Identity is complex. Identity is multi-dimensional, intersectional, and contains a multitude of layers. Each of us contain a number of privileges, yet might face an amount of marginalization. Due to this complexity, forces of privilege will at times manifest in spaces of marginalization to derive oppressive behavior. Societal groupthink portrays a monolithic experience of a single identity group without acknowledging intersectionality, which can create internalized conflict within a community. Here is an example of privilege entering into spaces of marginalization, pertaining to the identities that I carry.
A few weeks ago, @DCHomos, a gay media-centered twitter user, shared this photo of a gay wedding between James and Ryan from Cincinnati, Ohio:
This picture shows the two gay men in traditional Indian attire, with their entire family dressed accordingly. As white people using Indian culture, these pictures received heavy criticism from some folks, stating that this was “disgustingly racist and appropriative,” and that this was “a bunch of white dudes mimicking an Indian wedding.”
Some people thought that the criticism stemmed from homophobic norms, even when that criticism came from queer people themselves:
In this situation, the idea portrayed is that criticizing their use of Indian culture is inherently homophobic due to the fact that the people are gay. It paints the image that gay people are intrinsically oppressed, and do not experience privilege nor are able to make faults at all.
This is very similar to the story “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” where the author, Sierra Mannie, calls on white gay men to stop utilizing black female cultural vernacular and mannerisms.
“You are not a black woman, and you do not get to claim either blackness or womanhood. There is a clear line between appreciation and appropriation.”
Just like the plea to stop commodifying black female culture, I disagree with James and Ryan using Indian culture as two white men. Being gay and being oppressive are not mutually exclusive; in fact, racism and appropriation are very typical in mainstream LGBT culture.
James Baldwin, a gay and black Civil Rights activist, said this quote about the acceptance of black people within the LGBT community:
“I think white gay people feel cheated because they were born, in principle, in a society in which they were supposed to be safe. The anomaly of their sexuality puts them in danger, unexpectedly. Their reaction seems to me in direct proportion to their sense of feeling cheated of the advantages which accrue to white people in a white society. There’s an element, it has always seemed to me, of bewilderment and complaint. Now that may sound very harsh, but the gay world as such is no more prepared to accept black people than anywhere else in society.”
Baldwin very much foreshadowed an intrinsic issue within LGBT culture to this very day. Media portrays America as a “gay friendly haven,” yet we have clearly seen that there are significant levels of ignorance amongst white gay men towards their fellow colored counterparts. Perhaps I face marginalization within my ethnic and religious communities, but I do equally so face marginalization within LGBT communities.
Gay white men are not any more accepting of racism than straight white people are. Obviously, James and Ryan did not care enough as to invite an Indian or South Asian to this wedding, if they even have Indian or South Asian friends. They did not even consider to think about the lives, histories, and marginalization of queer South Asians, particularly those in India and Pakistan right now who face criminalization for being gay under Section 377.
As a queer Pakistani, I do not feel okay with this. I, too, demand that my culture be not used as a costume. My culture is not up for your disposal. You do not OWN it. None of this is about you being gay, but about you being white.
Check your privilege.
by ZAIN AHMED