Once upon a time, in Portlandia, a community discovered that nestled within its heart was a festering boil of racism and complacency. Some screamed “Boycott!!” and “Traitor!” and others yelled just as loudly about “Freedom of speech” and told the others to “Get over it!”, and “You’re too sensitive!”, and so on.
At the core of this story is a leather bar who booked a so-called ‘comedy’ act featuring a gay white male in black-face using vile and hateful stereotypes to portray a woman of color, for money and laughs. Let’s take a moment here… a gay, white man was going come to Portland so a roomful of people could pay him to make fun of a woman of color and laugh while he did it. A lot of people bought tickets to see the show and then the wider community got wind of it and the protests and heated conversations began. And when I say ‘wider community’, I mean those who understood instantly that black-face is racist and that this show should never have been booked in the first place. (I will not link to the youtube channel for Shirley Q Liquor, nor to the Leather Eagle bar’s site. If you are new to this incident and want to catch up, I recommend you start by reading Mollena William’s initial post, and follow along from there). The leather bar eventually canceled the show, but never really demonstrated an understanding that it was wrong to book it in the first place. Ticket holders howled in protest. Maybe even more insidious than the blatant racism being expressed by some is the lack of anything being expressed by others. People of color in Portland and beyond are finding out the hard way who their true allies are. It’s not just a saying people, silence does equal consent. If you don’t speak up about the wrong you hear and see around you, you are allowing that wrong to gain power. And you are telling your friends that they aren’t worth your time and effort, that stepping up and doing the right thing is just too much bother for you.
“Now the people of Portland were angry, but not for the reasons you might guess. Certainly some were angry because a potentially racist performance was coming to Eagle, but some people in the community were angry because there were calls to cancel the show. Defenders of the Eagles’ decision to Shirley Q. Liquor argued that the show was art, saying that shutting down the show would amount to censorship. In the long, messy online debate, some people posted claims of “reverse racism” in the brewing move to boycott the bar.
The issue of Shirley Q. Liquor raises an interesting and ever-growing discussion: The overlap of race and LGBTQ issues and how minority groups often do not come to the aid of one another.”
We should NEVER each other to ‘get over it’, ever, ever, ever. And we should not stand by while others say that to someone experiencing racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia or any of the other ways to say ‘you are OTHER and that means it’s alright to treat you as LESS THAN’.
“… And then many others saw the outcry and uncomfortably wrung their hands and said they couldn’t take a stand. Since there were two sides to it, how could one possibly be right?
There’s a popular logical fallacy that claims that taking an opposing view automatically guarantees you rights to 50% of the truth. Opponents of Evolution use this to force science teachers to present Creationism as an equivalent “theory” in classrooms without any evidence to support it. They believe that “fair” somehow means they get their way no matter what.
This is, simply put, false. Truth does not change just because you’re ignorant enough to disagree with it.
You can claim that blackface is anything other than vile, racist, sexist and abhorrent, but you’d be wrong.”
We may have freedom of speech and an equal right to express our opinions, but that doesn’t mean our opinions are equally right. For a lot of people, logic, like science and math, are suspect because they tend to be used by folks who fight against racism, misogyny, and the various other hateful behaviors that come from wanting to keep OTHER PEOPLE oppressed, those folks who see privilege as a divine right and oppression as something they are allowed because of their religion. But logic is right and the trophy of truth does not go to the highest, or loudest, bidder.
I think many of my readers are like me and consider themselves allies to people of color in their fight against racism and oppression. What does allyship mean to Mollena Williams?
“Being an ally means fighting alongside. It is about taking a stand, in front of everyone. Vocally. Holding people accountable. Not “agreeing to disagree” when people support racism. About saying “privilege is real.” and talking about ways to mitigate racism, ways to educate so that it is a shared responsibility.”
I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to be a person of color dealing with racism. I am not qualified to tell my PoC friends and family members what they should or should not be offended by. Sounds kinda obvious? Apparently not. Apparently a whole lot of white people think they are in a position to tell people of color how they should react to racism, in fact, a lot of those people seem to believe they are in a position of authority on racism and the sole arbiters of common sense when it comes to how one should react to racism. As I said, I’m not a person of color but I can relate to how it feels to have someone outside my experience tell me how I should feel about that experience. It’s not OK, it’s not right, it’s bullshit and the people who try to dictate and control our reactions from a place of privilege are way, way out of line. So when my friends, people of color who do know how racism feels when aimed at them, when they tell about their experiences, I believe them. I listen and believe and ask what I can do to help support them. That’s what an ally does, that’s what a friend does.
I listen to friends like Sophia St. James when she tells us what it feels like to live in Portland and deal with racism. How it feels to be shut down because of who she is, what she does and that, yes, speaking up about your oppression makes white people uncomfortable…
“I continue to see white members of the city continually try to shut down brown people because they are not speaking, acting, or framing topics the way that makes them comfortable.
Well guess what? I will not stop cursing or yelling or being pissed. I will continue to speak out because it’s something I believe in. If you can’t handle me saying FUCK every once in a while because I am enraged then go get some damn kleenex, because I am not stopping just because you happen to be uncomfortable. YOU SHOULD BE UNCOMFORTABLE!
You should see the pain, rage, hurt, and irritation in the eyes, mouths, and faces of brown people in this city and LGBTQ community. I hope it makes you sweat because you are so uncomfortable. You need to be uncomfortable. And let me say this, I am not ‘anti-white’. But I am anti racism and anti-asshole.
And for the folks bringing my ‘career’ into this. Get real dipshits! I make porn… AND??? I can’t stand up for my fucking rights as a brown person in this community just because I’m hot 😉 ? I am college educated, street smart, and a war veteran. I am a happy, playful, and spirited woman. I am many things and I like that. But right now. I am a fucking pissed off black femme who is tired of seeing her elders moved out, white folks acting likes it’s ‘no big thing’, and seeing how the brown LGBTQ members keep getting pushed aside.”
