SINGH & BEAUSOLEIL: Our Failure To Achieve Intersectionality
Minority Report

As we sat listening to activist Shaun King and Georgetown sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson speak to an auditorium full of social justice advocates just days after the 2016 presidential election, a question rang out from the audience that confounded both of us: “It just seems like black people’s freedoms and lives are being used to propel gay and lesbian issues, and I feel that black people’s value is going to be pushed to the side. Where is the genuine movement for just black people to be respected?”

With the end of LGBT Pride Month approaching, now seems an appropriate time to examine the underlying homophobia that sometimes accompanies our movements for equality within our own black and brown communities. When we fight for respect on account of our race and heritage yet disparage those within the LGBTQ community, we replace one form of oppression with another and ultimately imitate the very culture of intolerance we seek to dismantle.

Where does this homophobia originate? Examining our own communities, it is clear that religion is a factor. In black America, the church has been a crucial source of inspiration and strength, providing us with hope and guidance in a nation where our bodies have historically been subjected to white terrorism. Simultaneously, the church has propagated the notion that those within the LGBTQ community are “lesser.” To selectively draw upon religious texts to argue that certain individuals are inferior utilizes the same strategy that has justified black oppression, from slavery to the Jim Crow era. Whether it is Christianity, Islam or any other religion, when faith justifies our demonization of others, we have allowed religion to lead us astray.

Moreover, we fail to hold those who engage in homophobia as accountable for their actions as those who engage in racism and sexism. For instance, popular rap group Migos’ homophobic comments toward fellow artist iLoveMakonnen drew our attention for a few days and perhaps even elicited a public display of disapproval; in private, however, we mostly forgive and forget. In contrast, when Robin Thicke’s popular song “Blurred Lines” seemed to promote rape culture, he received sharp and widespread backlash. While we are not calling for an all-out boycott of an artist’s music, simply letting these issues slide under the rug condones their comments, and that is unacceptable. If we condemn those who stand idly by in the face of racial oppression, but we fail to speak out against homophobia, how are we any better in comparison?

We fail as activists against racism when we use homophobic slurs — even in jest — by implying that the pain and hate behind those words are lesser. We fail as activists when we label those within the LGBTQ community as “pretenders” or “confused” by implying that their identities are misguided — or worse, counterproductive — to our goals as racial advocates. We fail as activists when we antagonize people of color within the LGBTQ community, forcing them to choose between fighting on account of their race or their sexuality. With issues of police brutality, threats on college campuses towards black and brown students — even here in liberal Washington, D.C. — and constant xenophobia from many media outlets, divisions are increasingly destructive to the movement.

Men of color in particular have been some of the worst perpetrators of intolerance. For example, movements in the black community have often turned into movements for black men. Black women have to deal with the oppression of both racism and sexism, yet we collectively expunge their leading and integral roles in the narrative for racial equality. Black and brown members of the LGBTQ community face even more barriers, including high rates of poverty and homelessness and increased susceptibility to hate crimes and sexual assault. Thus, we must work to include them in the movement, rather than ostracize them.

There is no civil rights movement without Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin. There is no #BlackLivesMatter without Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Deray Mckesson. When we marginalize and diminish the sexualities of those fighting alongside us for equality, not only do we lose some of the most impassioned, intelligent and insightful members of the struggle but we discard the ideals of liberty and agency that our nation guarantees us; we must work to ensure that intersectionality is an inherent part of our movement.

Perhaps what is most upsetting about that question asked at King and Dyson event is that all too often, we tend to view our own black and brown communities as monolithic. Black and brown people are not just men nor are they just heterosexual. Just as we expect racism and xenophobia to be rooted out in the LGBTQ community, we need to be more inclusive in our own black and brown communities; we must understand the multifaceted identities of those fighting alongside us. Thus, when those who want to counter our movement for equality say that “All Lives Matter,” we can remind them that our movement — predicated on our love for all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion or ability — certainly demonstrates that.

Hashwinder Singh and Khendrick Beausoleil are sophomores in the College. Minority Report appears every other Friday.

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