Ever since the sit-in that disrupted the Toronto Pride Parade the debate... (it should be a discussion not a debate) regarding minority rights has heated up in Canada. There has been a wide ranging spectrum of views expressed on the subject. I've taken my time on this subject, not because it wasn't important to me, but I need to do some self exploration.
Before I get to it... a bit about me.
You see... I am not Black, nor am I Asian, First Nation, and I am not East Indian. I am a tall, blond haired, blue eyed Caucasian gay male and I am frustrated by what has happened. Although... not for the reason that some may think.
I was raised by a single mother. who like so many others struggled to make ends meet. We were hardly impoverished like much of the world, but we were certainly not rich. I can remember times when my mom went hungry to make sure that my brother and I ate. Life was not easy and being a single mother in the 70's and 80's was tough. My mother was, and still is, a beautiful woman. She dealt with being harassed, and misogamy at every turn. I don't think that my mom had it easy, she worked hard - really hard. In the end, she built a beautiful life for herself and her children. Her story is not necessarily unique either, there are many who can say the same thing.
At this time, with all of the race discussions happening there is one thing my mother taught me (of that many things) that I never really realized I learned. There is no such thing as race. People are just people. She never denied that there were people who were Black, Asian, Native, etc. She simply didn't identify people that way. People had names, and my mother identified people by those names.
We never heard language in our home that distinguished people by the colour of their skin or their nationality. Racist language was simply not allowed. I have memories of people being asked to stop that "kind of talk" immediately, or even being asked not-so-politely to leave the house.
I never grew up with it in my home, and we never really discussed racism in any concept other than it was wrong. So I had this image of myself as being a "non-racist". I was one of the good guys, and to a large extent I think that I am. BUT I am also far from perfect.
Some of the food for thought that turned on the light bulb for me...
Think about TV, Magazine advertisements, etc. How many non-white people do you see in a clothing magazine, on billboards, in online ads? The list goes on. Yet in Canada and the United States... whites are the minority. There are far more non-white people than white... and guess what... that has almost always been the case.
The next time you are watching the news watch how they report a crime. Much of the time you will hear this type of description: John Doe a black man.. .John Doe of the XXX first Nation... John Doe an Asian... but you never hear John Doe the White Guy. If a white man commits a crime... they are just John Doe. If the individual is not white your race becomes as, or more, important than the crime. YET... when it comes to victims they DO use the terms 'White' or 'Caucasian' in almost every single broadcast.
There are always exceptions, and it often depends on the news channel; but the vast majority follow this pattern. I bet you will notice it more now than ever before when it happens. WOW right?
I, like many others, have fallen into the trap of defining people by their race. Little comments to clarify an individual in discussion... Things like saying "You know... the Asian guy, or the native, etc." Do I define my 'white' friends by saying things like "That white guy"? Come to think of it... I never have and I can bet that none of them have ever done it either.
Ultimately this is the question I asked myself and honestly struggled with:
Does it make me a racist when I do this? I said No but then asked myself:
I may not be an overt racist, but have I subconsciously fallen into the societal norms that have been a part of our culture for years?
I hate to admit this to myself, but the answer is probably... Yes.
Does it make me a bad person? No, I don't believe that.
Has this thought process opened my eyes? More than I could have imagined.
So let's get back to the LGBTT2QQAIP community and the Black Lives Matter protest.
One of the things that struck me hardest when this all hit the news was not the protest in itself, or even the "demands" made by BLM. Rather it was the vitriol being spewed by so many people... all of whom were white, and mostly male. There seemed to be an almost "circling of the wagons" by the gay white male in defense of their... whiteness. Some people made comments about BLM wanting special treatment, or some kind of special recognition. Others said that it was an imagined slight.
This is not about anyone wanting special treatment, or special recognition, and it most certainly is not an "imagined slight". This is about people who want one very simple thing. Equality. They want to be treated with the same respect and dignity that all human beings deserve. Why shouldn't they want it, and deserve it? It's not asking for anything different that what LGBT people ask for... every single day.
Then there are those that even went so far as to question "what have they ever done for us?" These people have missed the point all together - and they really pissed me off.
As for the comments about "what have they ever done for us?" - those people need to get an education. The gay rights movement owes it roots to the civil rights movement (for those that do not know what that is... it was the equality for blacks movement in the USA, simple things like being able to ride a bus, vote, get an education, etc.). Our forefathers took their lessons from the civil rights movement to foster our own rights movement. Marches, letter writing campaigns, protests, etc. These all mimic a movement that started decades before our own. Don't believe me - start reading some history books on the Civil Rights Movement - the parallels are quite amazing.
