GetEqual: Winning equality with our own blood, sweat, and tears
This post is from GetEQUAL’s Central Region Field Director, John Blake…
Today I was reading a blog post, which I shall not name, in which an African American women was being taken to task for not understanding intrinsically the injustice in denying the lgbt community our civil, political, and social rights. This is a fight that I see frequently and as a member of both minority groups (African American & lgbt), I am usually asked to stand to embody the intersectionality in real space, usually providing credentials to a white, upper middle class, gay man against a straight, cisgender, member of the African American community.
It is tempting to do two things in identity politics, either enter into the oppression Olympics, adding up marginalized groups memberships until one reaches the gold medal of complete lack of privilege, or equating experiences of oppression as exactly the same. The lgbt community frequently calls on the events, history, and tactics of the civil rights community, and often with little regard for historical context, appropriates that experience as their own. When someone seeks to state that they do not see a 1 for 1 correlation between experiences of oppression, they are dismissed as lacking a sophisticated understanding of intersectionality and systems of oppression.
The President’s speech this evening made my point clear. While he recognizes components of our oppression as unjust, he does not see a 1 for 1 correlation between the experiences of black people in this country and lgbt people. He would never as a black man in America be able to look anyone in the eye and say that the issues of racial oppression were best left to the engines of democracy in a state by state fight, that would eventually end at equality of treatment for all Americans.
The fact that he does not intrinsically understand there to be a 1 for 1 correlation is not troubling for me. A black man who is straight would not intrinsically understand the experience of a gay man, whether he is black or not, any better then either would understand what it is intrinsically to be a woman. We can identify shared experiences and mitigate our privilege through intentional acts, and we can imagine what it might be like to experience another’s life, but we will never “know” what it is like.
This does not mean that our straight cisgender friends deserve a pass. Anyone who does not understand that the denial of the rights, privileges, responsibilities, social and political recognition, and so much else that comes with the frame of marriage, is wrong, needs to be educated on this issue until the evolution of their understanding arrives at the truth. It is wrong to stigmatize the lgbt community, and treat us as less deserving of justice, rights, and dignity. This we share with members of other oppressed groups.
The president’s misstep was two fold tonight. First he failed to state his personal desire on the outcome of the NY marriage debate. That would have been a “gimmie” that did not require him to take an official political stance on lgbt marriage, but would have implied further “evolution.” Second, he suggested that his efforts for federal employees, couples during healthcare crisis, and the hate crimes act exhausted his ability to impact the lived experience of the lgbt community in this country. As pointed out to his transition staff before he even entered the Oval Office, there are many steps he could take to unilaterally increase the level of justice and fair treatment that lgbt people experience.
We cannot allow his pretty words to distract us from our full federal equality. We cannot presume that because we have called on the historic memory of the American people of widespread oppression of African Americans, that we need do no further educating of the injustice experienced by us as lgbt Americans. And finally we cannot forget the lessons of the civil rights movement, the women’s rights movements, the farm workers movement, the immigrant rights movements, and the Native Americans rights movement, that we cannot wait for our rights to be delivered to us by legislatures on their own schedule. We must continue to go and fight nonviolently to win our equality with our own blood, sweat, and tears.
Central Region Field Director
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