“Cis gay white men aren’t anything but white men with a sprinkle of sugar”– White Supremacy at Pride, Queer History Erasure, and Black Lives Matter (Amir Khadar, 2017)

By Samuel Murray

As more violent Black murders are being shown via the media, and as more Indigenous and brown folx go missing without any coverage it is vital that we all examine our whiteness and what it means to be accountable for how we take action and rest.

As Pride Month comes to an end, we find ourselves once again face to face with both the complexity and polarizing differences within the queer community.  One of these stark differences–always present (especially rearing an ugly head during Pride Month and festivities) is the blatant and excused racism within the white gay community.  

The discussion of racism within the gay community is not new.  For those that do not know, contemporary and “popular” queer culture is laregly influenced by Black and Latinx queer culture that was born, in part, because of racism and exclusion from white gay people and spaces.  Much of what is now considered “gay culture” in the US was birthed from the Ballroom scene, created and embodied by Black queer and trans folk.  Today, new innovations within gay culture are quickly appropriated from queer BIPOC. 

For years, racism within the queer community has been discussed but pushed aside by the dominance of white gays and the commodification of gay culture.  The white gay desire for homonormativity has also served to center privaledged white people in queer rights and further excludes other issues of transphobia, queerphobia, body-shaming, and abilism that queer folks also endure in society and within the LGBTQIA+ community.  

Recently the Black Lives Matter protests, the vigils for murdered Black people, and the calls for Black Trans Lives Matter have been gaining momentum with white liberals.  However, there has been vocal opposition from white gays to these acts of solidarity, claiming that BLM is “taking over Pride.”  Even despite the fact that most Pride events were canceled due to COVID-19, still, many white gay men target these protests as a way to “erase” Pride.  

Many white gay men have taken to twitter to voice their concerns.  Not only exposing their racist beliefs, but also their historically un-informed understandings of the creation of Pride.  Chadwick Moore, a Fox News journalist tweeted: 

Other notable examples of white gay men perpetuating racism include the recent documentaries like Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” have explicitly whitewashed the narrative and specifically erased Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, and Stormé DeLarverie, Black and Latinx Trans, queer, and cis lesbian women, who started the riots and are important pillars to the Gay Rights Movements.  Another documentary that is anti-black, is Netflix’s “The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson” by David France who stole archival footage, voice, and storyline from Tourmaline, a Black Trans filmmaker. 

This openness and confidence for white gay men to be racist is not a new occurance.  Just in the past 5 years, the white gay community has perpetatuted  racist policies and structures by: 

Today, Black Trans Women are disproportionately killed at alarming rates: so far in 2020, 17 Black Trans people have been murdered by racists, cops, and homophobia.  Yet, a large and vocal white gay community still does not see this as a reason to protest or a reason to fight for the “community” they say exists.  These recent examples demonstrate how white gay men claim a sense of ownership over Pride, even though one of the founding Pride movements was a protest against police brutality.  Today, gay white men are able to confidently be as queer as they chose to, because of the history of activism and sacrifices of queer people of color.  

I have personally heard many white gays say that talking about the racism within the community only divides–and “isn’t that the opposite of Pride?”  However, one of the largest obstacles that the queer community faces before it can be truly “undivded,” is not only the racism but also the sexism, transphobia internalized queerphobia, body-shaming, and ableism that is rampant within the community. These microaggressions only seeks to divide people further, perpetuate white supremacy, and continued white gay cis dominance.  

However, these protests and murders have not gone unnoticed by many queer people.  And there are currently calls to change the commodified, toxic, and bastardized version of what we see Pride, physically, as today.  Rainbow capitalism, homonormativity, and removal of police presence in Prides and in gay spaces has been spoken about fiercly in the wake of these important times.  

As a white cis gay myself, I am working towards embodying an  anti-racist practice and politics. Clearly, the homophobia that white gays experience, does nothing to sway a majority to be mindful of their privilege or racist behaviors.  White gays need to wake up and realize their dominant privileges, their histories, and the rights that have been fought for them by queer people of color in this country.  White gays need to realize that:

  • Fighting for the rights to be equal to straight people should not be our goal because queer people will never be seen as fully human 
  • Rainbow capitalism and marriage equality are just distractions by corporations from systemic homophobia 
  • Tokenizing is an effort to sway white gays into believing that cops are here to protect them

From my experience explaining these very things to the white gays, they feel like I am downplaying their experiences as queer people in America and in a hetero-dominated society.  I am not, and I share the same experiences of homophobia on a daily basis.  For me, it has been unprofessional to act gay, it has been unacademic to act gay, and I have been internalizing self-hatred for who I am for most of my life now.  The homophobia that I and other white gay men experience is terrible and sometimes it is life threatening–I am not saying that is it not. 

