SEPTEMBER | 2018 | ESSENTIALS
If we were to hold a mirror to your beautiful brown face, what nouns would you use to describe your reflection and what adjectives would you use to modify those nouns? What does the cashier at Duane Reade presume about you the instant you walk through those automatic doors and what assumptions did the barista at Starbucks make about you when you ordered the Grasshopper Frappuccino with extra java chips and two extra pumps of peppermint syrup? Who the hell did you think you were, anyway? And more importantly, who told you about the secret menu?
We often villainize people who stereotype, but the truth is that we’re all guilty of it. We know trade when we see him just as we know that a Nicki stan will slice a critic’s throat before they walk out of their doors to actually purchase Queen. They’ll stream it for free on Spotify though. We know that our manicures and pedicures will be given to us by a slow driving Asian woman with a fake American name just like we know that some of the Spanish speaking patrons of our businesses speaka da damn English but on their time and their time only! The long of the short of it is that we’ve all either made or believed stereotypes about people based on their appearances and our experiences with people who look like them.
Many of you reading this are either African American or of color. We know this because that’s who we cater to. We also know that you are male and same gender loving (gay). Being a part of these groups subjects us all to a litany of stereotypes. As African Americans we are assumed to be super predators -- the big bad wolves in a forest filled with fragile white girls in red hoods. It is thought that we are sexually appealing, swagger-filled, well-endowed mandingos and that once you go black you never go back. And why would you want to trade our animalistic nature in for one that’s mild mannered? If you can’t have a piece of our drug dealing, fried chicken eating asses then what the hell are you doing?
And if all of this isn’t offensive enough, let's go ahead and add the stereotypical “yhasssss ma’am miss honey!” tea clocking, shade throwing narrative of the black same gender loving man in as well. Now gurl, you know you ain’t gay unless you tawlk like diss. And it's not enough for you to tawlk like diss but you gotta tawlk like diss while rapidly chewing on the six pieces of gum you’ve stuffed in your mouth to keep your teeth from grinding as a result of all that extacy you took while at the club. Yes, doll, hunty! We are all ‘the gurlz’ and conviene over brunch on the first and third Sunday of every month to discuss the ways to further propagate the gay agenda of taking heterosexual men away from their women, wives and girlfriends. *snap. Could you imagine what we’d look like if these stereotypes were as accurate as they were offensive? How do we overcome these stereotypes and exist outside the negative expectations that people have for and of us? Do our attempts to exist outside of these expectations have any effect on who we are, or could be?
Enter the stereotype threat and how we, as same gender loving men of color can work to effect change without allowing it to affect us. A stereotype threat occurs when we feel that we are conforming to a specific stereotype. We’re about to tread in some very dangerous waters here so keep your inflatable life vest within reach. The narrative of the black same gender loving male- the narrative of us- is as follows: We are closeted, feminine and weak but are snazzy dressers with unquestionable style. We are HIV-infected, AIDS spreading pedophiles with limp wrists, are ungodly and immoral. We are Beyonce obsessed miscreants and a pox on the black community. Also, we’re going to hell.
Now before you go throwing tomatoes, we know that none of these are one hundred percent accurate (but who isn’t a Beyonce fan?), however this is the narrative cast upon us by many black women, Christians and hoteps the world over. We’re not all closeted, we’re not all fem and we most certainly aren’t all weak. Some of us may appear to be sultans of style, but the vast majority of us do what we can with what we’ve got. We don’t all have HIV/AIDS and those of us who do aren’t on a mission to haplessly spread it.
Here’s where the threat comes in. We all know what the stereotypes are and can get so caught up in not fulfilling them that we alter our natural behaviors to ensure that we don’t. Such, you might find a Beaux who is already naturally masculine working to ensure that those around him perceive him as more masculine than he already is to avoid fitting into the stereotype that gay men aren’t masculine. Its code switching to a degree, only instead of alternating between two or more dialects we’re operating between perceptions.
We don’t want to confirm that the negative assumptions people have about us are true so we dedicate ourselves to altering who we might actually be to dispel their beliefs. Meanwhile we’re not allowing ourselves the opportunity to discover who we really are because we’re consumed with trying to prove who we aren’t. Its that time we joined the football team despite the fact that we didn’t even like the sport, but it was important for us to do so to prove that gay guys could play just as good as straight guys could.
Have you ever listened to DJ Khaled’s “ They don’t want…”? “They don’t want you to float in the water- so we float in the water.”, “They don’t want me to have an elevator- so I made sure I got an elevator”, and “They don’t want me to wear a bowtie, so I decided to wear a bowtie”. This is exactly what stereotype threat looks like. We’re beyond certain that Khaled’s snaps were (to a degree) done in jest, but it proves just how impactful stereotype threats are. You mean to say that you spent priceless human time and energy to get in the water to float because someone else didn’t think that you could? You spent money on installing a pool and filling it with water because someone didn’t want you to? You spent your hard earned dollars on installing an elevator in your home to contradict someone’s belief in your ability to do so?! Really?!? REALLY?!? Where is the balance?
The balance lies in recognizing that there is some truth to almost every stereotype known to man and being able to find comfort in that. So you’re attracted to men and are one of Beyonce’s 117 million Instagram followers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t change a tire or kick someone’s ass in a pinch because the two aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be a running back by day and give the girls fever as butch queen up in drags at the next ball. You can do both. We all can.