I:M

It's Not All Black and White: A Response to Chanté Joseph

I:M
It's Not All Black and White: A Response to Chanté Joseph

Chanté, you’ve got it wrong. Your broad, sweeping statements on cultural appropriation fundamentally miss the point. I’m probably going to be charged with suppressing the voice of a black minority by arguing that not only are you arguing for something that is inflammatory, but arguably irrational. I am not a racist. I have never been a racist. And I hope never to be a racist. I won't resort to tokenism and point that I have friends from a variety of ethnic minorities: that is incredibly insensitive and is often used by the very worst of Western society to justify statements like ‘I’m not a racist, but…’. What I will say, however, is that your arguments for the fetishisation of the black individual are not new. They are not uncommon. Nor is it revolutionary. In fact, it is something the LGBT+ community has faced, and successfully overcome, not by branding every straight person as insensitive or thoughtless, but accepting their curiosity and engagement (even if poorly executed) with our culture. I don’t go around campus labelling people’s engagement as inherently homophobic, but embraced what you would describe as the‘commodification’ and ‘appropriation’ of gay culture.

I accept that as a white male I am privileged in many respects, and I accept that certain forms of cultural appropriation are fundamentally wrong. They are insensitive to the struggles of what it means to come from a certain minority. But blindly accepting what you are saying without looking at my own analogous life would be a suppression of any valued critique, any suggestion that you might be in fact, wrong. I know there are differences between LGBT+ and black culture. For better or for worse, there are benefits and disadvantages to both. Whether you talk of checking one’s privilege, or highlighting the suppression of one’s identity, both growing up (and continuing into adulthood) we, who exist outside the norm, face discrimination, stereotyping and prejudice.  I am not going to play tit-for-tat. I don’t like tits (obviously). But what I will say however, is that you’ve made a mistake. Whether negligently, or purposefully to draw necessary attention to racism (and the dying cause of the Epigram), your article in its inflammatory statements are not only ill-conceived, but fundamentally damaging to your own cause.

Now that I’ve (hopefully) indemnified against allegations of racism, which I am sure I have not, I’ll get to the crux of my issue: culture isn’t this insular concept that you and your community can ‘own’. Culture is this ever-changing, celebrated part of that of society, that everyone — not just you, Chanté , should be able to engage with. Whether to open one’s culture to those who have oppressed them is not an exclusive issue that only black communities have had to engage with, but us, the gay men, lesbian women and transgender individuals have had to discuss. To our mind, we had two options: (1) Either we could keep our sub-culture separate from heterosexual, a kind of treehouse where ‘No Breeders were allowed’ or (2) Open up the culture to those who called us ‘fag’ before we knew we were gay ourselves. I admit, it is is not an easy choice. But you, for your own fetishisation of your own culture, have made the wrong one.

Let me explain why, and I’ll use your own examples. You seem to take great offence at people asking you questions. Now, I’ll concede that asking you ‘where your ‘black’ was from’ possibly isn't the best way of asking you your ethnicity. But let me ask you this: did she ask maliciously?  Was it an attempt to further degrade you by referring specifically to a specific nationality. At a guess I would say no, but well done for using an out-of-context question to further your own motives. This probably sounds a tad harsh, but responding to a girl’s curiosity with an almost pompous attitude that how dare a white person ask this question, is not only worse than the ignorance of the girl, but is seemingly and example of your own wilful arrogance. It is not as if I can’t sympathise. I too get asked (very) personal question. I can’t describe how many times I’ve been asked ‘Have you ever had sex with a girl?’. ’How gay are you…on a scale of 1-10?’. ‘So *accompanied with a tilt of the head and a slightly raised voice*…. do you give or receive?’. They’re not particularly comfortable questions to answer. But I don’t turn around and label them as homophobic. They're not a way to demean my personal characteristics. They're not an attempt to further humiliate me specifically. It’s curiosity.  And I answer them because I recognise the motives behind their question: it is an attempt to engage with me, to understand a life that is different from their own. It is like someone who says ‘Merry Christmas’ with all its supposedly religious connotations, rather than ‘Happy Holidays’. To my mind, you’ve got to be a grade-A-asshole to label them the outcome of an ‘inherently prejudiced’ system. They're just trying to be nice. 