However the disproportionate murders of Black people and Black queer people by cops, racists, and homophobes, cannot be compared to the microaggressions recieved for being a gay white man, especially since gay white men have been using their power and privilege to oppress queer Black people and queer POC.  The systemic oppression that Black people in America face, the disturbing rates of rape and murder of Black trans women, and the appropriation of Ballroom culture are reasons why white gays need to be saying “Black Lives Matter.”  Not only during this Pride Month but every Pride Month after until the queer community is truly undivided and Black Americans are given justice.  Gay liberation in America was led by Black queer people, white gays need to challenge their privaledge and stand in solidarity with queer Black folk. 

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Understanding and Resisting Divide & Conquer Tactics

The act of dividing potential allies and communities who could come together to rise up is one of the oldest and most infuriatingly effective tricks in the book. Too often social justice movements have splintered as a result of not being prepared to counter such moves. A key tool for countering such tactics is learning from the stories of how previous organizations and coalitions have avoided the pitfalls of divide and conquer.

What are we facing?

  • We are witnessing white supremacy re-organize in response to destabilizations in racial capitalism, and to progressive social movement wins.
  • We are witnessing a surge in both right-wing populism and the power-building of an extreme right-wing elite.
  • The center cannot save us.
  • This is not OK, but also nothing new.

Sustain & Evolve

  • Systems of oppression that target our communities are constantly changing shape, strategy and tactic.
  • Our collective capacity for understanding this systemic harm is also always changing.
  • We’ve got to challenge and build our political analysis and approach in an ongoing spirit of emergence and responsiveness.

Defining Divide & Conquer

“Divide and conquer” is a strategy used by elites (often understood as “the oppressors”) to break down the relationships and unity between subjugated (often along racial/class/gender lines) groups struggling for justice, freedom, and liberation, in order to maintain the status quo.

Tactics of Divide & Conquer

  • Creating a narrative that blames each group for the other group’s problems. This works to foster mistrust amongst groups and to obfuscate the systematic inequalities of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy.
  • Bribing some groups with access to some resources (material and psychological). This works to align some groups with the elite over other subjugated groups. The resources offered are never close to the original goals of the movement.
  • Threatening to withdraw resources and/or to enact violence against group(s) if they continue to ally with other subjugated groups. This creates a culture of fear that not only breaks down inter-group relationships but also leads to groups being overall less bold and taking fewer risks in their pursuit of justice, freedom, and liberation.

Historical Lessons/ Examples

Bacon’s Rebellion
In the 1600s, the concept of “race” as we know it today did not yet exist in the British colonies that would come to be called the United States. Rather, Indigenous people, enslaved Africans, and Europeans (active settlers and indentured servants) were categorized by their national and religious backgrounds. European colonial settlements were characterized by brutal work and intense warfare as they sought to hold on to stolen land through enforced labor. In Jamestown, a moment of crisis emerged in 1676, when one settler—Nathanial Bacon—attempted to seize more land by starting a war against both Indigenous peoples and the official colonial government. Enslaved Africans and indentured servants joined together to take advantage of this instability to rebel for their collective freedom. In response, Britain sent the royal navy to disarm the rebels, and hung 23 European and African freedom fighters. Most importantly, the colonial government set in motion a legal system to keep enslaved African and indentured Europeans divided by outlawing African possession of weapons, consolidating the slave system as distinct from (and worst than) indentured servitude, and inventing the privileged status of whiteness. Together, these changes served to have indentured servants identify with the European elites through whiteness, rather than working in solidarity with enslaved Africans.

Post-Katrina New Orleans Labor
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, federal policies were put in place that pitted Black New Orleanians against mostly Latinx immigrant workers. In the first two weeks after the storm, President Bush’s administration suspended a range of labor laws that protected federal disaster workers’ health and prevailing wages to lower the costs of rebuilding. In addition, the Department of Labor suspended its affirmative action and non-discrimination policy that would have required that Black and local contractors be given preference in bidding procedures. Simultaneously, the Department of Homeland Security suspended sanctions against employers who hired individuals without immigration documentation, leading to the active recruitment of undocumented workers. In the words of the New Orleans Workers’ Center for Racial Justice, under these policies “African American workers were locked out of the reconstruction while immigrant workers were locked in” which in turn furthered the false racist narratives that Black people don’t want to work and immigrants steal Americans’ jobs.

Ways to Move Forward & Past Divide & Conquer

  1. Prioritize healing.
    Demand reparations for past harm. Practice enthusiastic consent. Create intentional space and time for healing from trauma, and repairing relationships.
  2. Grow and sustain internal transformation (personal and organizational).
    People with access to power, learn to honor the leadership of people who have historically been denied power. Oppressed peoples of the world, determine your destinies & unite.
  3. Respond at the needed speed– As addrienne marie browne says, move at the speed of trust.
  4. Be willing to slow down. We don’t have to move at the pace of urgency. Be willing to be flexible and agile; we might have to rapidly change tactics or quickly forge alliances to meet our given moment.
  5. Practice being powerful.
    Understand losses in relationship to wins. Build organizations to replace the ones that don’t work for us and that we are simultaneously targeting in our organizing campaigns. Practice cooperation and democratic governance. Build a solidarity economy.
  6. Coordinate like you want to win the world.
  7. Refuse to participate in turf battles and pettiness. Share everything. Build authentic alliances through shared agreements and radical honesty. Recognize that dismantling the systems requires us to give up our attachment to them, in all of the ways they enable our survival but nothing beyond.

