Be Aware of the Diversity Given to You

So they officially named Raven-Symoné the new co-host of “The View”. For the average black lesbian (or just person from the whole continent of Africa and who loves a woman) Raven-Symoné is buzz worthy, but she adamantly does not want to labeled as anything except American. While I wish I could live in the United States where I was not judged by the color of my skin or by the person I decide to love, Martin Luther King’s dream is not my reality. We do not live in a post-racial society.

Raven-Symoné is not the only black LGBT person who thinks like this. Between Jonathan Capehart, Lee Daniels and Don Lemon and ‘that’s so’ Raven, we have to think critically about the rise in a so-called liberal media visibility of Black LGBT people as the new face of racial apologist and uplift politics. Why these voices, and more importantly, why now?

With the new era of protest especially in Ferguson, we have to be careful who is talking on black freedom. Remember the side-eye many of the protesters gave Don Lemon when Lemon announced on live television that he smelled marijuana in the air. Thus, we cannot be content to just have a seat at the table. We cannot be happy that we see a black face on television. We have to be aware of the messages and voices they are disseminating. We cannot be sucked in respectability politics and leave the majority of black people behind. We have to have voices that reflect the discontent voice to speak out against the systemic militarized police, prison industrial complex, high unemployment rates and educational disparities in the black community.

Respectability politics have always been a way to create dissension in the black community. Thus, the concept of the Talented Tenth originally commanded black elites as a way to ‘lift as we climb’ but quickly turned to prove to white Americans that blacks were worthy of full citizenship rights only if they assimilated to the mainstream culture which was and still is white, patriarchal and heterosexual. Today’s politics of respectability, however, commands the ‘left behind’ demographic to ‘pull themselves up by their bootstrap’. Moreover, the ideology of respectability, like most strategies for black progress articulated in spaces where black progress is examined through a white, heteronormative and patriarchal scope. Respectability politics plays that there is a standard, a white standard that everyone should adhere to.

But under a liberal tag the aforementioned black LGBT disseminates the same rhetoric as the mainstream culture as it pertains to black people. Basically, we have to assimilate to be considered ‘American’. Inherently, this new ‘Talented Tenth’ has arrived to show the rest of the nine-tenths the error of their ways. These voices are part of the mainstream elite in media, entertainment and politics where respectability operates within this standard scope while shaping opinions, debates and policy perspectatives on how to deal with black folks as a whole. 

We can speculate about the intention W.E.B. Du Bois had for The Talented Tenth. He may have earnestly thought this was the best way to help his people. Du Bois wrote in the Talented Tenth essay, “The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that may guide the Masses away from the contamination and death of the Worst.” This ideology is problematic because the black elites still based its ‘Best’ through a white American standard.

Do we really want to listen to Raven-Symoné? In a one-on-one interview with Oprah Winfrey, Raven-Symoné claimed that she does not want to be labeled as gay or African-American. Her justification was that she did not be labeled. She wanted to be ‘labeled’ an American which is a melting pot? Or ‘isn’t that what America’s supposed to be’? Excuse me, Raven, but these American ideals were created when America was created on the land of Native Americans (genocide) and the backs of blacks (slavery). We cannot romanticize America as the land of the free and home of the brave when historically black people and LGBT we were not in that discussion. Additionally, while doing an interview with E! News Alicia Quarles Raven stated that she is ‘from every continent of Africa”. This faux pas shows that Raven-Symoné does not know the difference between a continent and a country. So why would she understand the dynamics of race and race relations in the United States? But she’s a voice we should listen to as the new co-host of NBC’s ‘The View’.

Don LemonSince 2006 CNN’s viewership is subjected to Don Lemon’s awkwardness and interview gaffes. Shortly after the George Zimmerman acquittal, Lemon decided that it was a good time to victim-shame the black community by creating a list of solutions which included (5) Pull up your pants, (4) Stop using the N-word, (3) Stop littering, (2) Finish school, and (1) “Just because you can have a baby, it doesn’t mean you should.”. In context what justified this response especially when Trayvon Martin, a college bound teenager, was followed and ultimately fatally shot for being black. What Don Lemon did not address is the fact Trayvon’s blackness was feared and thus gave Zimmerman the right to kill him.

