How White LGBTQ People Can Be More Inclusive of People of Color

As a minority group that regularly battles prejudice, violence, and ignorance from governments, hate groups, and the like, LGBTQ people know what it’s like to be discriminated against. That’s why the gay community tends to pride itself on being anti-discriminatory and accepting of people from all walks of life.

Unfortunately, the gay community is not devoid of casual racism. Even though, in theory, people should know better, certain forms of racism in the LGBTQ community have become so normalized that they get brushed off as minor.

Before I go on, let me define the kind of racism I’m talking about to avoid confusion. Racism, in an institutional sense, is race-based discrimination from a position of power or privilege.

This means that a gay person with white privilege can be racist toward gay people of color and people of color in general.

I’m not talking about mustache twirling, KKK-grade, Hitler level racism that’s so obvious anyone with any sense of human decency would banish it from their mind. I’m talking about the “little” things, like the fetishization of black men by gay white men, the stigmatization of Asian men by gay men of other races, mainstream LGBTQ campaigns with little racial awareness, and racial “preferences” that can be innocuous, but at times reflect an underlying prejudice. As normalized as they are, they suck for LGBTQ people of color who are not well represented in either their own racial communities or the mainstream LGBTQ community. The lack of acceptance from either group puts a strain on how safe LGBTQ people of color feel in a lot of the spaces they occupy. So if you’re white and LGBTQ and you want to make sure that LGBTQ spaces are as safe and inclusive for everyone as possible, here are some steps you can take to support people of color and be more racially aware.

1. Be Aware of Intersectionality

Be aware that your experience of being LGBTQ and white is not representative of being lesbian and Asian or gay and latin@, or queer and black.

Awareness of intersectionality means recognizing that LGBTQ people of color can be discriminated against not as people of color or as LGBTQ people, but as both simultaneously. For example, if you’re a gay white woman and you’re already aware of how your gender and sexuality intersect, remember that race is yet another intersection, and not a negligible one. In most cases race is highly visible, apparent from birth, and connected to cultural identity and family affiliation.

2. Don’t Think That Being LGBTQ Lets You Off the Hook for Being Racist

Keeping intersectionality in mind, understand that just because you’ve faced discrimination doesn’t mean you understand every form of discrimination or are immune from being discriminatory yourself. We all have some form of privilege, and acknowledging your privilege when it comes to race means acknowledging the unconscious ways in which you can also be racist. In the past, when I called out someone (who happened to be gay) for being racially oblivious, his response was that, as a gay person, he can understand what it’s like to be discriminated against for being black.

Here’s why I disagree with a statement like that: if a person who has directly experienced racism is telling you that you’re being racially oblivious and you dismiss everything they say because “I’ve been discriminated against too,” you’re devaluing the experiences of people of color just as much as the institutions that continue to exclude them.

When LGBTQ people of color call out other people in the community for being racist, they don’t want you to tear your clothes apart and fall to your knees weeping with white guilt. What they want you to do is check yourself, listen to what they have to say, and be more aware of experiences besides your own. Seeing casual racism in the LGBTQ community isn’t about demonizing white people or making people paranoid about causing offense. It’s about making sure we’re all self-aware enough to check our cultural blind spots and truly listen to and value other people’s experiences.

3. Know Casual Racism When You See It

What does casual racism look like in LGBTQ spaces? A lot like casual racism everywhere else.

Casual racism thinks mixed race people are “exotic,” penis size is determined by race according to “some studies” that probably don’t exist, black women are aggressive, and just about every other common racial stereotype under the sun. Really, stereotypes fuel casual racism in all its forms.

Casual racism also thinks that LGBTQ people have transcended all responsibility for dealing with racial issues. For example, if you’re a queer person of color who wants to vocalize a racial concern in a predominantly white queer space and casual racism rears its head, you could be accused of being divisive (extra irony points if you were pointing out divisiveness that actually exists).

Sometimes casual racism masquerades as inclusion or open mindedness. For example, there are some gay people who go out of their way to date someone of another race just to say they’ve done it. Such gays then receive the Congratulatory Cookie of Open Mindedness from people of color for letting us sleep with them. But not really, because dating someone because of their race is as ridiculous as rejecting someone because of their race. The same applies to predominately white gay groups that go out of their way to snag token people of color (oblivious to the fact that these spaces don’t always feel inclusive to the people of color in question). Tokenism may seem progressive on its surface, but it’s really just another form of othering.

