queer who Gets It.

Other than that, fine article. Keep speaking your truth. Just talk real slow, white people are not the sharpest shovels in the shed, ya'know.

I am a man who voted for a black man to be President because he was the best candidate running. I don't blame the black community. Even without any blacks voting, Prop 8 would still have passed.
The Mormons were the cause of Prop 8 passing, the huge sums of money raised by these freaks and their outreach from Utah, bringing people in from that state. Speaking about a patriarchal institution historically used to oppress women, that is the Mormon religion. How Ms. Serna Freewomyn a Mormon can call herself a free woman or liberated is a mystery to me. My friend Gloria Steinem would not approve of her.

Actually, I met Gloria Steinem. And she thinks I'm fierce.

Lucky you.

She thinks trans women are tools of the Patriarchy and is one of the most evilly transmisogynistic individuals I ahve ever encountered.

Oh, Serena, good one!

I'm on the floor, rolling around and laughing...

People can think I'm racist all they want. It doesn't change the fact that the post prop-8 rallies in California, as well as discussions online have illuminated and exacerbated the racism existing in our own community.

That is why a discussion about racism in the LGBT community is needed because it will be impossible for us all to come together when race is constantly being rendered invisible by LGBT leaders and organizations (did anyone else happen to see the No on Prop 8 TV ads? I counted 3 people of color out of all of them). And not just race, the poor, immigrants, gay youth, women, transgender...that list is in no way exhaustive.

But back to the point, there has been a lot of blame placed on the African American community over the passage of Prop 8 and there have been discussions about reaching out to minority communities. In some cases, that discussion has gone like this, white LGBT telling LGBT of color that they need to address the problem of homophobia in their communities and telling LGBT of color HOW to talk about the problem of homophobia in their communities...and yet, there is very little mention about the problem of racism in the LGBT community.

Before we can even talk about the homophobia in minority communities, we're going to need to address the racism and the other '-isms' and '-phobias' within our own community. And that discussion can't happen without a discussion of 'white privilege' which can show up (and has in this discussion) in different ways like, for example, telling LGBTs of color how they must script the discussion so that it is acceptable to white LGBTs.

That approach will get us no where and is beyond insulting.

Reformed Ascetic | November 23, 2008 11:37 PM

Watching everyone try to prove they “get it” more than the previous commenter has probably been the most enlightening part of this post. Thanks Yasmin for that opportunity.

Many white queers felt betrayed by the black community in California when the numbers came out. They believed that as a fellow minority the black community should get it. They reacted the way people typically act when they feel betrayed. However, there is at least one obvious problem with this. A number of these queers (many white, some not) failed to look past their audience’s skin color to see how they created their lives. They assumed someone they saw as a fellow minority didn’t need to be addressed.

Another part of this is the constant message that it is the oppressive white majority that causes all the problems. No matter how much truth anyone finds in this statement, there are also a few problems. One occurred with Prop 8. If white people are the oppressors then it’s just white people that need to be addressed to effect change.

People often react unhappily when their world view is called into question.

Something similar is going on with some queer PoC. They assume white queers should be more advanced than white people generally. That they have a greater duty to get it racially. That because they are a minority they should get it. And to be fair, people, queer or not, probably should get racial/ethnic issues more than LGBT issues simply because the education effort has been going on longer. But the argument that white queers should “get it” is the same argument as the black community should “get it.”

Let’s not be disingenuous, the author (I avoid her name because I don’t know what honorific she prefers) of this letter is clearly upset, offended, angry and feeling betrayed. That is not intended to put words into her mouth, but to try to get at the feelings she seems to be expressing. I say it this way because she chose to display this through her tone rather than explicitly.

I was not at that rally. It is impossible for me to say how appropriate or inappropriate the language was. This is further complicated by the author losing her cool. Like many, if not most people, I am slower to assume I am being presented with accurate facts when someone is behaving intemperately. I can certainly understand why she felt excluded by the language she mentions, but it is actually her display of sarcasm that leads me to wonder whether she overreacted. To wonder if there were other PoC there who did not feel excluded. If everyone else there understood “we” to mean all queer people regardless of color. If everyone else there understood “they” to be verbal shorthand, poor choice or not, to mean those members of the black community who voted for Prop 8. Frankly, I tend to agree with her if only because of some of the examples of ugly behavior on this topic people have posted. Given the climate, responsible speakers should have purposefully been clear about rejecting racism. I even agree with her broader point that PoC tend to be underrepresented in visions of the queer community. I feel bad that in what should have been a moment of coming together, which she wanted to participate in, she felt excluded.

