The Struggle of Dual Identities
Written by Kenyatta Thomas, 18, Mississippi
In the American experience, there are two facts that are undeniable: It is a tough existence to be a person of color in America, and it is a tough existence to be queer in America. Things become incredibly more difficult when you are both and that is the life that I have lived as a woman of color in Mississippi and the life of so many other people in the U.S.
So, like humans naturally do, if you are an oppressed minority, you turn to your community. However, if you’re a queer black person, you may have a hard time finding support. The black community is full of homophobia. The LGBTQ+ community is full of racism. When you are a person identifying as multiple minorities, you don’t get to just exist as one or the other. You exist as both and you face the resentment and persecution for all of your identities. It is sad that the persecution not only comes from people who aren’t like you, but also the people who are like you and face similar oppressions, but still choose to hate one of your identities.
Part of it comes from the bias and discrimination that exists between our communities, something that harms those who bear the dual identity. A report from 2012 discovered that 32% of children raised in households with Black same-sex parents live in poverty. Heterosexual black parents? 13%. Heterosexual white parents? 7%. It’s root cause probably comes from the fact that black people already face discrimination from employers and LGBTQ+ people are 23% less likely to get a callback for a job. Black transgender women are killed in hate crimes in terrifying numbers. A 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs studied violence in HIV-affected and LGBTQ+ communities found that “72 percent of the victims of LGBTQ+ or HIV-motivated hate violence homicides in 2013 were transgender women, and 67 percent were transgender women of color.”
As if it’s not affecting our daily lives enough, it’s embedded in the media too. In December, Kevin Hart’s past homophobic tweets came back to haunt him. Tweets that included the word “fag” and him joking about breaking a dollhouse over his son’s head if he tried to play with it. When this scandal emerged, members of the black community jumped to his defense. Many were telling the queer community to ‘get over it’ and that ‘the jokes are old.’ The main comment was that people were being “too sensitive.” Some people actually took this time to point out the hypocrisy of these (straight) black people, in the way that they got up in arms and enraged over racist actions and tweets, but stayed silent or laughed at homophobic ones. These people are willfully ignorant to the pain that can be caused by the tweets that Kevin Hart published and Hart only made matters worse by, at first, refusing to apologize. Through all of this, some black people defended him simply because they believe he is “funny” and others were being “too sensitive.”
The racist and homophobic attack on Jussie Smollett occurred only a few weeks ago and that is a prime example. He wasn’t attacked for being gay. He wasn’t attacked for being black. He was attacked for being gay and black. We can’t choose to acknowledge only one of his identities because Smollett doesn’t live life as simply one or the other. We have to accept the existence of both of those identities at once.
For black queer people, many can’t turn to the LGBTQ+ community either. They are often alienated from queer spaces and, in research done by Clarence E. Brown III, a black gay
man said that he has “wonder[ed] if this guy won’t go out with [him] because [he’s] brown.” Deeper than being rejected for our skin color, is the outright rejection and lack of color in queer spaces. I know from my own experience of going to pride events in my area that I see few black people. In leadership, there is little color. Even the Human Rights Campaign, one of the leading LGBTQ+ organizations in the U.S., in its 39 years of existence, has had 7 Executive Directors and all have been white and the organization has faced criticism for an extreme lack of diversity.
When doing my research for this very piece, I learned something new: The Matthew Shepard Act is more than just the Matthew Shepard Act. Whenever the passage of the Act is celebrated, on my newsfeed I only see the face of a poor young man who had his life stolen too soon. However, I never see the face of James Byrd Jr., a black man who was lynched-by-dragging in Texas in 1998. In 2009, President Obama signed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. However, most people know the bill by the name the Matthew Shepard Act. James Byrd Jr.’s name is dropped and I have never even heard his name or seen his face before I started writing this. Matthew Shepard’s face crosses my newsfeed every single year, yet James Byrd Jr.’s face doesn’t. Racism in the LGBTQ+ community showed its face in 2008 in California. Proposition 8 was passed and blacks were thrown under the bus, believed to be the reason why it succeeded. Black LGBTQ+ activists arrived at protests and had to leave because of the hate they faced from white queer protestors.
I acknowledge and understand the differences in the struggles faced by the black and LGBTQ+ community. Both have pasts defined by unique oppressions and a struggle for equality and, sadly, those fights continue today, with some victories achieved along the way. We both are erased from history. Successful blacks aren’t mentioned in history class. The true sexuality of important historical figures is not acknowledged. Black characters are whitewashed on our screens. LGBTQ+ characters are portrayed by straight actors, constantly taking away roles from queer actors. When black people and queer people are seen on screen, the portrayals are often riddled with stereotypes caused by white and straight writers and actors. Both communities fall from the constraints of a white heteronormative society. The communities must unite and accept each other. Unite for the black queer youth like myself who have struggled to find a support network. Unite or no one will succeed!