Dear white gay boys,
As a person of colour, I’d like to introduce you to a couple of ideas which may help inform your conversations about race (and bodies more generally).
To ease you into this, potentially uncomfortable discussion, I’d like to introduce you to an idea. So we have the world and all the people living in it. But people are never just people. Due to several state of affairs (which I’ll allude to later) people were differentiated.
At birth, even though we’re just little baby lumps we’re differentiated into boys and girls. When we start exploring our sexual selves we realise we’re attracted to the same-sex, or the opposite sex or both! We also realise we look different – some of us lighter and some darker. Some of us speak English and others Xhosa, or Arabic or Mandarin or Shona. Then there’s culture, religion, class and nationality (amongst many other factors).
The thing is – these categories are not neutral. You see if you’re female it’s likely you’ll be paid less and not be promoted (isn’t that unfair!?). And I’m sure we’ll agree, if you’re gay/lesbian/bi it’s likely someone will call you a fag/stabane/moffie and discriminate against you at home, work or church. And it’s never cool to be discriminated against, is it? It gets worse – when we talk about race in South Africa – if you’re white, it’s likely you benefited from apartheid. And if you look at the latest census, white people are still a lot better off than black people. See how these categories can often mean differentiated access to resources?
Other than race we still have other categories which like those above also invoke inequality. For example, people with HIV/AIDS, foreigners or those who speak a language other than English as their first, are also likely to also experience discrimination. Do you get me? So bear this in mind, there are categories of race, class, gender and sexuality (amongst others) – and these are part of a system. Due to the system, certain people get disadvantaged and privileged due to these categories. Got it?
So here goes:
The first idea is most obvious. Can you notice something about the clubs you hang out in? Is there anything missing? Well the one thing which is quite obvious to me is the lack of people of colour. Did you know we make up the majority of South Africa? Why do you think we aren’t here? I’d link this to a concept called white privilege. Keen to read more? (http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html) So basically being white (in this context) means that it’s likely you’re a little privileged.
The second idea linked closely to the first is male privilege. I guess I too sometimes forget that even as a gay man, I am privileged as a male. I too benefit from systems which discriminate against women and femininity more broadly. This is particularly obvious when we internalise our fear of femininity and manifest ourselves as straight-acting (isn’t that a little bit misogynist?). Keen to read more? (http://amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/) (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/10/08/1102204/-Gay-Men-and-Our-Bodies-and-Our-Selves-Some-Thoughts-on-Acceptance-of-Self-and-Others#) (http://www.vice.com/read/gay-men-and-their-not-so-cute-misogyny-problem)
So basically being male means that it’s likely that you are a little privileged. Also advocating for uber-masculinity means you reinforce the system which discriminates against women, and even worse adapt it to discriminate against femme men.
The third thing is colonisation. You might not realise this as a white person but colonisation really fucked things up for people of colour. Not only were people taken from the homes and sold into slavery, but entire sovereign states, cultures, languages and family structures were destroyed. If you think this sounds like a conspiracy theory – do a little research to understand its effects.
For example the only reason I am in South Africa is because of colonisation – from my heritage in Cape Malay/ Khoisan slave labour, to my South Asian heritage in the sugar cane fields of KwaZulu-Natal. Colonisation is still apparent in the way we talk about and describe people of colour. Are they exotic to you? Do you think they’re all smelly? Think about the ways in which you describe their culture. Is it this singular big scary thing? The problem lies there.
Colonisation is appropriate to you for two reasons. (a) it constructs sexuality of “the other” (the non-white/the oriental/the native) in particular problematic ways. (b) it reinforces problematic narratives about sexuality in those other spaces. Think of the other as anything outside your comfort zone (Soweto, Fordsburg, Cape Flats, Uganda, hairy chested Indian boys, tall Nigerian men- how do you think about or describe these?).
For example how have you been imagining Russian people during the Sochi games? How do you imagine their culture and democracy? Are any of these ideas based on research? If so, are these representations realistic? Have you been reading articles in English? From which region are these articles published? Think carefully about how “the other” is being constructed. How fair are these representations?
Essentially what I’m trying to say is that you need to own and understand colonisation and its effect, and realise how your sexual appetite (whether it’s I-only-sleep-with-white-people or i-love-chocolate or gimme-some-hairy-arab) is rooted in colonisation too.
Keen to read more? (http://www.frontpagemag.com/2011/dr-yasser-dasmabebi/orientalism-for-dummies/) (http://www.thestate.ae/whats-race-got-to-do-with-it-white-privilege-asexuality/) (http://amptoons.com/blog/2013/08/17/the-hejab-cultural-appropriation-and-the-politics-of-muslim-invisibility-in-the-west-1/comment-page-1/)
Lastly don’t gimme that basic nonsense about bodies. Let’s have a real conversation about fat-shaming. And by real I mean let’s talk about how we (me included) feel the need to reproduce ridiculous ideas about how our bodies should look. Who are the cover models of gay publications? Do they represent you and I? Keen to read more? (http://diaryofafatshionista.com/) (http://unapologeticallyfat.blogspot.com/2009/05/book-review-lessons-from-fatosphere.html) I think it’s important to reflect on how our attraction to certain body types is also rooted in inequality.
Don’t be angry, put the kettle on, have a cuppa and read this again. If you feel uncomfortable it’s ok, I feel uncomfortable too; it means we’re learning.
ps: see Jasbir Puar’s work, Edward Said, Gayatri Spivak, Steve Biko and Arundhati Roy (http://www.outlookindia.com/article.aspx?280234)