Dear White Gay Male,
We took a class together that talked about racism. In that class, we also learned about intersectionality.
Your intersection: A white, openly gay male.
My intersection: A South Asian woman, appearing straight and boring. I’m actually closeted in many regards. If you knew what I got up to at dungeon parties, I am sure your head would spin, but I’m not here to talk about what I get up to.
I want you to know how proud I am of you for wanting to learn how various races are portayed and discussed, but I think you may have also missed a couple important points, so I’d like to emphasize them:
Being gay does not lessen your white privilege.
Being part of the LGBTQ community is indeed a place where there are huge challenges and oppression, but intersectionality is not the Oppression Olympics. One person’s oppression does not cancel out their privilege. Just because you are part of one oppressed community, does not mean you can speak over another.
This class was all about teaching us to consider our intersection and where we have privilege. But you didn’t do that when it came to putting what we were learning in class to practice.
We had a moment in the midst of a class discussion where in the middle of my sentence you cut me off and patronizingly told me you were not arguing with me. Your tone indicated you wanted me to calm down. The class laughed, and I smiled with them, but I want you to understand how incredibly tone deaf and hurtful this action was. In a class on race, intersections, and a whole semester spent unpacking privilege, I was stunned into silence at your audacity. You, a white male, patronised me, a South Asian woman in a class on racism and intersectionality. Let’s just stop and think about for a moment, how convenient it was for you to not realize that you are male, and white, and to forget how your race and gender plays out in your interactions with people – in particular, when speaking to a woman of color. My, what privilege you must carry that makes it so convenient for you to forget your own intersection so that you can shut me down in such a socially humiliating way!
Check yourself, dudebro. Just because you are gay, does not lessen your whiteness, your maleness, your ability to take up space, time, and your ability to have an opinion. That you can exist openly as a gay while male and not be in the closet and shadows as I am is a sign of your privilege. Many South Asian people cannot come out to their family as, well, anything. So think about how privileged you are, even within your own community.
The next time you open your mouth, perhaps you should consider if there is a voice that you are instead better able to amplify. Or, better yet, shut your mouth and listen. Listen to people of color and what we are saying, don’t shut them down.
Intersectionality, to me, is a bit like examining your own racial consciousness. It means being aware of when and where you are privileged and powerful, and when you are not. It’s okay to be a part of a community that is lower on the intersectional privilege grid – and your other intersections mean you can safely speak for your community! This is your privilege doing good things! But it also means being aware of whom you are hurting, who you are stepping on, when you speak.
What you did that day was small, but so are most racist and sexist things (and being gay and taking a class on rscism doesn’t excuse you from racist and sexist behavior). Most sexism and racism is implicit, not explicit. They are small drops into the bucket, until our buckets of tolerance start to overflow with anger and hurt.
Your momentary flippant action was a deep cut in a place where such behavior shouldn’t have happened. It has weighed on me, causing me a wholly unreasonable amount of anger and frustration. But this, I guess, is what happens when people get tired of dealing with microagressions and shit like this.
I hope someday you realize the gravity of your actions and think before you speak to a woman or person of color like that again. I hope you learn the lessons this class was trying to teach.
Til then, may you wave your flag at Pride, but also pause to remember upon whose backs the Pride parades began, and their intersections too.