Staying silent about homophobia only allows the disparity between straight and gay to strengthen, says James McDonald. But we have to tackle our own prejudices at the same time.
We live in a time where the overriding ethos is political correctness. The world continuously becomes smaller as our societies become more multi-cultural. Increasingly, we are taught to see people of all races and ethnicities as simply people; we are encouraged to look deeper than the superficial and recognise the basic humanity that we all share in common. Unfortunately, no good deed goes unpunished, and there is definitely something sinister lurking beneath such well-intentioned efforts.
Mainstream society today is not devoid of colour, it’s white. Through television, films, magazines and adverts a very clear message is being sent on what constitutes beauty, and it is not colour blind. Behind the egalitarian rhetoric is a white-washed world that we are discouraged from noticing. The general taboo placed on the topic of race has enabled the Amero-European notion of beauty to bleed into the world’s sub-conscience. As the dominant normative force in the world, it is the privilege of white culture to reign inconspicuously, invisibly even. Yet its effects on all people, of all races and in all parts of the globe, are marked.
In a brilliant collection of personal gay essays called Boys: An Anthology, Alok Vaid-Menon looks at the effects of white-fetishism. Growing up, he was only interested in pursuing white men. Not only did he avoid other people of colour, finding them unattractive, but he actively fetishised himself. He embraced the role of the exotic, dark-skinned experiment, using that to justify the interest white men expressed in him.
Nico Lang unequivocally says that ‘each of us who are born white and operate within a system of power and privilege are racist, in subtle ways that we don’t notice.’ But as Vaid-Menon shows, it goes farther than that – it affects everyone’s outlook. Jaime Woo notes the absurd contradiction that as gay men we celebrate our progressive sexuality, yet allow race to remain such an issue.
Dating portals like Grindr appeal to our basest instincts – sex – and in the pursuit of something so personal, we strip back pretentions. One man’s taste doesn’t need to share anything in common with that of another. When sex is the objective, there’s no point in wasting time on guys we’re not attracted to.
However, the format of such apps makes explicit what would otherwise go unsaid. In a bar, we wouldn’t bother catching the attention of a guy unless interested – we engage in a mental dismissal of guys we don’t want. On Grindr, in order to weed out those we’d normally ignore in person, men include messages in their profiles like ‘no Asians’, ‘whites only’, ‘no blacks’. Their defence is that they’re not racist; they’re just not into black guys. It’s a personal taste, right? There’s no point in pretending to like someone when you know you’re just not attracted to people like him?
How can we pretend that dismissing an entire group of people based on the colour of their skin is anything but racist? Whether we’re buying into misguided stereotypes of the dominant, well-endowed black guy, the passive Asian, or the myriad of other assumptions, we are shoring up racial boundaries. Our tastes change, and there is as much diversity within one race as there is within another – it is far too simplistic to disregard an entire group of people. Of course, we all have traits and features that we look for in others, but in accepting such preferences unquestioningly we fail to realise that they are learned. The inescapable celebration of white gay men means that our formative years are flooded with a very specific and a very narrow understanding of beauty.
Woo goes on to say that ‘race needs to be talked about because it still acts as an artificial barrier between people.’ While the world is far from perfect, it is clear that the attempt to bring about greater equality by glossing over racial differences isn’t working. Throughout the world, people continue to bleach their skin in pursuit of so limited an understanding of beauty. Islamophobia is running rampant throughout the West, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and whether consciously or not, we allow racial differences to desensitise ourselves to the poverty and devastation plaguing Africa, the Middle East and Asia. By stifling discussion beneath the guise of political correctness, we’re allowing racism to flourish unopposed.
With issues like racism, homophobia and anti-Semitism, education is the only hope we have of legitimately changing peoples’ bigoted views. The most effective thing we can do is to check others when they reveal their ignorance – remaining silent on the issue only allows for the disparity to strengthen.
As gay men, I truly believe that we are among the most liberated of people. We’ve denied the dominant understanding of manliness that has been imposed on today’s society. Confident in our masculinity, we have no issue crossing back and forth across the gender line. We understand that things in life are fluid, that men and women are not diametric opposites. Yet in allowing racial lines to bind us, we fall short of embracing the progressiveness we claim to hold so dear.
Racism is something that shapes every human to a degree, and understanding that it is fundamentally a social construct allows us to break it down. Because it is learned, it is possible to unlearn. To shake off the invisible shackles that have bound us throughout our lives is no easy task. But it is possible to re-learn what beauty means.
Woo says that it isn’t a question of can we change, but do we want to. Of course, race isn’t a problem confined to the gay community, but it’s time that we once again blaze ahead on the path to equality and acceptance. It’s time that gay men began dismantling the racial barriers that have stood strong for far too long.
© 2014 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.
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