Dear White Gay Men: Racism is Your Problem, not Ours.

Whistleblower and digital activist Shahmir Sanni launches his column: RACE AND REBELLION

Racism is your problem, not ours.

Over the last decade, queer issues have moved to the forefront of mainstream media. They have been debated, discussed and – in some cases – even resolved. There have been incredible strides made ‘for the community, by the community’ and we have come out of it stronger, braver and louder.

With the popularity of shows like Pose on FX and Queer Eye, films like Moonlight and artists like Frank Ocean, pop culture is undergoing a shift to platforming not just queer folk, but also queer people of colour. But my experience as a gay man of colour in the UK has taught me many unfortunate things about our community and so-called ‘acceptance’ of our lifestyles.

There are too many people who still engage in cognitive dissonance when it comes to the realities of the LGBTQ community. They are deliberately ignorant of the experiences of trans black women, gay East Asian men or non-binary Desis. There are too many who are actively ignoring and shutting down important struggles.

On the other side, there are too many queer people of colour caving-in to the almost inescapable solitude of whitening-up, only to find out that their assimilation was rejected at birth. As a result, the mental health of LGBTQ people of colour continues to deteriorate.

Instagram: @artqueerhabibi

No Safety Net

Gay men of colourin particular have the unique burden of navigating a racist society on top of patriarchal and homophobic cultures. Most of us are lonely and barely flourishing, even inside a community that once presented itself as our safety net.

White gay men must do better if we as a community are supposed to survive in the time of populism characterised by Trump and Brexit.

It is still difficult for us to find work. It is still difficult for us to attain good salaries. And it is still difficult for us to avoid racial violence.

Within gay circles, we are desperately seeking commitment on one hand, yet aggressively shutting any potential long-term partners out because of the risk of losing the ability to seek sexual validation whenever, wherever and from whoever we can.

The trauma that we face as children and young men too often leads us to a wayward spiral of torn relationships, dishonest encounters and bad sex.

Queer Men of Colour

Social media and hook-up apps have driven us to a dangerous position within the LGBTQ community. We sit in tears when we see the man we like post a picture on Instagram with a man that isn’t us. We are constantly bombarded with fetishizing language and images. We are dating several men at the same time to find a suitable partner, yet perpetually ready for the next best candidate to tap us on Grindr.

This debilitating need for validation is driving us as queer men of colour into the ground.

We men of colour are devoid of self-love and even when we try to love ourselves we do so by posting an Instagram story about how good we look in the sun – as if that’s enough to get us out of the hole we’ve been thrown into. We have no way to absolve ourselves of the shame we faced during our childhood or the fear we felt growing up in hyper-masculine environments.

All these burdens mean we have built mechanisms to protect ourselves.

We stop ourselves from appearing too feminine and remain afraid to smile if our teeth aren’t perfect. We puff up our chests when we meet new men and we resort to patriarchal behavior to make sure we appear as attractive as possible. We post gym selfies on Instagram to stir the interest of that guy we like, while sending hearts to the men who respond – but who just aren’t for us.

Constantly, we are afraid to show all of who we are, in case anyone finds us unattractive. This debilitating need for validation is driving us as queer men of colour into the ground.

Gay White Men

White gay men would argue that they deal with these same issues. They do. But to nowhere near the same extent. Gay men of colour have to deal with these problems under the debilitating weight of racism. Ask any black or brown man what they think of the LGBTQ community and most will say it is exhausting. It is a struggle outside of it, and it is an even more complicated struggle within it. The pain of having to navigate through a white community is shared among all people of colour.

I can’t blame my black friends for just giving up and caving into men who want their ‘BBC’, or brown friends who will have sex with any white man that gives them attention because they remind them of an exotic macaw.

White gay men don’t have to constantly worry about whether the person who is flirting, dating, or even married to them is only doing so because the idea of being with someone of their ethnic background is enticing or exotic. You, white gay men, do not have to constantly deal with comments like ‘You’re small for a Nigerian’ or ‘You’re too cute to be Indian’. Your skin colour does not determine the perceived size of your penis. You are seen as individuals, and spoken to without any perceived notions or bias pertaining to your skin colour. You are the supposed ‘norm’. You are allowed to be three-dimensional without your interests or personality traits being viewed as expected or unexpected.

While white gay men also seek a problematic level of validation, gay men of colour seek validation not just to be seen as attractive but to also be perceived as more than just our skin colour and ethnicity.

It is the fault of a lack of understanding about how racism and white supremacy work. I can’t blame my black friends for just giving up and caving into men who want their ‘BBC’, or brown friends who will have sex with any white man that gives them attention because they remind them of an exotic macaw.

Head above Parapet

It’s hard to see above the parapet when in reality your head is being drowned under it. It is hard to say ‘OK let me change the way I look at everything and deal with the excruciating trauma just to be better in the long run’. It’s fucking hard. Fetishization is not validation, it is the reduction of our bodies to being just objects built for the sexual satisfaction of white men. This needs to change – and it starts from within the white gay community.

White gay men must do better if we as a community are supposed to survive in the time of populism characterised by Trump and Brexit. The LGBTQ community has always relied on unapologetic activism and deconstruction of the status quo. White gay men: you are the status quo. So you must make a decision. Do you want to be part of the LGBTQ community and continue deconstructing oppressive systems? Or do you want to be excluded in order for us, as queer people of colour and trans folk, to retain our safe spaces? My sincere hope is that you will choose the former.

Fight the oppression by educating yourself and those around you about our struggles and fears. When you see someone fetishizing black men, call them out. When you hear someone saying they don’t like Asian boys, explain how it is racist.

Allyship involves all of us doing the utmost to ensure queer people of colour don’t have to constantly battle depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and self-hate because of the structures you perpetuate or uphold.