I am a black woman and my best friend is a gay man. He came out to me the summer between our senior year of high school and our freshman year of college.
“I really need to tell you something,” he began, while driving us home from our summer job at the local pool. I didn’t know what to expect — an admission of love, maybe? That would be awkward.
He pulled the car over, then stared deeply into my eyes and said, “I’m gay.”
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Oh, that’s cool with me,” I replied.
He was excited that we would remain friends and was especially happy to have someone to go out and “meet boys” with. Together we frequented New York City’s gay clubs and bars, more often than the straight ones. Splash, Therapy or Barracuda, but The Ritz was a mutual favorite. It was a two-floor bar with a huge dance floor, usually jam packed with sweaty, shirtless men by 1 a.m. The environment offered us both freedoms: I could be as black as I wanted: dance to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” twerk it, shake it and break it (while being applauded), and he could be as gay as he wanted.
I had just lost a dance battle and was trying to sneak away to the one large fan used to cool the overstuffed room of dancing queens, when I spotted my best friend in the middle of a three way kiss with two guys. One of them later became his boyfriend– a white boy with brown hair and big, dark eyes.
That was the beginning of his white boy “preference.” He continues to date them exclusively.
“Yeah, colored people who feel powerless tend to try to align themselves with whiteness,” I’ve explained to him over and over. But he hates when I put him in the same category as “people of color.” He considers himself “white.”
“I just find white guys more attractive,” he argues, “that’s my preference.”
He is “white” hispanic and I am black. This is an indisputable fact– we’ve got the 23andme.com genetic breakdown charts to prove it. After my many failed attempts to get him on the “colored minority” team, he wanted to prove once and for all that he was white, so I’d leave him alone. We paid $100 dollars for a small kit that promised to unlock the history of our ancestry, given we provide a small DNA sample (spit in a tube).
Even though labelled “hispanic,” three-fourths of his genes connects him to a lineage of whiteness, privilege and the freedom to remain “colorblind”.
“I just don’t see race. I had to deal with being gay, isn’t that enough?” he insists.
He believes what he’s saying, despite the fact that while I was at his family’s BBQ, his cousin got drunk and asked “why a black girl was at a hispanic family’s party.” My best friend’s father walked over and punch that cousin in the face. We fled to the car from his backyard, leaving the percussion of salsa music and screams of shock in the distance.
“My cousin is just stupid,” my best friend said, dismissing the fact that labeling racism as “stupidity” does not make it hurt any less.
I told him stories about the Puerto Rican mother who screamed,”Get that black bitch out of my house!” when she found me comfortably seated in her living room watching a movie with her son. I also recounted the incident where an El Salvadorian friend asked if she could bring people to my house to practice for her quinceañera. My house was bigger than hers and they needed the space, she explained. I watched from the sidelines as 14 teenagers practiced waltzes and danced to salsa. I was not invited to be a part of the group.The Peruvian mother of one of the girls arrived after the session. My brother answered the door. The mother started screaming in Spanish, disturbing neighbors who peeked suspiciously through their windows trying to get a glimpse of the action.
“What is she saying?” I asked one of my Spanish speaking friends.
“She is asking why her daughter is in a house full of black people,” she responded with lowered eyes. I realized immediately why I had not been asked to participate.
To my best friend, his cousin and all the others were just “stupid people” — hiccups in an otherwise racially fair, functional and unbiased system.
“There’s a black president,” he reminded me.
I desperately want him understand my world. To somehow feel what I’ve felt. I made it my mission to make him understand.
I shared articles about America’s brutally disparate incarceration rates that landed more black men in prison cells than college classrooms, so he could understand why so few black men were pre-med like him. I recited statistics on school segregation, pointing out how schools placed students of color in the “remedial track,” not alongside their white peers in higher level classes, to try to get him to see why I was often the only black girl in most of my college courses. I gave him the book Is Marriage For White People?, a statistical analysis of the worth of black women in the dating market, which found us to be the “least desirable” women in the United States, to try to get him to understand what it feels like to be considered worthless.
“I don’t care about your skin color, I see us both as equals!” he continued to insist.
But you see, best friend, if we are truly equals, you would feel my pain as I feel yours. Just as I mourn the death of a young man shot down on the streets of Greenwich, targeted for being “too flamboyant,” you should feel enraged that a young, black woman was shot to death for seeking help after a car accident. Just as I comforted you for the many years you had to hide who you really were and bury the feelings of isolation you felt, you should have been there to assure me that it was their loss when others excluded me because of the color of my skin. When I paraded through the streets of New York City waving the rainbow flag that not only represents a people, but a struggle — your struggle — you should have stood beside me fist to the sky, screaming “black power.” If we were equals, you would never dismiss my depression. In denying my hurt, you are denying my humanity: an act that you so bravely condemn as you walk hand-in-hand with your white boyfriend. In denying my reality, you are denying my history.
And these histories should be what strengthens our connection. The story of blackness, womanhood and gayness share not only similar themes of oppression, exclusion and denial of rights, but also strength, perseverance and resolve. Yet, we remain disconnected. We remain disconnected by politics that label you a white male, a “liberal whiner” if you dare utter the word racism. Your LGBTQ movement more readily advances the agenda of white, maleness while marginalizing the struggles of colored people in its own community. Your political correctness mistakes Obama’s face as the poster for black equality.
Our stories are what makes me, me — a fearless, black woman — and you, you– a proud gay man. I have always and will continue to listen to and empathize with yours. When will you acknowledge mine?