by Geoffrey Kidwell
Dear White Gay Men,
Hello. My name is Geoffrey, pronounced “Jeffrey.” The strange spelling sometimes throws people off. Like you, I am a white gay man. I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of the many gays who paved the way in glitter so that I could be the fierce bitch I am today. I love Beyonce. I love the bars in Hell's Kitchen. I love a heel so high a 1990’s Linda Evangelista would be scared to wear it. I love my husband who is also a white gay man. I love everything that comes with being a card-carrying homo.
Here’s what I don’t love…white gay men burying their heads in the sand while black Americans are being murdered in the streets.
That last sentence is what we call a “tonal shift.”
Recently, we have heard the stories of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and George Floyd. Four black lives lost. Four black families forever changed. This is not to mention the countless lives lost before now in similar situations. I am writing this because we, as white gay men, are not doing enough to help dismantle the racist structures that are literally killing black people in America. It’s time white gay men show up.
On the same night that protestors in Minneapolis took to the streets to demand justice for the murder of George Floyd, my Instagram feed was full of posts from my white friends about Lady Gaga’s new record, Chromatica. Listen. I’m not here to rob anyone of their joy and I don’t want to stop people from enjoying this music. I understand the power of music. I’ve danced as an expression of community, of love, and of solidarity. But on any other night out, this Gaga album would be sandwiched between the songs of Whitney Houston and Beyonce. We’d shout, wiggle, and claim these voices as ours. But we must not raise our white hands in celebration without standing behind the black fists raised in protest.
As actress Amanda Stenberg put it, “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
I have been guilty of loving black culture more than I love black people. Even worse, I’ve laughed casually at racist jokes. I’ve kept silent as black people were harassed. I’ve read the news, sucked my teeth, sighed, and gone back to scroll Instagram. I’m guilty. So are you. We all are.
White gay men take up a complicated space in this country. As gay men, we have suffered the injustices of a citizenry and a government that far too often would deny us our humanity, and yet, our whiteness protects us from many of the injustices our fellow black citizens endure. Any way you cut it, despite our being gay, we have access to the privilege that comes with being born white and male in America. That privilege gives us power. That power can be used to support black people in their struggle for equality. And if we divest too much of that power in things that make us feel good at the moment - in parties and selfies and nights at the bar - rather than in things that offer support, then we’re part of the problem. And that’s what a lot of us are doing right now.
Our inaction and our distraction will only work to uphold the structures that oppress black Americans.
I’m not an expert on racial justice. I’m struggling with this myself, but here are some action steps I’ve come up with so far (with the help of some actual experts):
1. Stop asking your black friends what you can do. Racism is a problem of whiteness, not of blackness.
2. Take a look at your own self and determine the ways in which you’ve contributed to and benefited from systems that oppress people of color. Be honest and don’t let yourself off the hook.
3. Ditch your white guilt. Wallowing doesn’t achieve anything. Action does.
4. Begin to have tough conversations with friends and family surrounding race. When you hear an uncle (ugh…it’s always an uncle) make some low-key racist remark, call him out. It will be uncomfortable. Lean into the discomfort.
5. Read and support black creators and leaders. A few years ago, I read a book entitled, Between The World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It slapped me in the face, hard. I deserved it.
6. Give your money to organizations fighting for racial justice.
7. Think critically. When it comes to difficult issues, I’m trying something new: (1) I notice my initial reaction, (2) immediately interrogate it, (3) reevaluate, and then decide where I stand. EXAMPLE: White folks must hold themselves accountable for the racist structures that are literally killing POC. REACTION: But I’m not a racist! INTERROGATION: Maybe that’s not enough. Maybe I need to be an anti-racist. Have I really confronted my own prejudices? NEW DECISION: I take steps to fight racism rather than just be against it in my head and on my Instagram. I need to put my money - literally my actual dollars - where my mouth is. I need to listen to black people. I need to be active in the fight.
8. Repeat steps 1-7
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