I just found this complicated story about racism, homophobia, and (as I read it) sexism at the National Equality March. Rakefet Abergel, a white lesbian from LA who went to DC for the NEM, says she saw a group of black teens throw a jug of urine at some marchers as they were going home.
As we approached the statue they were skating around we saw a huge milk jug filled with what looked like urine being chucked into a group of protesters walking home from the march. We were in shock! Immediately we asked who threw the jug and one girl, about 13 or 14 years old came forward and said "You got a problem?" and I said, "Yes, I do! Why would you do that??" She yelled in my face with venomous hate and indifference, "Because you're a faggot and a bitch!" When she said faggot I literally stepped back with the force of the word. I wanted to say, "It's DYKE honey. Get it right." But what I said was, "What?!?" "You're BLACK."
So let's pause here. According to her side of the story (since Abergel says later on that the teen was yelling "You're a fucking liar" when the police showed up, we can assume that she has her own side of the story), the teen called her a "faggot" and a "bitch," and, while Abergel wanted to respond with something witty, instead the first thing she said was "What? You're BLACK."
You called me a faggot? I'll call you black. There, we're even.
The story continues:
As she stepped closer she started to raise her skateboard as if to hit me. I said, "You're great-great-grandparents were probably slaves! How could you show such ignorance and disrespect to someone who is different then you?! Do you think they'd be proud of you?" Of course, at the mention of the word slave she came forward and started getting physical with us.
When she's telling the teen that she's black (as if she didn't know), it sounds a lot less like she's making an argument about transcending artificial barriers to bring forth a new coalitional politic and a lot more like she's saying, "Don't you know your place?" The slavery comment, which is an assumption about the teen's background, sounds less like "Let's look at your history and see where it looks like my history" and more like "Get back in your place."
There are black homophobes. That's not news. The fact that she stresses over and over again that the teen is black seems to be saying more "How dare you talk to me this way. You're black!" than it is actual incredulity that a black person could be homophobic.
My wife stepped in between me and her to try to shield me from the possible blows. She was getting in my face and then her friends jumped in too and they started to surround us, skateboards raised. The words faggot and racist and go to hell were being shouted at us from numerous directions. She said, "Did you just call me a slave? Did you just call me a nigger?" I was appalled. "What? Hell no! Why would I do that? I have NOH8 tattooed on my face! I just came from an EQUALITY march where I marched with all different kinds of people, all different colors, from all walks of life!" They continued to taunt me with the N word and started calling me a racist.
The teen hasn't gotten violent up to this point, but Abergel is saying that the teen's body language is threatening violence. Just sayin', I wasn't there, but imagining that a Black person is going to be violent is the number one most common racist stereotype there is.
Another red flag for me is her insistence that she's not racist. She may have written "NOH8" across her face, she may have been marching for "EQUALITY," but that doesn't mean that she can't be racist. If anything, it seems more like she's unwilling to confront some of her scarier feelings on the subject of race.
This is liberal exceptionalism, plain and simple. American exceptionalism argues that, because the US is the country chosen by God to lead the world, every one of our actions is good. It doesn't matter what we do, like invade Iraq or sabre-rattle with Iran or fund a military coup in Nicaragua, every one of America's actions promotes peace and security.
Liberal exceptionalism is the idea that, because someone has sufficiently demonstrated their liberalism, they can't possibly be racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, etc. In the gay world, it's when folks say that they have gay friends, they're totally liberal and even visited a gay bar, so that means that when they say they don't want their kids to have a gay teacher it's alright (true story). It pops up all the time when it comes to race; plenty of liberals think that because they voted for Obama or watch Oprah or went to a soul food restaurant that they can't possibly hold racist thoughts. Whatever luminous personal history a person has doesn't suddenly make future actions alright. Life's more complicated than that.
At this point, a few marchers who had been walking by and were the targets of the jug flying at them, jumped in and tried to separate us. I was crying hysterically and still trying to "reason" with them. The more we retreated, the closer and more angry the mob of kids got.
