“Silence itself—the things one declines to say, or is forbidden to name, the discretion that is required between speakers is…an element that functions alongside the things said…There is no binary division to be made between what one says and what one does not say; we must try to determine the different ways of not saying such things.” Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality Vol. 1
Considering the height of contemporary social activism, the threat of a “post-racial” declaration before actual attainment, and the ongoing struggle with homosexuality in the United States, now is the perfect time to start discussing the “silences” of prejudice. Clearly, we have seen manifestations of racism in the last few months that go beyond atrocious acts of racially derogatory name-calling and physical harm. It is the ingrained social politics of discrimination that continue to prevent this country from sprinting toward a progressive nationhood and, eventually, social equality.
Professor Melissa Harris-Lacewell made a comment on MSNBC that caused me to truly reflect on the definition of racism, sexism, and homophobia. She stated that we, as minorities, as women, as LGBT supporters, have not done a good enough job at explaining the evolution of these terms for our fellow Americans. The majority of the country still is operating under old definitions, e.g., racism as spewing the n-word, sexism as being intentionally unfair to women, and homophobia as hating “gay” people. As society progresses, the forms of prejudice will continue to change and evolve. Unfortunately, the discriminatory ideologies surrounding these social issues are deeply embedded in our psyches, often causing us not to realize our individual participation in their perpetuation.
Over the last few months I’ve written, filmed, and read commentary, about controversial LGBT topics. I’ve encountered and combated a lot of anti-LGBT discourse that likely was not intended to be anti-LGBT. A profound example of a popular anti-LGBT topic that I believe was not intended to be anti-LGBT, is the salacious “down low” phenomenon. Time and time again I hear the same response from the authors and similarly minded commentators on these articles:
“I’m not homophobic.”
“I don’t hate gay people.”
“I love gay people.”
Really? Are you sure about that? I’d have to disagree—and I’d encourage you to hear me out.
It’s not about “hating gay people.” That is a simple manifestation of homophobia. I’m interested in what’s under the cornbread. Let’s talk about the things that people don’t want to say, especially within the Black community, and the silences surrounding the discomfort of homosexuality. Let’s talk about Black women in heterosexual relationships who freak when their male partners convey homosexual desires (it’s happened to me and, yes, I reacted the same way). Let’s talk about the disgust and contorted faces that occur when we see a gay couple kissing. Let’s simply admit that the majority of the Black community believes that heterosexuality is the norm, and that it is superior to any form of homosexual relations.
Beyond the conversations surrounding homosexual, disease-spreading promiscuity, and the growing rate of HIV cases for black women with unfounded evidence that bisexual men are perpetuating these statistics, our discomfort with homosexuality trumps all. That is the bottom line. We do not understand homosexuality, have been taught in our families and churches that it is abnormal, and, frankly, do not care to challenge or consider altering our beliefs.
We live in a society that places heteronormativity on the throne of social relations, e.g., tax breaks for heterosexual couples, skewed hospital visitation rights, limited access to child adoption, etc.
Heteronormativity is the institutionalized belief that heterosexuality is the best and singular mode of sexual and gender organization for society, creating a hierarchy in sexual politics that is detrimental to LGBT and heterosexual people. Under this social model, technically, homosexuality can exist without any physical threat or ramifications, but it will never be treated as equal to heterosexual relations.
This creates an atmosphere of separatism where, essentially, most Black Americans adopt the attitude that insinuates that it is okay for people to be gay, just do it away and apart from the community. We don’t consider it “normal,” but they have the “choice” to do it over there. We find it “unacceptable,” but, hey, they can conduct their lives as they please. Basically, let me forget that the “they” also is the “we” and that unfair sexual politics harm members of the Black community. Yes, let me turn my cheek and pretend that none of this is intertwined, like this is not an equally pressing issue to racism and sexism.
Wake up! Oppressions are not mutually exclusive.
Heteronormativity breeds homophobia like old garbage births larva.
This is not an easy or fun conversation to have. I’m sure that I’ll have a number of nooses waiting for me online once this is published. Before anyone throws his or her religious beliefs into this conversation, let us reflect on the numerous occasions in history where religion has been used as an oppressive force—including the 400 years of enslavement of our ancestors. Please do not fall into that knee jerk trap.
I have no problem with anyone’s religious beliefs, but recognize that this country separates religion and state. I challenge you to step outside of your personal beliefs about how you conduct your life in order to create a better nation. For the record, I am a heterosexual woman who has no interest dating other women. That does not make me exempt from tackling LGBT discrimination. Racism, sexism, and homophobia remain intertwined. Same script and, truly, an overlapping cast.
In the words of Audre Lorde:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
We must move beyond simplistic analyses of sexuality and touch that terror of the “other.” We can no longer afford to have discussions that only brush the surface of our fears. Dig deeper, love harder, and think of those who stepped outside their box to combat other oppressions. Sometimes, challenging yourself can be the hardest but most rewarding experience in social progress.