Time has just published a very interesting opinion piece by a young black woman who is a senior at the University of Mississippi. She is criticizing what she considers to be the appropriation by white gay men of black female culture. It is a well written and thoughtful piece.
You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriationShe sets the general context of racism and privilege and then addresses it application to the relationship of black culture to mainstream pop culture.
I need some of you to cut it the hell out. Maybe, for some of you, it’s a presumed mutual appreciation for Beyoncé and weaves that has you thinking that I’m going to be amused by you approaching me in your best “Shanequa from around the way” voice. I don’t know. What I do know is that I don’t care how well you can quote Madea, who told you that your booty was getting bigger than hers, how cute you think it is to call yourself a strong black woman, who taught you to twerk, how funny you think it is to call yourself Quita or Keisha or for which black male you’ve been bottoming — you are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. It is not yours. It is not for you.
And then, when you thought this pillaging couldn’t get any worse, extracurricular black activities get snatched up, too: our music, our dances, our slang, our clothing, our hairstyles. All of these things are rounded up, whitewashed and repackaged for your consumption. But here’s the shade — the non-black people who get to enjoy all of the fun things about blackness will never have to experience the ugliness of the black experience, systemic racism and the dangers of simply living while black. Though I suppose there’s some thrill in this “rolling with the homies” philosophy some adopt, white people are not racially oppressed in the United States of America.I am trying to stay within the limits of fair use in selecting quotes from the article. However, I don't think that they entirely do it justice. It is not long and I would encourage people to read it all before forming conclusions about it. What ever else you might think of her, she writes with style and punch.
This really touches on a lot of thorny issues. We have seen more than a few political conflicts between the black and gay communities. That has receded considerably into the background as President Obama has become more of an active supporter of LGBT rights. Within the feminist movement there have been splits between white middle class women and women of color.
I think that the things that Ms. Mannie says about the appropriation of black culture in general have considerable validity. However, I'm not really sure why such appropriation by gay men stands out so specifically from a long historical background. I am not very tuned into pop culture, so there may be a particular element of an effort to be outrageous in it that she is reacting to.
I am a white gay man who grew up in the deep south during the last days of Jim Crow. Whatever flack I got for being a kid who didn't conform to the norms of masculinity was more than offset by the privilege of being white and middle class in that very rigid society. I have seen abundant examples of nasty racism on the part of white gay men toward black gay men. Being a victim of discrimination doesn't give anybody a license to pass it one to other people.