So now the group of black teens is a mob that can't be reasoned with. Gotcha.
I got hit in the shoulder with the girl's skateboard. My wife was trying to guard me from the crowd. A group of other skateboarders just sat there and watched and laughed. I screamed, "I'M NOT A RACIST! My parents marched with Martin Luther King for god's sakes! My grandparents are from AFRICA!" Calling me a racist upset me more than her calling me a faggot. I'm so far from racist that it's ridiculous. I screamed, "Martin Luther King is probably rolling over in his grave right now!" My stomach hurt. I couldn't stop crying. How could this little girl, who's BLACK, be saying such ugly and hurtful things!? How could someone who doesn't even KNOW me think she does? Why would she try to turn it around on herself when she was the one who threw things at people and called me names?
How can someone who's black (excuse me, "BLACK") say such ugly things? Because anyone can say ugly things. And because there are black homophobes. Again, not news.
But instead of thinking about the obvious racial issues going on here (even after the fact, since she wrote the blog post several days later with plenty of time to digest what happened), she sees the teen calling her "racist" as name-calling. Being called racist is nothing more than a personal insult, one that's worse that homophobia (or racism, but that's a given). And everything she seems to be thinking at this point is race-related, either "I'm not racist" or "How dare a black person treat me this way."
Just saying, red flags abound.
The story continues, and you can read the rest on Rakefet Abergel's website. They end up getting the police over there and find someone who was taking video of the confrontation. Apparently the video didn't capture the violence, just the yelling. The police took statements and arrested the black teen, who shouted "You're a fucking liar!" as she was dragged off to jail. Then a black woman appeared and absolved Abergel of her guilt.
I'm not saying that what the teen did was right, not by any means. I want to hear the other side of the story, though, since the teen seems to think that Abergel's account isn't accurate, and, considering how racist some cops can be, I wouldn't be surprised if the police took the position they did because of the skin colors of the people involved. But if she did hit Abergel with her skateboard or was throwing urine on the marchers, then what she did was wrong and that needs to be addressed. I disagree with Abergel that the teen is beyond reason or hope, but she definitely has some homophobia she needs to work on.
The irony, though, is that while Abergel says that someone can't be homophobic because they're black, she seems to forget that gay people can definitely be racist. That a gay person paints "NOH8" on their face or marches with people of all colors or has parents who marched with MLK or great-grandparents from Morocco or voted for Barack Obama or watches Oprah or has black friends or loves rap music or once hailed a taxi for a black person who couldn't get one or gave a black girl a scholarship to summer camp or taught anti-racism courses to police officers or, or, or... doesn't mean that that person is off the hook when it comes to racism, nor does it mean that they should get a big pat on the back from every other minority they encounter.
And, while I'm still pissing everyone off, I'll just say here that I take a "C'est pas grave" approach to most discriminatory attitudes. One of the best things racists in the US did to shield themselves from criticism was to make racism the absolute worst personal failing ever. It shuts down conversations. It takes criticism of words and actions that are wrong and turns them into personal insults. Instead of "Well, gee, I do have to work on that" or "I really shouldn't have said that," the response to being told what one did is racist is now "How dare you! I'm not racist! That's an insult that's worse than racism!"
The Religious Right know how effective turning the word "racist" into a personal insult has been that they're already trying to do it with the word "homophobe," saying that anyone who tries to "debate" LGBT issues gets "shouted down as a homophobe."
Anyway, when people talk about racism in the LGBT community, this is what they're referring to. It's not that being LGBT necessarily makes someone racist, but that we all come from a racial and ethnic background that that comes with baggage. The altercation Abergel describes can only be partly described as "straight vs. gay"; "black vs. white" is another important component (as well as the fact that they were both women, and the conflict was started when one woman called the other a "bitch").
And, to reiterate, just as Abergel's actions don't mean that she can't be racist, her words also don't justify what the teen allegedly did to her. Violence is never an appropriate reaction to words.