As for why they were not active in our struggle. I don't believe that they were not, but let's face it they were (and still are) fighting for equality. Maybe not in the eyes of the law, but certainly in the way that they are treated - in the eyes of the people. Us white folk had the luxury of fighting a battle on one front. Non whites... two or more fronts. We fight for equality due to our orientation, gender identity, etc. They fight for equality for those same reasons AS WELL AS equality for themselves as non-whites.
So now let's actually talk about race. I will happily use myself as an example. I am 43, White, 6'6" tall, blond hair, blue eyes, slim-ish (I need to lose a few pounds), and I am a gay man.
Now some gay men (white) say that they know what it is like to be discriminated against. They are not wrong. I myself have experienced what it is like to be treated like a second class person because of my sexual orientation. The thing is... I can hide that part of myself if it suited me to do so. I personally choose not too, I am proud to be a gay man, but I CAN do it. It IS an option.
A black person... they CAN'T hide that they are black. This is NOT an option. The same applies to First Nations, East Indians, Asians, etc. When I am walking down the street the vast majority of people will just see a guy walking down the street. I am not an Asian guy, Black guy, etc. I, unlike too many people, are not identified by my race.
I hear people (including non-whites) talk about whites all the time. They use descriptors like Blond, Red Head, Tall, Short, Fat, Thin, etc. They never say "That white guy". Talk about people who are not white... and it always boils down to race being used as a descriptor.
Do you get what the issue is yet? If you don't all I can suggest is that you take some time to really think about it, and to look deep within yourself and be honest... have you ever used any form of racial language to describe someone? It doesn't mean that you are a racist, or are part of the larger problem, but it does mean that, like me, you are not a part of the solution either.
Hashtags, hashtags and more hashtags.
I have to mention this... it is important. In response to the #BlackLivesMatter hash-tag there has been a few "counter tags" crop up. The most popular is #AllLivesMatter and I have even seen #GayLivesMatter. You know what... they are right, all lives do matter as do Gay lives matter. But to use these hash-tags is to miss the whole point. The Black Lives Matter movement is not about taking away from anyone else, it's about standing up for true societal equality for a heavily marginalized part of our society.
The LGBT community is supposed to be all about openness and inclusiveness. We are supposed to look out for each other and frankly, I think we need to do a better job. Blacks are not the only groups that feel marginalized in our community. Asians, First Nations, East Indian, Muslims, Overweight people, Handicapped People, Trans-gendered... (the list goes on) feel in some way marginalized by our community. Don't believe me? Look at the pride boards across Canada, or even around the world, how many boards have non-whites on them? Even women are under represented!
We need to shift they way we think and we need to stop feeling like this is an attack on our community. It's not. It is an opportunity to strengthen and create a community that is truly representative of all of humanity. The rainbow flag means:
We have a duty to make sure that this symbol is a place of peace, love, and true welcoming.
I don't see words like barrier, obstacle, or race in the meanings of the colours anywhere, so I fail to understand why we would erect a wall. We aren't Donald Trump - walls should not be a part of our vocabulary.
On a related note...
Last year I was honoured to be asked to sit on the board of the Millenia Scope Entertainment Foundation in Hollywood http://msefoundation.org/. They focus on creating opportunity for film makers, actors, directors and producers who are LGBT and Black. It's an amazing organization filled with dedicated people. When they asked me to join I did my research, and I was truly amazed at the lack of representation in the arts for the black community, particularly in the LGBT community.
Just as they were open to having me serve them on their board, we need to be open to understanding the struggles and plight of our fellow man. We need to reach beyond our current understanding and push ourselves to become better informed.
If we don't change our thinking, this community will become fractured and eventually it will break. That's not something any of us should want.
I think the LGBT community has an opportunity to become involved in the dialogue about safe spaces and equal treatment for all members of our community. Yes it means that we will need to bring up the uncomfortable subject of race. BUT it wasn't so long ago that we were not afraid to bring up the uncomfortable subject of sexual orientation. So it shouldn't be that hard. The difference is that it makes US uncomfortable. Well... we need to get over it.
It's the right thing to do and it will change lives for the better - and isn't that kinda the point?
To find out more about the movement please visit their website at: http://blacklivesmatter.com/