So if you see casual racism, remember it. And talk about it. Notice if you’re ever guilty of it and, if you are, take responsibility for it.

I would say explain it to other white LGBTQ people, but it’s frustrating when it takes a white person saying the same thing people of color have been saying for ages to convince other white people to change their actions. Instead, tell them to take the race related concerns of LGBTQ people of color seriously – as in listen to us.

As LGBTQ people, we get silenced all the time, told we’re too sensitive, told not to flaunt our sexuality. Sexual minorities of color can find themselves silenced further when their concerns about race are dismissed by the predominantly white, mainstream LGBTQ community.

Let’s keep working to change that.

What are some other ways we can help make spaces more inclusive of LGBTQ people of color? Please share in the comments below!

Originally published on Everyday Feminist. Republished WITH PERMISSION MOTHERF*CKERS.


About the author: Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling towards a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi.

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80 Comments

  1. As others have said, this article is fantastic and much needed. Sometimes I feel like the only white queer person in my group of friends that doesn’t think making casually racist jokes is okay, and when I try to call people out on it I’m always made to feel like Captain Buzzkill.

    In a related vein, does anyone have any advice for how best to explain why using the word “ghetto” is racist? My white cis gay male friend uses it constantly, and when I tried to explain why he shouldn’t use it he insisted that it wasn’t a racialized term and that he grew up in “the ghetto” (a working-class white neighborhood.)

    • Oh man, “ghetto” is a tricky beast. I mean, the term stems from the systemic oppression (and eventual genocide) of Jewish populations in Europe. More recently, the term has come to be a super negative way of describing overwhelmingly black, working class neighborhoods. So here you have two, totally legitimate, totally horrible histories for the same word. Who gets to own it, then? Who gets to decide how it gets used in/appropriately?

      I am neither Jewish nor black, so I have no idea what the answer is.

      • Ugh, that word (ghetto) really gets me. I’m a mixed race (African/English) queer girl living in a predominantly White and Asian city actually, and I have a coworker who LOVES to use that word to describe me when she perceives my behaviour as being particularly “black”. I’ve called her on it before actually, but she laughed it off, not really thinking about when/why she’s employing that term.

  2. What I find MOST annoying/troublesome/hurtful in my everyday interactions with other LGTBQ folks is their willingness to use my perceived ‘blackness’ as a way to legitimize their own casual racism. I recently read a great article that struck a chord with me. It was centered around the controversy surrounding Azealia Banks and her use of the ‘f’word. Here’s the part that I found particularly poignant though:

    “White gay cis men have cultural access to the bodies of black women and black femmes, cultural access that black women and black femmes do not have in relation to white gay cis male bodies. This cultural access allows white gay cis men to caricature black femininities, through mannerisms and voice intonations, as rambunctiously depraved and outlandish. It is a form of ontological mockery that reinforces dehumanizing narratives and racist tropes about black femininities.”

    The full article can be read here: http://www.crunkfeministcollective.com/2013/01/10/on-azealia-banks-and-white-gay-cis-male-privilege/

  3. I recently left college, as I was struggling to handle things there. On an almost daily basis, it was standard for the kids to say ‘am I black or something’? If they didn’t get included in the group discussion / get handed some food. The amount of racism or intolerance to the LGBT community was…. I just can’t explain. I’m not out and, haven’t even fully come out to myself, dealing with it now… But, even in front of teachers, gay jokes and comments were made. Discussions about who’s gay or who’s straight? Male students proclaiming ” I need a hair cut.. I look like a fucking lesbian”….

    Something needs to change.

        • That equates to not denying white privilege and supremacy don’t exist, denying racism exists, and saying bullshit like “black, white, blue, or purple”. Insisting that everybody is treated the same, and that we live a country (the U.S./ western society) that is complete meritocracy where all you have to do is “pull yourself by your bootstraps” and denying that there are centuries old racist structural inequalities in this country that make it harder for people of color to get to the same place economically and socially as white people.

