gay is the new black

I remember watching a gay rights activist on a television interview discussing the importance of “natural alliances” in the struggle for equality. He stated that “African-Americans” were a “natural ally” for gay people as a result of the similarities in our shared experiences. I also remember thinking to myself, “Good luck with that one.”

While Blacks and homosexuals have clearly endured similar injustices and encountered innumerable expressions of hatred and disregard, there is a human tendency, in my opinion, to place one’s own plight and the plight of one’s own people above that of any other group, particularly when the plight has been particularly horrible.

Of course, things get complicated when speaking of people who belong to more than one historically oppressed group (i.e. Black women, gay Blacks, Sammy Davis, Jr., and so forth); however, even under those circumstances one group tends to insist that the individual choose a side, as it were. And what about those sides? Why must we assume that gay people aren’t racist? There are non-black gay people who could careless or want to be bothered by the same struggles their black “counterparts” go through.

In an article for the New York Daily News entitled “Gay Really is the New Black,”  John McWhorter discusses homophobia in the Black community in particular and outlines how Blacks can and should participate in the struggle for gay rights.

He states, “One way we will know black America has fulfilled its responsibility in keeping the struggle alive for others is when (celebrity) figures … can own up to themselves in public — and their fellow black Americans are okay with it.”

He was speaking, specifically, of three unnamed, supposedly “closeted” Black celebrities, insisting that Wanda Sykes, Don Lemon, and Frank Ocean are simply not famous enough for their comings out to be impactful.

While I do agree that Black people should be empathetic to our gay brethren and should participate in the struggle, I believe that Mr. McWhorter makes a pretty weak argument. As much as I wish that Mr. Mother Dear and the chubby cover girl would proclaim their obvious sexual preferences from the mountaintops, we need to stop looking to celebrities for cues about what is right and wrong. Black people need to think critically and be reasonable about the topic.

We need to recognize that, although we built this country, we are still treated as unwelcome guests and that feels pretty awful. Well, guess what: gay people get treated the same way, and it feels pretty shitty to them, too. We need to stop hollering about “sin” and other nonsense. If you’re a believer, that will all work itself out, and judge not yada yada yada.

 So, what do you think? Do we as Black people have a “responsibility” to participate in the struggle for gay rights, or are the differences in our histories too great to put that expectation upon us?

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  • As someone who is simultaneously black, male, and gay, It’s really difficult to see when my black brothers and sisters frame these kinds of debates in an “us and them” way. People like me who juggle multiple marginalized identities don’t just require a caveat, or a parenthetical mention like in this post. People like me should prompt us, instead, to understand that the “one group at a time” approach to obtaining civil rights is flawed. Oppressed people have been trained for for decades in this country to fight for inadequate resources to address all our needs. The result is a competition between marginalized people to prove whose lives suck, and have sucked the most as a result of institutional oppression.

    In my opinion, the solution is not to sit around and argue over which groups deserve more help. Supporting the full equality of any oppressed group is supporting human rights across the globe.

    I am very flexible on what support can look like. There are too many injustices in the world to be actively involved with all of them; so fight for what you feel most passionate about. But don’t block gay rights because you lack a nuanced view of what gay means. Gays are not just the uppity white male couples purchasing Mc-Mansions on HGTV. If my fellow black people had not been so homophobic in the first place, perhaps we, as a community would have known more about our gay brothers and sisters we cross paths with daily. As someone inundated with my blackness since my conception, it’s every easy for me to see white supremacy everywhere. But what about straight supremacy in Black communities? Should I stop fighting to improve the lives of my people because they’ve marginalized me for who I’m attracted to? Hypocritical…..

    When the Advocate released the “Black is the New Gay” cover following Proposition 8, I was absolutely livid. I swore that the cover was proof that the predominantly white gay rights movement was misappropriating the suffering of black people; my people. But the truth is that Bayard Rustin, trusted advisor to MLK, gave a 1986 speech called, “The New Niggers are Gays.” Of course, it would take someone with multiple marginalized identities to make such a radical claim. Bayard understood his efforts and the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement as part of a larger story of global equality. He used non-violent techniques from India to address racial, economic, and sexuality-based oppression for a variety of people in this country. Obtaining rights for people is not Black work or Gay work. It is HUMAN work. Perhaps now, while political and social polarization are the names of the game, we could stand to remind ourselves of our shared humanity more often.

    Peace Love and Hair Grease.

  • Sandy

    “Gay” may not be the new “black,” but “homophobe” is the new “racist.” Keep up with history or get left behind.


    sexual orientation =/= skin color

    dumbass gays

  • YouFancyhuh?

    There is not enough history of oppression for gay to be the new black. Once gays are removed from their lands against their own free will and crammed on a ship alongside hundreds of other gays to an alien land thousands of miles from home. Once gays have had their name and their culture stripped away and are unable to attain an education without the fear of being beaten to death. Then, and only then can gay be the new black.
    There is also the issue that gays, while still fighting for equality, have managed to secure rights at a faster pace than other minority groups. To my knowledge no police dogs were commanded to attack and no hoses were set to douse as they marched for civil liberties. Gay is not the new black.

  • Steven

    You should be ashamed of yourself for treating being black and being gay as mutually exclusive characteristics. I’m gay and PoC and your insinuating this fake divide between “us” and “them” is repulsive. It has always been and will always be a matter of “us” because there ARE gay PoC and all you are doing is erasing us.

    Shame on you.

    • Thanks for your comment. We actually on the same side. I hope you read the article :)