I’m going to start this article off by making a statement that you’ll need to agree with in order to stomach what I have to say: white culture appropriates black culture. I’m not going to go in depth and explain how or why we appropriate black culture, so just accept that as a fact for the sake of argumentation or stop reading now.
I’m not an expert on race so I don’t really think it is kosher for me to write an entire article on how white culture appropriates black culture as a whole. As a gay man, I’ve learned that gay men appropriate black culture in a way that is different from straight people, as noted in the incredibly insightful article entitled, “”Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Culture“. I think that privileged minorities, like cisgender white gay men, are often given a free pass or excused from heavy scrutiny, and I don’t think that’s right; I want to talk about this issue because I feel it is an incredibly important one that should no longer be ignored.
To an extent, I think gay men relate to or aspire to be like black women. It makes sense; gay men have historically been bullied into fitting stereotypes and norms they’d rather not to ascribe to, much like black women. Gay men were taught to reject their sexuality and police themselves for the betterment of society, which is something that I believe black women can relate to as black women are still heavily policed and forced to fit white standards.Gay men admire black women for what they deem to be “unapologetic behavior”; they aspire to be like Beyonce and Rihanna, who dominate an industry that didn’t want them to succeed. Gay men have an inflated preconception of what it means to be black and equate that identity with fierceness,”sassiness”, charisma, and nerve, and what they fail to realize is that this admiration has turned into appropriation.
The playful public persona many gay men have adopted stems directly from racial stereotypes. When a gay man runs around wagging his finger while embracing his “inner black woman” he’s intentionally or unintentionally making fun of black culture. Some may say that they aren’t making fun, but the truth is that the “inner black woman” is a representation of a body of traits that we still parody and reject in society. It’s appropriation because it’s funny when a gay man does it and “obnoxious” when a black girl does it. Gay men turn blackness into a performance, a role that is somehow acceptable to play because he is a minority himself. The difference, however, is that a white gay man is still a white man.Sure he may be targeted for his sexuality, but he is still born with inherent privileges that a black woman is not, so when he becomes upset for being called out it’s because his secret privilege has been acknowledged. At the end of the day he can put away the black costume, and continue reaping the benefits of systemic racism and sexism. Ali Barthwell makes a much better point than I ever could her article on the subject:
Cultural appropriation leads to black womanhood being defined by people who aren’t black women. It takes the control of black women’s lives and identities out of their hands and into those who benefit from their oppression. Adopting or mimicking blackness in “admiration” reduces blackness to stereotype. It becomes a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.
I get that it sucks to be called out on your shit, and I’d like to give gay men the benefit of the doubt and say they aren’t completely aware of what they are doing. Acting “black” has become such a big part of the white gay community that I think people are often oblivious of the racial implications. I also believe gay men feel like they need to fit some sort of societal mold to be accepted, and thus feel compelled to keep up the “inner black woman” act to be seen as sassy or fun. I think though that there are ways to be sassy or playful without it being at the expense of another group. And I think that it is fine to act a certain way, as long as it isn’t just a performance you’re putting on. But don’t get defensive if someone calls you out on your behavior; don’t try to belittle the opinions of others who may truly be hurt by what you’re doing. I shouldn’t have to say this but black women, like any other type of human, have real feelings that can be hurt when you mock and trivialize. Just because we live in a society that is fucked up enough to laugh at the expense of it’s own marginalized people, doesn’t mean we have to make the jokes.