I struggle with where I fit into the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Part of this comes from my upbringing. I am from a town that had a Black population of less than 3% while I was there. I lived in a white neighborhood and remember having only one other boy that looked like me in my grade. We moved to a town in North Carolina that was, for all intents and purposes, divided by the tracks my 7th grade year of school. THAT was the year I learned I was both Black and not “Black enough.
Little did I know at the time that I was experiencing what W.E.B. Du Bois coined as double consciousness— the individual sensation of feeling as though your identity is divided into several parts. It didn’t matter how hard I tried, I was “too [insert whatever] to be Black” to the Black kids, “not really Black” to the white kids, and very much Black to myself. As time went on, and I was less accepted by the Black kids at my school, I grew to resent them and eventually stopped trying to befriend Black peers.
My only Black friends in high school ended up coming from band class. To me, these Black peers were “different”. We got along, and I never felt the need to be anyone different than who I was. We moved to Florida middle of my junior year in high school. Simply put, it sucked! I transferred into Senior level courses because the curriculum of my previous high school was so much further ahead of that of my new school, and had to drop band because it conflicted with my new course load.
Senior year of high school, I came out as gay to my immediate family, a couple of cousins and my friends. I don’t really think I struggled with it as much or as long as some do, so for that I was somewhat fortunate. Church however became something unbearable. The Black church is notoriously homophobic, and a great deal of pastors have no problem letting the congregation know how much they disapprove of it. I again started to struggle with my Black identity and felt like a choice was being forced upon me, that I could either be Black, or gay—not both. I wouldn’t say I chose gay over Black, but I believe it is accurate to say that I again started to resent the Black community for not accepting me again.
Things got better though in college. It was in college that I started taking African American Studies courses to learn more about my people’s untaught history. I was fortunate enough to make Black friends who were cool with me being me—whatever that me was and or is. I remember rousing debates about “the talented tenth” verse “pulling [the Black race] up by the bootstraps”, and a multitude of other schools of thought created by Black intellectuals.
Here, as I write this and reflect, I see my struggle. Family aside, I have only been accepted by Black people “like me” in that we share something in common that the majority of Black people do not. For the accepting Black people of my life, we come from similar backgrounds, have similar interest, and often run in overlapping circles. It’s not my intent to create a dichotomy, an “us versus them” if you will, except to say that the dichotomy was created years ago, and we’ve done a terrible job of eradicating it. (Read the Willie Lynch letter when you have time.)
What Du Bois called double consciousness, we might call intersectionality—the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. And as I do struggle with where I fit into the #BlackLivesMatter movement because of this intersactionality, I do know I am a proud, Black, gay male. My issues with the Black kids who teased me, and the Black church that shunned (maybe shuns?) me aside, I am beyond proud of everything we have overcome as a community, and what is being done to us as a community today weighs heavy on me. I may not have the solutions now, but I feel that generally speaking, I am moving in the right direction, and soon enough, I’ll find the answer I seek. WEAR YOUR BLACK!
Contributed by Benn Wiley