Jason CapehartBased on the Department of Justice’s findings Jonathan Capehart retracted his earlier statements and responded with an editorial, “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot is Built on a Lie.” The slogans of “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” and “Black Lives Matter” are effective because they highlight a collective black frustration with police brutality and dehumanization of black lives. Capehart’s editorial was short-sighted. Those slogans were a response to culmination of black lives who succumbed to authority only to be killed. Also, Capehart’s editorial undermined the legitimate fear that blacks have of routine police interactions that can lead to the lost of a black life. The editorial undermines the deaths of John Crawford, III, Eric Garner, Shantel Davis, Rekia Boyd, Wendell Allen, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant and many unarmed blacks killed by police. I am sorry, Capehart, we cannot place this in a vacuum while this a systemic problem.

Lee_DanielsLee Daniels has continuously said that Jamal Lyon’s character (played by Jussie Smollett) on the hit television show Empire was created to highlight homophobia in the black community. In a panel discussion Daniels stated the black men on the ‘down low’ is the reason that high percentages of HIV/AIDS among black women and infants. Therefore, he suggests that black homophobia exacerbates these percentages. Daniels’ opinion does not take into account how poverty and the lack of education and healthcare in black community increases this percentage more than ‘down low’ brothers. Interestingly on the show, the only person who has a problem with Jamal being gay and out is his father, Luscious. His mother Cookie and his brothers support Jamal as is. This is highlighted in the white party scene where everywhere (with the exception of Luscious) saluted Jamal after he came out by changing the lyrics to “You’re So Beautiful.” There is homophobia is in every race, but it does not mean it is more prevalent in the black community.

While Raven-Symoné, Lemon, Capehart and Daniels’ opinions are not like mine, I will not call them Uncle Toms. But they are misinformed and only tell part of the story. Being black and gay is so multidimensional to say the least. We should have multiple voices and stories being heard not just these conservative voices that adhere to a white standard. Just because they are black and gay does not make them liberal. Oftentimes one’s socio-economic privilege can cause a blind eye to the struggles of being black and gay in America.

But why these voices? Why now? This is an age of protest where #BlackLivesMatter protests in NYC, Philly, Ferguson, Oakland and other US cities gained support from around the world. Let’s not forget that #BlackLivesMatter was created by black queer women, Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullers. While we know the hashtag, we do not associate these black queer women with its leadership. But these women are not stuck in our past victories, but they are continuously asking how we can better the black community as a whole. We have to have voices that demand freedom and justice to create a better tomorrow, a tomorrow where more money is in education not the prison industrial complex and the police cannot assassinate black men, women and children without recourse. Basically, black lives matter so we can create a future of hope and promise.

Thus we have to be weary of the voices we have in mainstream media (print and television). These voices can be the system structure saying, “Here, I’m giving you diversity in black face” (figuratively and literally). Diversity comes in many different forms, but we deserve more. We have to seek out black and gay voices that not only align with us but challenge us to think. Staceyann Chin, Deon Haywood, Cheryl Dunye, Linda Villarosa, Jacqueline Woodson, Zanele Muholi, and Meshell Ndegeocello as well as LGBT ally, Melissa Harris-Perry are examples of voices that can ignite, incite and protest for a better future. And let’s not forget about the T (transgender) in LGBT with the voices of Kortney Ziglar, Janet Mock, Kylar Broadus, CeCe McDonald, Monica Roberts and Laverne Cox just to name a few that does the same.

The limited views of Raven-Symoné, Lemon, Capehart, and Daniels are short-sighted, for a “do better” mantra cannot answer all of black problems. Many are systemic which needs to be addressed. Some are self-inflicted. We have to ask questions about why every 28 hours a black person is murdered by law enforcement, why unemployment for blacks was 10.4% is more than twice than whites at 4.7%, and why blacks comprise a disproportionate 40% of the U.S. prison population. Even though we made strides with the end of slavery and passing of the the Civil Rights bill, the racist systemic structures transform which means our strategy for black freedom has to evolve as well. We cannot victim blame without give credence to systemic oppression towards black folk. 

Thus, we have to have balance. We cannot have these blanket statements whether it is liberal and/or conservative. We need to achieve balance by taking personal responsibility while calling out systemic oppression. This is the reason why these black and LGBT voices do not speak for or to me. Not Raven-Symoné. Not Jonathan Capehart. Not Don Lemon. Not Lee Daniels. Thus, I critically think and write. I am a voice that needs to be heard and shared. Where are my other black and LGBT voices that need to be heard and shared? 

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