Wednesday, February 25, 2004


I originally wrote what I am posting below on a message board, in response to a post that took umbrage to the idea that racism and homophobia are equivalent in their history or level of oppression. This person was arguing that gays and lesbians have not suffered either the day-to-day oppression that people of color have to deal with because of racism, nor have they experienced the kind of large-scale acts of oppression that have accompanied, for example, the treatment of African slaves.

This has not been an uncommon reaction by some sectors of communities of color who have bristled at the attempt to relate current queer rights activism to the Civil Rights Movement or similar movements lead by people of color for racial justice. I wanted to state, in no uncertain words, how I feel about this kind of intolerance towards queer rights by people who should really know better:

"The Oppression Olympics" refers to the idea that somehow, you can deny someone their suffering in order to posit your own. People who play the Oppression Olympics get so hung up on their own entitlement to being the Chosen Ones of Fucked Up History that they're defensive that anyone else would try to lay claim to that legacy, even in what is clearly a show of solidarity.

After all, it's not like gay and lesbian activists are trying to hijack the Civil Rights Movement's legacy and in the process, somehow minimize the African American experience. What they have done is tried to draw parallels between the ill-logic of racism with the ill-logic of homophobia. What could possibly be the point of forging walls between communities who have BOTH suffered terribly in the course of history?

As a visible person of color and someone who studies race and racism, I'm fully aware of the complicated and abhorrent histories suffered by all kinds of communities. Because of that, it seems to me that it's far more socially powerful and progressive to MAKE linkages between people rather than seek to separate and treat oppression as a competition to see who has been fucked over worse. Which is worse? The near-genocide of this country's indigeneous population or the Middle Passage of African slaves or the Jewish Holocaust? And if you choose one as the "winner" does that negate the other two? I certainly hope not - these are all terrible examples of humanity gone awry and ALL need to be remembered if we are to avoid repeating them again.

The ban against gay marriage is, in its civil ill-logic, almost identical to the hysteria that created anti-miscegenation laws in the 19th century. People quoted the Bible, they spoke about how "unnatural" it was for races to mix, blah blah blah. I mean, even as recently as 40 years ago, states actually had laws ON THE BOOKS that forbade marriages between whites and people of color. Nowadays, we can all agree that such laws were absolutely ludicrous. So is it with the issues around gay marriage. There is a linkage here, one that cannot and should not be denied.

May I also invoke the memory of Audre Lorde, Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and others who, throughout their lives, struggled with the so-called "love that dare not speak its name". These men and women recognized that their oppression came along multiple axes of power - they were decried for being BOTH Black and queer and I very much doubt they would have ever sought to divide their suffering into neat boxes that could be weighed on a scale against one another.

I suspect that part of the ire might come from the fact that homosexuality is treated as a form of whiteness among some people of color. Within communities of color, queers are often treated as traitors and outcasts but lest we forget, there are MILLIONS of queer Blacks, Asians, Latinos, etc. in the U.S. who are doubly marginalized - both from outside society and within their own community. Dare I say, for them, racism and homophobia are not forms of oppression that oppose or negate one another but are part of a larger web of discrimination and intolerance that billions around this world suffer from.

Now is not the time to be splitting hairs or playing the Oppression Olympics. Now is the time that all of us who have ever suffered under the weight of intolerance - whether as people of color, as the underclass, as women, etc. to recognize the wisdom of James Baldwin as he said unto Angela Davis:

"Some of us white and black know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unpresedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, were are worse than the murderers hired in our name. If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own - which it is - and render impassible with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night."

Think about it.