On the 17th of April, Leiden University Pride held its third lecture in their lecture series, where they shine light on a different topic within the LGBTQ+ community each time. This evening was dedicated to racism within LGBTQ+ communities. The speakers of this evening were Isjed Hussain and Fayaaz Joemmanbaks, who used their own examples of racism they’ve experienced on different levels to link that to the structural problem that’s been going on in LGBTQ+ circles. It’s everywhere: there’s racism they’ve experienced when dating white queer people, but also racism they’ve experienced while working for big Dutch LGBTQ+ organisations. This meant that while they felt their queerness was accepted, the part of them that is their race was not. That racism was expressed in different ways: from being mocked for having an accent to being told at work that you are not intelligent enough for certain things and that this is somehow linked to your race.
Personally, as somebody who is a queer Arab, this lecture immediately sparked my interest and I made sure to attend it. Racism is nothing new. I and many other people of colour (POC) living in white majority countries have their own countless stories of dealing with racism. What makes this context so unique is that intersection between being queer and being POC: a community which you’d expect to be accepting because of their own experiences with bigotry turns out not to be. You are not being rejected for being queer but you are being rejected for your racial background while both of those identities are important to you. And it’s not always overt actions. Just think about the public faces of the queer community. Very often they are young, white, able-bodied people, and usually also specifically gay men. That means there’s a huge part of the community that falls outside of that very narrow definition, which can be alienating. However, that also meant that I walked away from that event feeling lighter. Sure, I’ve felt partial recognition in watching videos from queer Youtubers, but they are very often white and not all of their lived experiences were the same as mine. Finding people who were truly like me was like opening the doors to a whole new world.
The audience for this event were mostly white people. Which is great! It’s very appreciated that white people are willing to learn about racism. Going to events like this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s often an uncomfortable process. I’m all too much aware how white people feel when attention is drawn to their privileges. It is like poking a hole through that safe bubble that you have sat in for a long time. Perhaps you think you haven’t actively been racist. Sadly it doesn’t matter whether you are or not, you still benefit from that system that lifts you up and brings POC down. Luckily you can use your privileged position for good things too! Indeed, you might be wondering what things you could do to help. Here are some ideas, keeping in mind this list is definitely not exhaustive:
- The number one thing is to be aware that being queer does not absolve you of your white privilege. The same way a straight and cis person can’t claim that they are not privileged in regards to their sexuality and gender because they are poor, being queer doesn’t mean that it somehow doesn’t make your privilege in regards to your race go away. Everybody in the world has both privileges and lack of privileges in different aspects of their life.
- Talk to your white social circle, friends, or partner(s). Confront them when they say racist things, and don’t let it just happen. It’s very important that you do this consistently, even if there aren’t any POC in the room. The people you associate with tells me a lot about how safe you are. If they are racist I’m not only less inclined to trust them, but also you if you don’t do anything about it.
- Seek out, read and listen to POC (queer) activists. In order to fight racism, it’s important that you are aware of the structures that keep it in place. And the best way to do that is to listen to those who are affected by it. Question what you have been taught and what you are subconsciously thinking and actively go against it.
- Are you one of those people who think overt acts of racism like violence is bad but don’t understand why those pesky POC are complaining about those little things, putting themselves in a victim position? Learn the difference between overt and covert forms of white supremacy. All of these little things are linked to each other and they add up. See it as a part of the iceberg that’s underwater. You can’t see it, but it’s there, and it will destroy your ship. This graphic shows it pretty nicely, even if it’s a bit America-centric:
- Don’t talk over POC. The only people who get to define what racism is are the ones who experience racism. When we talk about the hardships we’ve endured, believe us. Our race has made life so much harder than you can ever imagine because you’ve never really had to think about yours.
- Colourblindness is not the solution. We are not the same, but we should nevertheless be treated equally. Any statement that’s similar to ‘’We are one race, the human race!’’ is not helpful, because it’s actually erasing the things that make us unique. It’s possible to get rid of racism while still appreciating the things that make us different from each other.
Most importantly: Ally is a verb, not a noun. You can’t call yourself an ally, an anti-racist, a supportive person and what not and while not doing something when you see injustice happen.
If you are POC and queer and reading this: I see you. I hear you. I know it’s painful and lonely but you are not the only one out there. Come find us. Here are some places to start in the Netherlands:
Respect2Love (http://www.respect2love.nl) and Prisma Groep (http://www.nietalleenanders.nl/organisatie/prisma-groep/). These are both organizations for queer POC. Or search for some Facebook groups, there are countless ones! I love these spaces because our identities are inseparable and they acknowledge that. It’s not that I’m queer and that I’m Arab, I’m a queer Arab and it’s a subtle yet important difference.
I believe we still have a long way to go and I don’t know if we can solve racism. Definitely not in my lifetime at least. But I hope that someday the generations after me don’t have to feel that pain so that we queer POC and the ones who came before us didn’t fight for nothing.