I love being a black woman. Of course it comes with a unique set of challenges, but it's part of what makes our experience special and important.
In an essay written by a student at the University of Mississippi and published by Time.com, a young black woman blames white gay men for trying to appropriate black womanhood. She talks about spilling "truth tea," and how "unfair" it is to be a black woman, and how, "black people can’t have anything." The essay is a classic example of Time.com publishing trolly pieces by students who have little real-life experience. More importantly it's an example of how easy it is to blame entire groups of people for creating problems for which they are not responsible. I mean, seriously, how can you blame these dudes?
I have gay white friends. One in particularly can whine with the best of them. He goes to a church around the corner from my apartment in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. He loves to sing gospel music and worships Patti LaBelle. He loves Beyoncé, too. Sometimes he tries too hard to show that he's got rhythm and soul and talks with a voice that reminds me of Betty Wright's famous anecdote during the intro to "Tonight Is The Night." Is that his fault? Do I feel he's trying to appropriate my blackness without having to deal with the other, darker side of my identity? Of course not. It's not his fault that the cult of Beyoncé has taken over the world. It's not his fault that Diana Ross, another black pop star who so happened to transcend racial barriers, became an icon within the gay community. Things are not that simple. In fact, they are getting so complicated that we don't even have a census that is able to accurately categorize the myriad types of people, cultures, and races that we have in this country.
On the other hand, as a black woman, I know how frustrating it can be to feel that we don't have something to call our own. We feel that our voice is consistently marginalized. So when we have a Beyoncé or Diana Ross or Oprah, we want to claim ownership, a certain closeness. It's a natural instinct, but it's not exactly the right instinct. Their success wasn't necessarily built on the backs of other black women. I would argue, rather cynically, it was built by hard work and lots of smart investments. It's part of a capitalist system that is bigger than us, so we shouldn't pretend that we can try to take it down by asking gay men to stop twerking on the Internet. It's not caricature. It's a product of how ubiquitous these images are in pop culture, and how they get imprinted on our brains and we start mimicking them—sometimes we don't even know it.
I love being a black woman. Of course it comes with a unique set of challenges, but it's part of what makes our experience special and important. To say that we can't have anything is only making matters worse. It's true that we get fucked over far too often, but we also shouldn't forget to focus on the things that we do great. For example, black women are very good at building communities and sharing our ritual history. We are also pretty good at picking battles. We are fighters and we are survivors. Trying to wage war against gay white men isn't a battle we are going to win. (To be clear, however, I'm not saying that a gay man who is making a mockery of black women shouldn't be smacked down for being racist.)
We are all struggling to cope with our identity politics in an age where human contact and getting to know someone IRL is becoming the exception. It's not very wise to try to call out a major subset of the population and blame them for creating a disparity that was there long before gay white men started using the word "ratchet." So, chill for a minute. Take a step back. Black people can have many things and we should be proud of the culture we have created. If people want to bite our style, they can go for it. Our experience will always be ours—and yes, that includes our difficult past and all the things we have to do to fight for a great future. So pick your battles. The next time a white gay man starts twerking, just pat him on the back and say, "Nice try." He's trying to figure it out just like everyone else.