This past Saturday, I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I noticed a reference to an interview with the BBC journalist Evan Davis, where he talked about his coming out as a gay man. There was one tweet that made reference to the story being in the Independent newspaper that grabbed my attention and so I decided to read the interview. I read the article, but found myself stop when I came across the statement:
Davis said: “My other brother, who I’m convinced had already been told, managed to lighten the mood with the wry quip ‘Thank God you’re not black!’”
As a black gay man, I was not sure how to take this comment. What did it mean? How did such a comment lighten the mood? Did the quip mean ‘Thank God you’re not black, because it could be much worse?” or did it mean “You have it easy as a white gay man?”. Was not sure what it meant, but certainly did not see the comment as funny. I decided to check out the original article on the R U Coming Out site to see if I was missing something, the full extract read:
My parents didn’t guess, but my brother who I had told the previous day in the car did. He pretended he didn’t already know and said, ‘You’re gay’ – the second time he’s guessed in as many days! It turned out to be a very helpful intervention because it meant that I didn’t actually have to say those words. It certainly made things a bit easier for me. My other brother, who I’m convinced had already been told, managed to lighten the mood with the wry quip ‘Thank God you’re not black!’
So I responded on twitter, and the following dialogue unfolded (you can read them here – Twitter dialogue with Evan Davies – if problem with images below): Coming Out is a process that all same gender loving people have to navigate on their own terms and in their own time. For black gay men (and women), that process brings with it multiple levels of complexities, because we have no option but to embrace our sexuality and race – we cannot pick or choose one or the other. We are Black and Gay!
Because of the strong communal ties that form part of our culture, many black same gender loving people still struggle coming out – a range of fears still hold true for us – from ‘that news could kill my mother’, to ‘my father will never speak to me again’ to ‘my sister might prevent her kids from seeing me’ – these are all comments I heard many black gay men utter at a session I facilitated last month, where we explored ‘Coming Out’ and what gets in the way.
And so, to think the comment ‘Thank God you are not black’ being uttered by a white gay man is funny, does nothing to help that young or older black person – being Black is part of their identity and that statement is very loaded.
The other reason that statement is also not funny is because the journey of the black gay man does not end when he comes out. Being out within the ‘gay community’ also brings its own sets of challenges. Just last weekend a friend had posted on Facebook that a couple of his black friends were barred from entering a club in Manchester; but black guys who were with people who were white, were allowed to enter the premises. Stories like this are not one-off incidents. And the whole issue around online profiles that have lines like – ‘no blacks’ or ‘not into black guys, sorry, just my preference’ is a whole other dimension as to why ‘Thank God you are are not black’ is not funny.
So dear Evan Davis – next time you hear someone offer the dry quip ‘Thank God you are not black’, do let that person know that ‘….actually that’s an important observation and not funny, for some gay people are black….’