The umbrella term ‘person of color’ can be a show of solidarity, but it should not be used to erase Black ancestors and institutions from multicultural and white-dominated queer spaces.
by Sumiko Saulson
The term “person of color” as an umbrella has a place in the conversation about racism but should not be used to erase Blackness nor make room for anti-Black apologist rhetoric in white and multicultural spaces. Both the labels POC and Black are political affinity groups; we work in concert and separately. This is a political practice akin to gerrymandering (establishing a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries). Groups gather together and separate in order to create voting blocs.
In association with Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, ColorBloq.org and The Michelle Meow Show on Oct. 25, the Commonwealth Club sponsored a roundtable on anti-Blackness in the LGBTQIA+ community called “When POC Is Not Enough: Anti-Blackness in the LGBTQ+ Community.” ColorBloq.org is an organization that serves queer people of color. Chief Esparza, the gay cismale LatinX co-founder and executive director of ColorBloq, centered this talk on the issue of Black erasure.
“This conversation about anti-Blackness in the LGBTQ community is important, and it’s something that rears its ugly head in the work that ColorBloq does. We often hear that we are all LGBTQ, so why bring race into this? We often see people say things like that we are all people of color, (so) we all experience racism. And we see this in places like San Francisco, when people employ Black language and politics without Black people, without Black people in their lives, in their workplaces and in their activism,” said Chief Esparza.
The commentary seems to reference San Francisco’s erasure of African Americans from the history of queer culture, from the history of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots and Cultural Heritage District, and from the City itself, where the Black community has been reduced by half due to the Dotcom Tech Boom, and 37 percent of the homeless population is Black, many queer.
What is anti-Blackness?
“Anti-Blackness is a deep-rooted hate for a people based off of other people’s perceptions of who they are, specifically Black people. And we might get further into this but the situation is that it is a systematic situation as well. That’s what Anti-Blackness is. It’s the love of a culture, it’s people taking from a culture, yet it’s the hate for the people who created and innovated that culture,” said Socorro Moreland, transgender activist and founder of #brotherhood.
Although it is well known that dark skinned Black transwomen are the predominant and, in 2019, almost sole victims of transfemme murder in the United States, many members of the queer community and straight allies are angry and incensed about having pointed out the obvious. As a result, the live stream had six down votes by the time it had twenty-six upvotes. Denial of anti-Blackness is an everyday occupation in the LGBTQIA+ community and in San Francisco specifically, making this conversation long overdue.
“So much of anti-Blackness is our language. It’s implicit. When we’re born, we’re taught this language that tells us that Black is demon, Black is sinister. We refer to things as dark comedies. I am dark. When I go to see a dark comedy, I expect to see someone like me in it. There is a way in which we have accepted, as a norm, the weaponization of Blackness,” observed Kin Folkz, CEO of Spectrum Queer Media.
Speakers included Aria Sa’id, co-founder and executive director of Compton’s Transgender Cultural District); Kin Folkz, CEO of Spectrum Queer Media; Tuquan Harrison, LGBT policy advisor for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission; Socorro Moreland, transgender activist and founder of #brotherhood; Corey Baker, founder of the Oakland Pride Creative Arts and Film Fest; and Nia Ibu, LCSW, clinical therapist, healer and activist.
“When interacting in community spaces that are designed for queer trans persons of color (QTPOC), LGBTQI that are for people of color, what are some things you experience being Black? I can share oftentimes in the Bay, you go to the function. You have crammed into a Prius. You get to the function. Saweetie is playing, That’s my type.
“And you don’t see any Black folks in the space. And I instantly feel isolated. The only Black people at LGBTQ spaces are the performers. We’re the sound and the ambience of the room, to be modern. But I don’t see Black people invited,” said Aria Sa’id, founder and executive director of Compton’s Transgender Cultural District.
The talk featured a diversity of Black queer activists, and focused on how the term POC, shorthand for person of color, has been used to erase Blackness and cover up colorism and specific marginalization of the Black LGBTQIA+ community by folding it into larger groups of persons of color such as the Asian American and LatinX communities, which experience fewer race-based intersectional hate crimes and less economic disparity than Black queer people.
Historic and modern identification with Black queer people, especially Black transwomen and femmes, has led to a situation where the LGBTQIA+ community often wants to be associated with Black queer culture but not Black queer people.
“It’s like the perpetual mammy situation. There are all of these things like civil rights, all these many queer rights which we (Black people) have pretty much created and don’t get credit from and don’t benefit from as much as other people, if at all sometimes. So even though we’ve done that and there’s that dynamic, there’s also like this weird way in which people … expect us to perpetually be the person who fights for everyone’s rights,” said Nia Ibu, LCSW, clinical therapist, healer and activist.
There are many references to the need for the queer community to be accountable for our anti-Blackness. However, intersectionality being what it is Black queer folks have to carry the marginalization of both the Black and the LGBTQIA+ community. This goes both ways, with anti-queerness from the Black community and anti-Blackness from the LGBTQIA+ community.
Both the LGBTQIA+ community and the Black community need to take responsibility for our part of the problem and address heinous conditions like the epidemic of Black transwoman deaths. That means we, as Black people, also must be accountable for what we bring to the table to make life more difficult for the Black queer community.
Acknowledging the struggle is the first step in Black responsibility for Black queer people. Black people who are queer need Black-centered safe spaces to deal with the very real problem of anti-Blackness, and these safe spaces should be found both under the LGBTQIA umbrella and under the umbrella of the larger Black community.
Bestselling author Sumiko Saulson writes award-winning multicultural sci-fi, fantasy, horror and Afrosurrealism. Winner of the 2017 Afrosurrealist Writer’s Award, 2016 HWA Scholarship from Hell, and 2016 BCC Voice Reframing the Other Award, (he)r monthly series Writing While Black follows the struggles of Black writers in the literary arts and other segments of arts and entertainment. (S)he is gender non-binary. Support (he)r on Patreon and follow (he)r on Twitter and Facebook.