I’m used to my life being used as a virtue signal. From High Street banks to TV sitcoms, black gay men are used to signal a brand’s inclusiveness, its edginess, its connection to a progressive zeitgeist. They’re not advertising to me, they’re advertising around me to others. However heart-rending the black actor’s wedding proposal to a white man may appear, the target of the message is not Black gay men, but a white cis het mainstream.
Black gay men in the UK do not have the economic clout by themselves to justify the expense of a TV and billboard advertising campaign. For the advertiser the Black gay man is a symbol of modernity, of their connection to the new, the now. Black gay men feature but the focus is around us, not really about us, nor for us.
This week has seen the publication of GMFA’s racism survey. The news is in . . . racism exists! What follows now is the usual round of BTL denial, ‘just a preference’, ‘Black people are racist too’, snowflake defences – all seeking to centre white people. Pearl clutching outrage briefly masks the displays of privilege from white gay men – ‘How divisive of you. How dare you have an experience that we don’t have access to – we’re oppressed not oppressive!’ Conversations will turn to white guilt, failures of white politics, and white men’s sexual freedom. Our gay media will claim to have seen the light because they’ve published an article about racism on the gay scene (paid for by nightclubs that perpetuate exclusion) and increased the number of people of colour featuring in the magazine by 400% for the year. A story about white racism that places people of colour as embittered victims and hapless bystanders. Black gay men feature but the story is around us, not really about us, nor for us.
Responses to GMFA’s survey did elicit a new revelation though; that prominent author, activist and black gay man, Vernal Scott had ‘enjoyed’ a sexual relationship with alt-right pin-up and fascist’s fascist Milo Yiannopoulous. Fantasist and attention seeker, Yiannopoulous, also uses black gay men to virtue signal – at least as far as virtue can be said to have anything to do with the alt-right worldviews of his audiences. Yiannopolous regularly cites sex with his black boyfriend as evidence that he is not a racist. When accused of being a racist troll, Milo responded “Some kind of racist that just got railed for 18 hours in a hotel room by his black boyfriend. You fucking morons.” He jokes “I lift young black men out of poverty every day. Sure, the next morning my driver takes them right back there but whatever.” Milo’s brand of racism is neither big nor clever and others have very effectively exposed the failings in his intellectual position. Much less documented or discussed are the Black men that he uses. We seem much more used to focusing on the racists than the lives of those who live with its impact on a daily basis.
If Black gay men were centred in this debate we might be asking; What does it mean to be used as a signal to others’ virtue (or lack thereof) rather than as valuable in your own right? The Black man introduced to the white boyfriend’s family because ‘this’ll really piss them off’, or the black boyfriend who enables access to the underground club doubling his white partner’s cool points, or the fuck buddy who’s FWB status is used to justify the most excoriatingly racist views over a pint in the pub later because ‘some of my best friends . . .’ What does the spectre of the betrayal of racist views or actions do to the potential for successful relationships between black and white people? How do we deal with the fear that we’re fucking racists, and how do we deal with those fears when it turns out that we are?
I’m pleased that there is now some attention given to the racisms that mar our communities, but I’m over the centreing of white people in this discussion or others. I tire of being others’ signal for good or ill, and will continue to ensure that our stories are told – stories about us, rather than around us; that are for us as well as by us.