“What’s the difference between being a black gay person and a gay black person? How do I know which identity to put first, and put the most energy into? If I’m a queer activist, I am turning my back on my race, and if I am a black activist, I’m turning my back on my sexuality. Both communities make me feel like I have to pick one or the other, and I don’t know which one to choose.”
- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Cassidy Hill as part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
There’s a lovely little term I’m going to share with you, anon: intersectionality. (In the bootleg Wikipedia definition, intersectionality is the “study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination.”) Intersectionality acknowledges that many forms of discrimination overlap and occur simultaneously. For me, a queer black woman, I can be subjected to discrimination based on my race, my gender, and my sexuality.
It’s true that both communities have plenty of overlap when it comes to discrimination. Both communities also have a long way to go in terms of overcoming oppression. But arguing that you can’t fight for one community without abandoning the other is not the way to go. If I march with the Black Lives Matter movement, I’m not abandoning the LGBT community. If I dress up and go to a Queer Prom benefit, I’m not turning my back on black people. If I felt guilt over feelings of abandonment with every bit of activist work I did, I’d start to feel exhausted. Chances are I’d go to fewer and fewer events. Think of it this way: let’s say I’m at a barbeque, and I decide to have a (veggie) hot dog instead of a (veggie) burger. I’d still consider myself both a burger and a hot dog fan; I wouldn’t be abandoning burgers. Maybe I’ll have enough room for a burger later. Maybe I’ll be super pumped to have a burger tomorrow! Being a part of both communities doesn’t mean that I have to pick one or the other—it means that I just have more to fight for (and more people to fight with).
There is an amazing slam poetry performance I’d like to share with you. The scene: two women, one gay, one black, argue about which group has had it worse. They’re passionate, they’re angry, and they ache for change. In the end, they realize that arguing with each other does nothing; they team up and finish the poem together. It gives me chills every time.
It makes me both sad and frustrated that you feel as if you can’t be a part of both communities simultaneously, because honestly, you’re experiencing both forms of oppression/discrimination simultaneously. The Patriarchy isn’t going to pick and choose which ways it will discriminate against me, so why would I? Yes, the world can sometimes feel a little bleak when you look at it this way, but it also means that I can connect with many different types of people—people who understand my struggle as a black person, a queer person, and/or as a woman.
*Puts on Morpheus sunglasses* What if I told you that there are places, special places that would never, ever make you feel like you had to choose or forfeit a part of your identity? That’s right; you can also involve yourself in intersectional activism! There are spaces for queer people of color (places like Brooklyn Boyhood in NY and Brown Boi Project in San Francisco) where you can organize against oppression without feeling the need to choose which part of yourself to fight for. Even within these organizations, you’re not limited by just “queer” or “person of color.” Brown Boi project, for example, also fights for gender justice; they’re working toward creating a world where femininity isn’t devalued and degraded. Brooklyn Boihood looks to redefine what’s classified as “masculinity.” Within organizations like these, you’ll find people who’ve made it a point to create a safe space for people who experience discrimination on multiple levels. How amazing is that!?
I’d also like to point out that activist work isn’t necessarily dictated by your identity (or vice versa). There are plenty of non-queer/non-black people fighting the good fight against oppression. Many thanks to those people! And many thanks to the people brave enough to fight on their own behalf as well!
Love Cassidy’s work? She is a volunteer contributor! Support her on PayPal!