  4. This article is much needed on this website. I have encountered a lot of casual and overt racism from the LGBT community in general and on this website. For example, on Autostraddle, an entitled racist white female queer idiot thought she had the right to continuously argue with me, a black woman, about whether or not black face should be offensive to me as a black person or any black people at all. (With no help from any moderators even though she must have argued with and insulted every other black person in that thread and willfully refused to listen to the fact that every single black person told her it wasn’t her place to decide how black people feel about ANY form of anti-black racism.) Or when an Asian queer female idiot, again on Autostraddle, asserted that thanks to affirmative action, unqualified black and Latino students who didn’t work hard were getting handed college admissions when they were lazy and weren’t as qualified as White and Asian students. (Just goes to show that even POC aren’t a monolith and can and do discriminate against other POC).

    When I first came out and I was younger and very naive, I erroneously believed that the LGBT community was more open-minded and progressive about everything, including race, and soon found out that wasn’t true. And I just don’t have the ENERGY to teach every ignorant sheltered white person and I certainly no longer have the inclination to respond nicely or kindly to any blatant anti black racism that comes out of the mouths of white queers. I’ll know what I’m taking about when I correct whatever stupid or ignorant shit you say about black people or black women, but I’ve gone through this so many times with people who refused to learn about the nature of racism, or people who had the nerve to get rude or ignorant with me when I’m only responding to their racist bullshit that I just don’t have the energy to PATIENTLY explain anymore. Sometimes I just feel like saying shut the f*ck up or read a motherfucking book, and that’s exactly what I do. So the first thing I would say is that white queers can do to make a lot of POC queers feel more inclusive is respect our rights to be fucking human beings with the same access to all the emotions that human beings are allowed to express. I am more then allowed to express anger, exasperation, and annoyance with a racist, willfully ignorant, and offensive fuck, and if someone challenges ME about the “tone” I use to respond to something as odious as RACISM, when the other person is being a fucking RACIST, you might catch some shit too. Ask the dumb ass who kept arguing with me over black face and what I had the right to be offended by as a black person.

  5. I am also tired about hearing about how homophobic and violent the black community is from white queers, many of whom don’t even know black people on a personal level. Please shut the f*ck up. That is another thing that white LGBT people need to do be more inclusive : don’t talk shit about black people and the black community. There are homophobic blacks, but no more then any other racial group. What truly effects homophobia is religiosity. Just like fundamentalist white Christians, there are a good deal of fundamentalist black Christians, but since the black community is treated like a monolith, the ENTIRE black community is more homophobic on whole. ::EYEROLL:: On a personal level, most -isms will piss me off, but racism will take me to an ugly place and I notice a lot of other black queers feel the similarly. Most black queers I know in NYC live in black communities with STRAIGHT blacks, not gay enclaves, and gay people should be asking themselves why. You can see evidence of this dating back to the Harlem Renaissance. Black gays were generally living their lives in the black communities of Harlem, NOT the bohemian enclave of the West Village. Could it be that racism effects the economic circumstances of many LGBT blacks, and that they are priced out of gay enclaves? Could it be that black queers from lower social economic strata’s are not welcomed by white, middle class, and more affluent LGBTS? (Constantly calling black people from the hood “ghetto”) Or that even more affluent black LGBTS just feel uncomfortable being one of the extremely few token POC in a gay enclave and that they’re still going experience some dumb ass racist or offensive behavior or language from white gays? (Thinking ALL black people are from the hood? That we’re exotic, that we have attitudes, we’re uncivilized, uneducated, going to rob, beat, or rape you). Also, don’t tell black people what is or isn’t anti-black racism or what it looks like, because they will ALWAYS be able to spot it better then you. Stand up to other racist white people around you whether or not any of your people of color friends are around, don’t ever lie to yourself and pretend reverse racism exists, don’t engage in colorblind racism, don’t pretend racism doesn’t exist, don’t make a discussion concerning racism about you as a white person (ex: talking about not being able to find makeup for your pale white skin and comparing that to the dearth of makeup for black skin) and when black people are discussing racism LISTEN, rather then speak and assert your “expert” opinions about anti-black racism.

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