Having said all that. Having even said I essentially agree with her. Can we really act surprised that her language has turned people off? From sarcastic language to calling the speaker a les-biatch to calling all white queers "ignoramus maximus," she clearly intended to be insulting to everyone she saw as other in her anger. Not all white people, queer or not, are people of economic privilege. Not all black people are economically underprivileged. She attacks people for white guilt (interestingly some of the commenters here appear to be attacking people for not displaying enough). She uses language that would be assigned the label of homophobic if used by a non-queer person. Masking insults in comedy, she clearly intends this letter to be read while granting her sympathy/privilege to say such things, yet her willingness to understand the intentions of others can be called into question by this same letter.

She asks if the people she is addressing, or the entire white queer community depending on your reading, are second graders because of lack of insight and poor tactics, but she chose to lash out in a manner she had to know would result in more misunderstandings rather than less. It may well have entertained her, but how productive a choice was it really?

My point is not that she was wrong in her perception of the rally or of the visibility of queer PoC in general. My point is that what this post shows best is how easy it is for us to implode over issues of race. In that, it was quite interesting and enlightening.

We can all continue to attack each other, semiotically proving our superior perceptions, or we can actually try to talk to each other.

And speaking of semiotics, if I haven’t pissed off enough people yet, no one owns the language. The language of civil rights or otherwise. While I suspect the author was intending to be semi-humorous, I am taking this opportunity to address something I have seen all over the place, including televised debates between talking heads since the election. Those who would deny the queer community the language of civil rights are trying to force queers into accepting that they are something other than an oppressed minority. To deny them access to established patterns of success. And so on.

I think that there are a few disparte issues that need to be addressed in this dialogue. As a white, gay, southern man, I didn't really get white privilege for a long time. You have to understand that most (not all, but most) white gay's move to urban centers where we live and work and befriend people of color. I know I fled to a big city as soon as I could get away from the small town where I grew up so I could be a big ole homo. Thus, we live and work and befriend and yes even date people of color, but many of us don't get the whole white privilege thing. We don't really consider ourselves racist, racist people burn crosses and wear hoods. You can ask any white gay what they think about racism, and you'll probably get some form of this answer along with how horrible racism is.

As a white gay man, I can go pretty much anywhere I want. I have no trouble hailing a cab, and I grew up in a culture of not whether I would go to college, but where. The only oppression I have ever experienced has been "being a gay." But only the people whom I choose to reveal this to or whom I overhear making a homophobic remark can offend and oppress me. I am not a woman who has to deal with a glass ceiling, misogny, equal work for less pay. I am not an African American who deals with being followed around in stores because I might be a thief, who has to deal with stereotypes and a host of other issues. I am not Hispanic and accused of being ignorant because I choose to speak the language of my family and not learn English. Like I said, I am a white gay man.

To the author and others, please forgive us.

Many white gays and lesbians have never considered what it means to be a person of color. I have tried and know that on the large part I still don't get a lot of it, but I have tried.

Many of us assume that, because we live in urban centers and know people of color that we aren't racists, as the author pointed out, yes we can be and are. Again my appologies.

Many of us aslo wrongly assume that because we are gay, we are oppressed, which in some form is true. In this same manner, we assume that anyone who has ever been oppressed is going to be with us on every issue. It's simply not true.

I live in Washington, DC a city with an extreme difference in income levels among whites and people of color. African American's in DC see two white gay boys move onto their block and see gentrification on the way. White gay boys in DC have taken over historically African American neighborhoods and priced out families that have lived there for generations. The two little white gay boys saw a condo or row house for a steal, I can only assume that the African Americans who live on the street think, there goes the neighborhood, they're taking over our space again.

My point to all of this is 1) we white gay people don't really get it when it comes to race relations we honestly think we're ok, but as has beenp pointed out, we're not 2) you don't have to forgive us, but we do need to be called out in a constructive way that helps us to learn and better understand the perspectives and experiences of people of color 3) I believe that we can work together, to educate, support and change this great nation of ours for the better of all.

And one last time, at least this white gay boy offers his appologies for our profound stupidity.

Clearly race and gender issues need to be continually, and actively worked upon in the lgbt community. When our community gets it wrong, we need to speak out (as we have been) and clear the air. At the same time, we need to realize no matter how far we come there will always be someone saying the wrong thing and doing the wrong thing - but through it all, we need to recognize our sisters and brothers who do get it.

Just like when we work with straight people - we could say, "Screw you all - you don't get it". But it doesn't do us any good. In addition to venting our anger, and protesting, and those sometimes necessary actions, we also reach out to them, and work to educate them, and even work to make them our allies. We call them out when they miss the mark, but we let them know that we appreciate their support when they get it right. Together we build a movement bigger than ourselves.

