From a counselling perspective, a righting reflex is the instinctive reaction to give advice and information when you see someone making decisions that you feel are not in their best interests. Sometimes imposing information – even if it’s good advice – can make people resistant to take on your suggestions. In my opinion, it’s still better to empower someone with information to make the best decisions that best serve them in their situation. In this post, I try not to tell you how to act. But I hope my experience and my reaction to it can empower you to recognise
When you hear the devil call you by name.
I’m in a club a week ago and I wondered if I was drunk; or whether the guy I kissed earlier passed on the powers of a powdered high. Confused I watched on as a flock of Black guys broke their necks to get the attention of a white guy in an ‘Urban’ rave. Earlier on, I’d said hello, smiled and waved to the same group but was greeted with cut-eyes, pursed lips, and full body rotations in the complete other direction.
Nothing new; a known response
from a certain section of the Black gay community. I usually brush those guys off. I recognise those Black gay men as men who perhaps secretly despise their skin. This was different though. The guy with whom they wrestled and begged to take a picture wasn’t particularly attractive. Each to their own I hear some of you cry! And from others I hear more direct advice.
Perhaps! But even more noticeable than the nondescript aesthetic of this mediocre white man who caused these Black men to completely lose their shit, was the shirt he wore. A shirt that not so subtly had the Confederate Battle Flag plastered over it. This flag; the emblem of the 13 Southern United States that seceded from the Union and fought to maintain southern principles during the American Civil War. Obviously, a major part of the struggle was the legal enslavement of the Black population. I stood dazed and confused. At best, they didn’t know or recognise the emblem. At worse, they saw and knew but it didn’t matter. It hurt to see it then and it hurts now because whether the Black guys knew isn’t really the issue at hand. What is fundamentally wrong is this white boy felt comfortable and emboldened enough to wear a t-shirt that promotes white supremacy, certainly at least in the minds of some of the Black people (like me) who occupied this predominantly Black space. And how they (how I) feel matters more than his prerogative to display white supremacy as fashion. While contemplating this white boy’s profound audacity as he went about and presented the shirt as proudly as a peacock’s tail feathers; it dawned on me. In my initial attempt to engage my Black gay brothers, a desire to be wanted by a white man outweighed their willingness to appreciate the beauty of their reflection. I struggle with the thought that these guys may be happy to settle for being no more than a bed-wench, but also with curbing my righting reflex on this issue.
The devil has many subtle and overt ploys to get you to sacrifice your birth right. And the devil knows which prey are the most vulnerable.
When we fail to act against incidents that harm us, it gives a green light for a line to be crossed. If this was America (certain parts obviously), he should would have been lynched. We might have a different history to our Black American brothers, but that shouldn’t stop us from recognising signs of the racism inflicted on them. By keeping quiet, by forgiving without repentance, and worst of all, for having a lack of pride and self-respect, these transgressions will continue to occur. This is a point particularly relevant in a time when Brexit has given some people a license to confidently racially abuse others in public.
I’ve learned my lesson. ‘Urban’ is perhaps no longer a code word for ‘Black’. Now ‘urban’ spaces provide an open invitation to white faces who arrive keen with a knowing (and worse with a not knowing) desire to see and feel the beauty within Black music and culture. Perhaps clubs cannot be expected to provide a space solely for us, as the Black Pound is deemed insufficient and their overheads and profit margins need to be considered. This experience is evidence that we need to create spaces that are for us only. If racism is a white disease, so said Albert Einstein, then surely it cannot exist in the places where we and we alone exist. The places to share, love, care and empathise with others, without intrusion from those who are truly unable to understand my Black experience. The places we define as our own, whether it be a Black therapy group, or a group of individuals physically meeting up or online to share knowledge experiences, and affirm each other. A place where I don’t have to deal with snide micro-aggressions and the blatant shows of racism.
White guilt, shame or apologies are not healing for me. I need my reflection.
Like James Baldwin I’m an optimist. I’m alive and I love people. I love talking to people and finding out who they are. More importantly, I love Black people, especially Black men (hides score card). Sometimes I fear that lessons have not been learned that could be learned from centuries of white supremacy. And even when acknowledged; are glossed over. If signs of racism stare us in the face and we are unable to recognise them we are lost as Black gay men. I don’t have the time, desire nor energy to tell gay white men that I have no desire to be fetishised and/or objectified by them. I have no problem telling them in very clear simple and effective terms that I am not to be their nigger, bedwench, or part of some thug/slave masochistic fantasy. This is due in large part to Black–only spaces where I am affirmed in my entirety. There, I’m able to share and received support in how to recognise and to understand the devices of white supremacy which is key to our survival.
In those spaces I see the faces of men who reflect my history as a Caribbean man of African descent and I understand who I am.
I’d invite you to do the same. Don’t get me wrong I’m not saying don’t go to the club. I certainly will not allow the key device of white supremacy; exclusion; to ever limit me from finding enjoyment in gay spaces. So when I saw the shirt and after my initial confusion, security assisted me in looking for the individual. But by then he had decided to slink into the shadows of darkness. In the club the music and atmosphere has the power to entrance you. Remember that even there, you need to be vigilant to the devices of those who profit from and are ignorant to your oppression.
Nathan is a London-based community advocate
Let us know what you think of his post and please get in touch if you want to share your experiences with your own BlackOut post.