 My second qualm, if I can put it so lightly, with your article Chanté , is that you arbitrarily exclude those who you don’t deem ‘worthy’ from engaging with your culture. It’s the same criticism Lucky Dube has levelled at you. Not only as Dube argues are you racial stereotyping your own community, reducing to an essentialist suggestion of what it means to be black, but its entirely irrational to draw a line between black and white. Pun intended. Let’s use some examples: Eminem. Someone who, I think we can all agree, is a forefront musician in the genre of rap music. A genre, which rightly or wrongly, is typified as a ‘black’ genre. I’ve seen him live. Hated it. What would you label me as? Am I Chanté , someone who is appropriating black culture for my own superficial interests. Am I racist because I didn’t like his ‘black’ music? Personally, I would say neither: I got the tickets free because I actually went to see the much more homoerotic performance of Kylie (trademarked, apparently). The fact is, your logic fails: because like racism which arbitrarily categorises people into races, you irrationally categorise certain music, art or hairstyles into specific community cultures. More to the point, why do you have a claim over Eminem… he looks pretty white to me. If so, fine. You get Eminem. But we get the gay icons of Lady Gaga, Damien Hirst, RuPaul… oh, and Beyonce. We’ve got the same claim to her as any other minority. Yup. If I see you even attempt to sing ‘Irreplaceable’ I’ll write a 3,000 word article on how Chanté  Joseph is appropriating my gay culture. Epigram seemingly publish anything these days.

So what’s the alternative I hear you ask. How can I stop systemic and continual micro-aggressions of racism. The answer is the opposite of what you have done. Not separation and protection of one’s identity, but engagement and opening up you personal identity and culture. The reason the LGBT community has secured so many rights in the last two decades is not because we isolated ourselves and created our own colony of the coast of Miami; Jesus, the amount of STIs alone would kill us off. Instead, we exported our culture. We made it fun. We’re the first to laugh at a homophobic joke. We marketed ourselves as people who were willing to talk about our experiences and not label discussions as homophobic. Think RuPaul’s drag race and how now every straight girl in SWX on a Friday night screams ‘Yasssss Qween’ (yes, we invented that). If I catch you down OMG on a Wednesday night watching Tina Sparkles, I’ll buy you a 99p jaegerbomb. I mean, I think you writing is inflammatory and downright irrational, but I would love to see you at a gay venue . Everyone is welcome. And this focus on how I’m different, but that different is open to all, is why me loving the D isn’t illegal anymore. Our focus on allowing everyone to participate in our culture hasn’t devalued us, or led to white girls fetishising our culture over the individual. In fact, I think these days white girls make up most of our community. Heterosexuals fight for our rights as much, if not more so, than some LGBT members (I’m looking at you Caitlyn Jenner and your Republican ways). Stop calling white girls wearing bantu knots as expropriating your culture, and instead be pleased they're willing to engage in your culture.

I should probably finish. Normally I end articles with some funny gay joke. I mean I would make one now, but your fetish with your own culture means you probably wouldn't understand it. All T no shade (it’s gay slang, ask your gay best friend). So I’ll say this: your article is very well written. It takes me through the emotional tribulations of the difficulties of being a black woman. I can empathise. I can sympathise. But what I can’t do is agree. When you look fundamentally at what you say, what arises is not a well-reasoned and encouraging opinion, but an article that through it’s ironic obsession with your own culture makes broad, sweeping statements that are arbitrary, irrational and damaging. Don’t label the entire demographic of white girls racist, just like I wouldn't label all black men homophobic. Here’s some advice too: maybe publish your article through another publisher, one that isn’t, to use you phrase, ‘hellbent’ on producing provocative and click-bait ‘news’.

ALEXANDER HOOD

 

Check out the links to the corresponding articles below:

Chante Joseph

Lucky Dube

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