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Racism and homophobia: ignorance cut from same cloth 

A couple of weeks ago, I had a fabulous birthday celebration. My friends got together and took me to a great dinner at Fleming's, we had drinks afterward at Apostrophe Lounge. To top it off, I had an opportunity to see Gritz and Jelly Butter, one of my favorite "under the radar" music groups. I was having the time of my life, until a funny thing happened on my way to The Grape to hear the sounds of Gritz and Jelly Butter; my friend and I were mocked publicly for being gay.

At first we didn't know what to make of it. My friend has been married for 10 years to a man whom I consider to be my brother, and I date only men. Who knew that natural hair, comfortable clothes and Body Shop bags communicated "lesbian"?

As we walked through the mall, with probably 3 feet between us I might add, we got stares and people saying things under their breath about us. We thought we were being paranoid and narcissistic, so we shook it off.

When we got to the venue, we were seated next to a table with two women who were also black. I attempted to speak to them several times, which I was raised to believe was exercising good manners, and they turned their heads. When my friend got up to go to the restroom, I turned to speak to them again and one of them said, "Look, I'm not gay," turned her head, and they quickly exited the restaurant.

My initial thoughts were that two women who had the misfortune of being as ugly on the outside as they were on the inside should never not speak to anyone. I think it was my late grandmother who said, "Ugly folks can't afford to be mean." After a fantastic night at The Grape (barring that incident) I thought about it and got pissed. What incensed me about the incident was the fact that these two women would mistreat people even if they thought they were gay.

Charlotte often touts itself as a world-class city. In order to be world-class, you have to have class to begin with. I have lived all over this country and traveled throughout the world and have never witnessed nor experienced such foolishness as this. Really, making snide remarks, mumbling and staring? I heard this from my lesbian friends before, and it was remarkable to witness it, and especially to receive that type of treatment, mostly from blacks.

I remember when I first heard that Proposition 8 passed; I did not want to believe that part of the reason for it was because of the large turnout of blacks who voted for it. It was true. How can you vote for a black president and then turn around and vote against gay marriage? The struggles are different but the underlying ignorance is the same.

Black people were not allowed to marry because we were considered less than human and not worthy of occupying religious spaces. Jumping the broom came about because we were not allowed to marry, not because of our sheer creativity. To turn around and do that to another group of people is unconscionable. I know it's not just black folks, it is many people, but I am speaking about my people. Black people are my people. Gay people are my people. Why? Because human beings are my people.

Perhaps that is why folks think that I am gay. I support gay rights 100 percent, including the right to marry. Why? Because gay people are human beings who deserve all of the rights and privileges of humanity, just like the rest of us. I support gay rights because as a black person I understand what it means to be devalued, marginalized, terrorized and loathed for no reason other than being who you are. I support gay rights including gay marriage because at the end of the day, what people do in their private lives is none of my freaking business.

Which brings me back to the beginning. Being world-class means that you mind your business and you do not worry about other people. If you raise your children with your values, conduct yourself in a way that reflects your values and know who you are in relation to your core values, then it does not matter what someone else is doing because it cannot affect you -- that is if you really know who you are and what you value.

Maybe that's the problem. We don't know who we really are or what we value. When the divorce rate decreases from 50 percent (75 percent for African-Americans, while you're casting hate votes), maybe I'll entertain the whole "marriage is sacred" argument. Is it really sacred? Apparently it's not that sacred amongst heterosexuals who stand before God professing their undying love and commitment for one another and cut out on it 50 percent of the time.

Instead of "signifying" as my baby sitter Ada used to say, how about you mind your business and mind your manners? If you don't like lesbians or gays, why not just stay home?

Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D. is an assistant professor of communications and media studies at Goucher College and editorial director for RushmoreDrive.com.

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