Reflection Questions

  • Why is it important to you/your organization to challenge the strategy of Divide and Conquer?
  • How does the reconfiguration of white supremacy impact our current work?
  • How do we lift the lessons from past and recent history to resist the system’s divide and conquer tactics?

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Asian American Feminist Antibodies

I was born in Shenzhen, China. As an Asian international student, currently, the amount of hatred and discrimination towards Asian people due to coronavirus is a new experience. Most of theChinese international students worry about their families back home and fear being racial attacked. I wish to use art to communicate that our enemy is not a certain region or cultural community. We should try to understand the hardships people are going through.

A new zine from the Asian American Feminist Collective (AAFC) features an amazing collection of essays, resources, and artwork on how to “make meaning of the coronavirus crisis through long-standing practices of care that come out of Asian American histories and politics.”

With permission from the collective, we’ve posted an excerpt from their latest zine below:

With the COVID-19 pandemic neither behind us or solely ahead of us, this zine offers a way to make meaning of the coronavirus crisis through long-standing practices of care that come out of Asian American histories and politics. We bring together first-hand accounts and analyses from our communities, including health and service workers and caregivers on the frontlines, students, people living with chronic illness, journalists, and organizers.

Together, this collection of stories, essays, and artwork shows how we experience, resist, and grapple with a viral outbreak that has been racialized as Asian, is spoken of in the language of contagion and invasion, and reveals the places where our collective social safety net is particularly threadbare.

This moment of precarity and disaster reminds us that we cannot rely on the state for our wellbeing. The legacies of imperialism, capitalism, and patriarchy undergird forms of violence that unevenly expose many in our communities to further risk, rendering people disposable.

Yet, in this moment, we also see how revolutionary love and care can reshape our world. We see the urgency, necessity, and radical possibilities of decarceration, language justice, healthcare and housing access, economic redistribution, and mutual aid.

Our dreams, visions, and desires for an alternative world and future can
be realized. We are made of communities with deep collective knowledge on how to care for each other and the earth around us. Together, we can survive and build interdependent communities.

Download and read  Asian American Feminist Antibodies: Care in the Time of Coronavirus, and also check out this reading list and webinar about Black & Asian-American Feminist Solidarities during COVID19 from AAFC and Black Women Radicals.

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Luz en lo Oscura

By: Shirley Coenen

In “Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscura” Anzaldua’s final life work, she plunges head-on into the transformational potentiality of liminal spaces- for moments like these, when “death and destruction do shock us out of our familiar daily rounds.”

As many students and educators are taking deep sighs of relief and closing their textbooks, I’m looking forward to keep reading, without a seminar or school to hold me accountable. This post is a brief reflection sharing what I’m reading right now and how Anzaldua, as an ancestor, provides so many lessons for these times.

Light in the Dark⁄Luz en lo Oscuro

To Anzaldua, these shocks that disrupt our daily life create dissociation and fragmentation of the self and society, tearing through the fabric of “the illusion of consensual reality” of global extractive systems, and giving us the opportunity for “otra forma de ver” – other ways of seeing.

These are the times of nepantla, “a psychological, liminal space between the way things had been and an unknown future.”

It is the role of nepantleras, the stewards of the in-between, to be with the multiple and conflictive worldviews that emerge and swirl together in the chaotic remolinos of crisis when alternative viewpoints abound and compete for the ability to be breathed into reality.

Nepantleras must be with the tensions, find harmony and integration within the storm, and through art and activism, “help us mediate these transitions, help us make the crossings, and guide us through the transformation process.”

They help warn us away from desconocimiento, what we could today call the false solutions of disaster capitalism, and towards conocimiento, a collective awakening that moves us towards compassionate relationship with all living beings, what we could call disaster collectivism.

Through these words, Anzaldua is speaking through time, to this moment of pandemic, to remind us that “we’re connected by invisible fibers to everyone on the planet and that each person’s actions affect the rest of the world.”

These moments of disaster are opportunities for conocimiento. “The healing of our wounds results in transformation, and transformation results in the healing of our wounds.” So let us be that healing in these times.

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May Day 2020: Take Action

As Amazon, Walmart and others profit amid Coronavirus crisis, their essential workers are planning an unprecedented strike. Get ready for May Day.

Essential workers risk their lives and their families’ lives every day — they deserve appropriate safety equipment, standards, and job guarantees. On May 1, International Workers Day, we’re taking action with essential workers everywhere:

SOLIDARITY: The working class keeps us alive. As consumers, we are not separate from the problem. Do your part by joining the action on May 1 from wherever you are, joining us as we organize around these global demands for justice during the pandemic.

BOYCOTT: The way to really leverage your privilege is through your consumer power. Show your support by boycotting/unsubscribing to Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Walmart, Target, and FedEx.

SUPPORT: Essential workers are showing up for all of us. Here’s how to help the essential workers in your life avoid burnout.

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