It is embarrassing how many people are falling over themselves trying to defend the Eagle and the performer and all those ticket purchasers. How about freedom of speech, they say, doesn’t that apply? Well, of course it does. Those racists have every right to speak their minds, to spout their racist crap. That performer has every right to spew hateful, vile racist bullshit all day long. However, ‘freedom of speech’ is not a magic spell that takes away the speaker’s responsibility for the content and impact of that speech. You and I have equal rights to speak our mind, and you and I have equal rights to disagree with each other, loudly if we so choose, through boycotts if we so choose, through protests and pickets and calls to action, if we so choose. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from criticism. It is not a ‘get off the hook’ free card.
More from Roxy’s post on Uncommon Curiosity:
The First Amendment is a lot like a sewage treatment plant sometimes. Necessary, yes… but I’m not building my house next to it.
This white man who makes money from being so unbelievably racist has the right to speak his caustic truth, regardless of how neanderthal it is. He has the right to believe, falsely, that he is somehow heroic to spew this filth, and the right to say so to anyone brainless enough to listen.
But inviting him into your house to do so is something else entirely.
These days it’s easy to broadcast news and opinions at lightening speed, on a global scale. Good or bad, what we say online can go viral, we have very little control over where our words go once we post them. Local events and incidents don’t stay local. We should all ‘pause before we post’ to make sure that what we’re putting out there is something we’re willing to defend, perhaps on a global scale.
Oh, and what about the ‘reverse racism’ accusations some idiots were tossing around? Let’s just take a moment with that, shall we? I’m gonna cheat off S. Bear Bergman’s paper a bit here, because he said it so well the other day:
“racism describes race-based discrimination/hatred PLUS institutional privilege/cultural power. That’s why “reverse racism” is a false phrase. … racial humor aimed at the dominant cultural paradigm it can’t, by definition, be racist.”
To repeat and emphasize: racism is NOT something people of color can do to white people. Can. NOT. Happen. By definition, racism is something people of the dominant culture do to people of the oppressed culture. When people of color lampoon themselves, it’s not racism. When people of color make fun of white people, again, it’s not racism. Might sting, might not be in good taste, might be offensive. Still not racism.
As I said before, I am not a person of color, nor a member of the Leather community. I speak for myself as an ally, as a concerned member of the online community and as a friend to many who have gone all in to speak out against those promoting racism, and those promoting silence and complacency. Mollena Williams has collected a list of blog posts from people reacting to this incident, many persons of color, many from within the Leather community. I encourage you to read these posts, to hear from the people directly effected by racism and hate, and to learn from them what we can and should be doing about it, how we can be allies. Here are some snippets from those blog posts that I thought were particularly meaningful:
From Master Obsidian:
To truly make a dent in this thing, if we are truly going to make a change in this world, right the fuck NOW – you have to choose. Choose to stand up for what you truly believe in. For some of you, that will mean nothing whatsoever. You don’t want to change and you don’t have to. And in the words of the old Irish blessing, if He cannot change your hearts may he change your walk so that we may know you by your limping fucked-up gait. For others of you the cost that is on the table is that you must commit yourselves – to teaching your children differently. To speaking up instead of going along quietly. To rocking the boat and if it comes to that, walking away from those friends and even family that continue to embrace hatred. We no longer have the luxury of ignorance.
For my part, I commit to the tearing down, the dismantling of the emotional cardboard of what passes for friendship these days. I commit to personal authenticity, to walking in truth, to speaking my truth and for those that choose to either call me friend or want to walk together for a time with me to see if we can truly be friends – I open my arms and my heart. Get with me, talk to me – Im here and I will NOT reject you, I promise you that. But understand that Im going to be real with you and I expect your realness in return. No more lies, no more hiding and there arent any easy answers, I know that. We must build where we are – right here and right now.
From Slave Namaste’s post:
The curse of racism in this country and the wound it has left on our collective consciousness is very fresh all things considered. While often it is said that “slavery was over 200 years ago!!” – it is important to remember that Jim Crow laws were still in effect as of the 1960′s. It is also important to remember that racial discrimination, bias and hate crimes are still present day realities. This means that for many people of color – the negative side effects they are still on the receiving end of – not only reside in the annals of history but are also part of present day reality. A wound can not heal while it is continuing to be inflicted. No non-consensual slavery is not Federally sanctioned anymore. YAY!. On the other hand many People of color have the experience of an underlying disrespect and suspicion being placed on them just because of their skin color.
From a white, queer, masculine ally, Sé Shay Sullivan:
Finally, there is no such thing as reverse racism, bias based on gender,class, nation, sexual orientation sucks, but being white places all of those things into a privileged position, racism is about power, the power to name for others what is or is not. I stand in my whiteness neither in shame or guilt, but I am responsible to work on how my whiteness impacts the world I live in. I inherited this privilege not by my individual acts, but by the slavery and genocide that white supremacy demanded and extracted through structural and institutional practices. Again, Racism is a fact of life, how we response to it is very telling, the Eagle and those who supported the racist act, failed and no amount of justification will change that. Acting in a racist way often is not seen as intentional, but that is the lie, it is exactly its intention to hide itself from the individual preforming the act.
In the post by Mo Williams that I linked to above, she closes with this:
In the same way I DO NOT associate with people who are homophobic, sexist, transphobic, anti-choice, etc, I DO NOT associate with people who support racism.
How about you?
I think this is exactly what we should all be considering for ourselves. I will not put up with or associate with homophobic, transphobic, racist, misogynist, bigoted, hateful people.
How about you?
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