We need to keep faith in each other, and when we lose it, work to build it. Our fates are tied, we are in it together. Let's make it work. Let's work for positive change.

Don't give up on each other! Don't give up the fight for equality!

Points from a white, middle-class bisexual male:

* it seems that some white people find it impossible to even attempt to deal with what an angry and irrational queer person of color has to say, especially when race is part of the discussion - when they'd have no trouble granting that same privilege to an angry and irrational white person on another topic

* no detailed mea-culpas here, the state campaign fucked up, it's that simple - fucked up its interactions with communities of color, and the queer people within them; they also screwed up a lot of other things... including the post-election communications and messaging (as the author points out) - that said, major fuck ups happen in every campaign, and hopefully our leadership will learn from them and be more effective next time; as a local "leader" here in Santa Cruz, I acknowledge our own shortcomings in this area, and will state that I'm absolutely determined to fix them, even if I do risk appearing to be a clueless white person (which is the white liberal/progressive's worst fear) in the process

* the anger here is understandable, and unproductive in a certain sense(1), but productive in another, in that it gets a conversation started (once again) about race and racism - we just have to deal with this as a community, we can't have sisters and brothers in arms feeling this alienated, we've got to confront our own inadequacies and make doing so a priority

(1) are queer people of color obligated to always be Jackie Robinson, and not express themselves in ways that could potentially alienate white people? I don't think so

* the author's first paragraph contains a rhetorical trap that it is very tempting for white people to fall into; it is an excellent test of how serious the white reader is about actually reading her entire column and hearing her out - it is interesting to see how successful the she was in doing so, based on the comments here, and my own initial reaction

** I'll state the rhetorical trap explicitly: the author's apparent conviction that white gay people are all upper-middle class trendoids, echoing media stereotypes, is utterly beside the point (although not a terribly productive way to start a conversation about stereotypes and false perceptions with a generic white/queer audience) - the systematic significance and impact of that mis-perception pales by comparison to that of the manifestations of systemic and institutional racism highlighted in this article - if you let yourself get distracted by this, you're demonstrating cluelessness, you've failed the IQ test - go back to the beginning, and re-read the entire article

* Coda. Even though I am married (bisexuals do get to exercise that particular heterosexual privilege when we happen to fall in love with someone of the opposite sex/gender), I have no particular investment in the institution, per se, either. - equal marriage doesn't help my friends in multi-partner relationships, or the many folks whose relationships are significant but aren't appropriate for a wholesale financial and legal merger. That said, like the author, I think those who want access should have it, and unlike the author - and her choice is totally valid (2), I made it a priority, because of the larger principle and the symbolic significance a win would have had, politically, for the queer community as a whole, and for minority communities of all sorts

(2) acknowledging my limited information, it seems entirely reasonable to me that the author and the communities she is a part of and works within face significantly greater challenges on a daily basis than those the symbolic denial of marriage rights, or even the practical liabilities imposed by lack of access to the rights accorded married people by the federal government

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 24, 2008 7:50 PM

And typically it is the people with the most privilige that have the most difficulty holding THEMSELVES accountable to anything, and not just blaming everybody else.

Wow, and don't some of the commenters here (Rob, Micheal, Greg C, Midtowner, Adam, Lucrece) prove your point.

Great post, Yasmin! I'm only sorry you had to write it.

Hey, Brynn,

Thanks so much for your kind words. Unfortunately, I can't take the credit for this one :-) - it was actually written by a friend of a friend, Alette Kendrick. It's been showing up on the web a lot, and I thought it would be useful to start a discussion here on bilerico. I'll be sure to point her towards your comment. And yes, I agree with you about those who've proven her points!

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | November 24, 2008 8:12 PM

I'm sorry! If I hadn't jumped right into the body of the text, I would have seen that!

Oh, no worries - that's not a criticism; just didn't want to take credit for someone else's very provocative piece:-) It's great to see it being discussed so much, I must say!

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Thank you, my dear.
A friend of mine, another MTF transwoman posted some vile screed right after the passage of prop 8 blaming it all on the African-American community who "should know better"
Excuse me... Lily-white hipster Lesbian wannabes should not throw stones from their recycled-glas houses.
I defend anyone's right to criticize any community they want, any time they want, but please don't look STUPID while you do it; an educated white person should certainly look before leaping to the conclusion that "it's those damn African-Americans". At leastr they are looking for verbal and not physical rope, I guess, but it's pretty offensive given, as you have pointed out, how strangely homogeneous gay communites can be sometimes.