Earlier today, I posted a video on Facebook of a lady talking about being an immigrant in (I believe) the United States. In it she says something that I considered really profound. She said, “If you have not walked in my shoes then you have no say in my world.” Jesse Williams in his brilliant speech at the BET awards said, “If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest, if you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.” Well, this is a critique of Black Lives Matter – Toronto. I have walked in your shoes. I shall not compare oppression because, context. I have an established record of critiquing OUR oppression. So this is I. Standing up and giving you a piece of my mind.
What you did at Toronto Pride definitely needed to be done. Black people have for a long time been oppressed in your country. Black queer folk even more for reasons we all know, understand and live. But what point did it make? You said that it began a conversation that needed to be had. But what conversation exactly did it begin? Your list of demands, the signing of which let the parade continue was quite inclusive. But was it really?
Now I speak as a proud black person. A proud gay person. A proud African person. A proud person. I am going to answer all my questions above.
What point did you make?
Yes. Black queer folk are oppressed. You have said that Pride Toronto “has shown little honour to black queer/trans communities, and other marginalized communities. Over the years, Pride has threatened the existence of black spaces at Pride that have existed for years.” This is the point you wanted to make. Unfortunately, though, this is not the point you made. Black Lives Matter is an incredibly important movement. The spirit of it is systemically being watered down by those who say that it should be “All Lives Matter”. While I agree that all lives do matter, when a section of “all lives” is constantly being negatively targeted by the rest of society leading to grave injury and death, the plight of that section needs to be highlighted. Not by limiting the rights of another section, but by showing said plight and making sure that everyone else understands it.
Your sit in did not do that. By stopping a parade, political as it may be, to raise a political issue and make demands of the organizers, you made a point. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto is all about themselves and nobody else. That Black Lives Matter – Toronto exists in a bubble. One that is constantly poked and prodded by the rest of society but a bubble nonetheless. That no other person should be until Black Lives Matter – Toronto is heard. But this isn’t the case in reality, is it? We black queer folk exist in an incredibly diverse society. We have white neighbors, cousins who are police officers and homophobic parents. The moment we start making the points you made in the sit in, that is the moment we start alienating ourselves.
What conversation did it begin?
Your sit in began a very important conversation. Not one that you expected I believe (you have got hundreds of incredibly threatening hate mail due to it: a terrible thing unfortunately), but one about actually thinking through our actions. As a queer man living in a country that criminalizes homosexuality with a penalty of 14 years in prison, I constantly have to ask myself what impact something I do with the aim of helping those in my community will have on them. I have to think about society’s reactions to it. I have to think about the benefits it will have to my community. I have to constantly consult to figure out if that is the best way to go about the matter.
Judging from the reaction to your action, it was not very well thought through. It did have the best of intentions but all it did was alienate the black queer community. It tarnished the spirit of Black Lives Matter. I am all for radical thinking and radical action but radical’s limit is where its intentions get blurred, and in this action, they were. So this conversation has to go on. A conversation about the limiting of black queer spaces needs to begin however this was not it.
Were your demands really inclusive?
They absolutely were! Continued space, brilliant! Self-determination for community spaces, great! Adequate funding, can’t question that! Double funding for Blockorama, not sure what that is but I’m pretty certain it’s something fabulous. Reinstatement of the South Asian stage, why was it excluded in the first place? Prioritizing of hiring of black transwomen, indigenous people and others from vulnerable communities, affirmative action works! More hearing impaired interpreters for the festival, fantastic! Removal of police floats, Really? THAT is exclusion.
The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black people. The police have been some of the biggest perpetrators of violence towards black queer people. This is true even in my country. I however do not blame the entire police force for the actions of a few of them. If I were to exclude every section of society in my life, some of whom have shown some form of discrimination or hate towards me then I would live alone in an island which I would probably not even be allowed to own because my government considers me a criminal.
I read the letter from the gay cop to Toronto Pride with a heavy heart. When he said that he had seen his first pride only to be excluded from the next, I shed a tear. I shed that tear for all the other queer police officers who would be excluded from the next pride. Some of whom are black. I understand that we live in different contexts and our struggles are different. What I know is that as a community we queer folk are looking for acceptance. We are looking to be included in every facet of life. Being exclusionary and not accepting dialogue will never achieve us that. What this demand unfortunately did was reinforce the rhetoric that Black Lives Matter is anti-police which in my opinion, it isn’t. Some who subscribe to it might be, but in essence, Black Lives Matter seeks to show the violence faced by black folk in the hands of some police officers among others.
We are at a point in our lives as black folk where we can’t afford to alienate ourselves from the rest of society. We can’t afford to be exclusionary. We can’t afford to seem like we are looking to be treated better than everyone else. We have suffered. But we are not looking for any special treatment. We simply want equality. We simply do not want to be racially profiled in the streets or shot dead in cold blood or arrested for being black. We simply want to exist. The action at Toronto Pride will not do this for us.