"Malcolm X was bisexual. Get over it" says the Guardian headline, via Boingboing. The article behind the headline impassionedly argues for greater recognition for LGBT people within the African-American and black British community, and accuses Black History Month of "straight-washing" black history. It's not an uninteresting argument.
In fact, there's only one thing wrong with the article - that it's written by Peter Tatchell. Many fans of Jamaican music will know who Tatchell is, as the man who initiated the campaign against "Boom Bye Bye" - an outspoken and highly radical British gay rights activist. The most neutral thing one can say about Peter Tatchell is that he tends to be rather divisive, forming highly impassioned camps for and against his statements. Right now a minor internet brouhaha is under way about Tatchell suing an academic publication in a rather overbearing manner, and he's previously had tussles with other radical activists over Islam, pop music and (perhaps most relevant to this blog) African gay rights activism. I'm absolutely not sure if the allegations in the last link are true, but in any case his response (as featured in the comments) is clumsy and inflammatory in a very unfortunate manner. He's not Mr. Nice Guy.
But I'm not sure all that matters. What's problematic about the article is that Mr. Tatchell is a cultural middle class white man. And you know what? So am I.
DJ Umb is a recent frequent commenter on this blog, and one of his blog comments back when he was slightly more mad at me stuck me as having a lot of truth to it. "Let the colonized peoples speak for themselves," he said. "They don't need white, middle-class, westerners doing it for them. Cause that happened far too often in the past and actually led to colonization in many instances."
Fuck it if he isn't right. Extrapolating, what bothers me about Tatchell's article is that this is a message that ought to have been delivered by a black LGBT activist, not a white one. I'm retreading fairly obvious ground here, but an article that defends the right to be seen of a particular group of people is a touch hypocritical when it's a person from a more privildged group standing in front of them talking. And yet, here I am doing pretty much the same thing, right?
Being an ally is fucking difficult. I don't think anyone will go around saying there should be no male feminists, straight gay rights advocates and so on, people using their relative position of power and their access to an audience to push forward an agenda that benefits someone else... yet it's a super-precarious path to thread since people like me and Peter de facto don't share the relevant experiences, and need to listen to an enormous extent instead of just following instinct. I'm running for the Stockholm city council next fall as a member of a feminist party (announcement! details forthcoming), and not a day goes by when I don't question my own role in the greater power scheme of things. The price of alliance, just as with freedom, is eternal vigilance.
One example. One thing Peter Tatchell does, which I continuously try my best never to engage in, is criticise other marginal groups. In the piece above he attacks the black community in Britain from outside, and his attacks on Jamaican reggae artists, Muslims and those African gay rights groups all have the effect of decreasing the power of an already marginalised grouping. In a classic intersectional scenario, the gain for gay rights is offset by the clambering over other identities to get there. I think that offers a significant clue as to why he's so reviled in large circles on the left.
Other definite principles I hope to follow is to direct attacks to my own in-group, try to help people discover how to find actual artists, and if at all possible link to actual voices and sources. Please - if you find me breaking any of this shit, call me out on it.
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