In this week’s Hola Papi!, the advice column by writer, Twitterer, and prolific Grindr user John Paul Brammer, a reader writes in to say that he loves everything about black culture, especially the women, but struggles with appropriation.
Thank goodness JP Brammer is here to set him straight.
If you want his advice, just email him at email@example.com with your question. Just be sure to include SPECIFICS, and don’t forget to start out your letter with Hola Papi!
I am very interested in a sexy black man who seems to be tossing me the alley-oop. I love black culture: Beyoncé, Insecure, and anything involving a sassy black woman. I was recently hanging out with this guy and his three other friends of color at a pool party where we turned up. I had one of the best afternoons of my summer, and not to mention great sex to conclude the evening.
But race is an issue in America and I am struggling with. I love to sass it up and get loud with my black friends. I just don’t know where the line of joining in the fun and misappropriating black culture is to be drawn. I’m a skinny white boy hootin’ and hollerin’ with my friends, but I’m not sure if there is a conversation that needs to be had, or when there is a time and place for to have it. Can you help me?
Whew. Okay, a lot going on here, Mr. White.
Let’s start by agreeing that neither of us is black. So I can’t and won’t speak for any black people. I will, however, speak to you as a fellow gay man, homo to homo, to answer your very important question: How can gay white men navigate the issue of racism?
I know that word wasn’t mentioned in your letter, and I know it’s a word that makes some people cover their ears and start sweating like me in church. But it’s important that we address the elephant in the rainbow room: Being gay doesn’t exempt anyone from being racist.
But hold it, Mr. White! Don’t leave me just yet, because I promise I’m not here to call you out. I’m not going to drag you by the collar of your pastel Vineyard Vines polo across the digital parking lot of the Internet, although that would be great content. I just want you to hear me out.
Popular gay culture borrows heavily from communities of color, especially queer people of color. The slang we employ, words like “shade” and “read,” for example, have roots in ballroom culturethe underground scene predominated by black, Latino, and trans people. Locked out of opportunities in a society that marginalized them, our brilliant forerunners invented a world all their own that survives to this day.
And yet, Mr. White, when we look around at media representation of our broad, diverse community, we find mostly gay white men. It seems they are the face of all things gay.
I feel compelled to say that this doesn’t negate the fact that gay white men have their own struggles. But we must be willing to point out and acknowledge that they nonetheless benefit from occupying a place of privilege in our community. If you start paying attention, you might notice how segregated so many gay spaces are. But where did that come from?
Society may have historically pushed us gays to the side, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t induct any of its messages. We were still raised and conditioned in a society that stigmatizes, devalues, and erases black people and people of color.
This is also why, by the way, so many gay men tend to loathe themselves and hate “gay things.” If you are told over and over again that “gay” means “bad,” then that sticks with you, even if you are gay yourself.
So it makes sense that gay white men (and, really, non-black gay men in general), despite knowing what it’s like to face oppression on one axis, would exhibit racist behavior. And, yes, snapping your fingers in a Z-formation and saying you’re a strong black woman who “don’t need no man” qualifies as racist behavior.
That might sound harsh, but I’d like to remind you that racism is a system. It’s a machine that feeds on our actions in order to perpetuate itself. That means we can contribute to it consciously or unconsciously, whether we hold hate in our hearts or not. That goes for me too!
Let’s take the “sassiness” you attribute to black women, for example. You might personally interpret it as positive, or as a source of strength. But for black women, “sassiness” means being taken less seriously, means not getting a job, or means being denied the house because they are “too loud” or “too much” or “not a good fit for the neighborhood.”
Because, at the end of the day, you can drop that persona whenever you please and wherever it is convenient. A black woman cannot. It’s contributing to a harmful stereotype without having to deal with any of the real-world repercussions of it.
It’s sort of like how people want to take from nonwhite cultures without having to be around nonwhite people. It’s like a frat house bumping rap music without letting any black people in, or eating at a Mexican restaurant while calling Mexican people “illegals.”
But on the other hand, none of this means you can’t enjoy Beyoncé or Insecure. Beyoncé and Insecure are bright spots in this otherwise grim existence. It’s actually pretty easy to enjoy things from other cultures without mocking them. Do you immediately pretend to be a caricature of everyone you meet? I should hope not! But that’s the gist of it.
These are conversations we all need to have, Mr. White. They improve our community and make it more welcoming. If we refuse to have them, then we are complicit in the machine I mentioned earlier at a time in our history that is demanding that we show where we stand.
Also, congratulations on the great sex.