Posted by xochiquetzalduti
I have struggled for the better part of this week with these words. I have sat with the pain and hurt and brutality of the things I have read and seen in print from people who should and COULD do MORE, and a small part of me, is NOT surprised.
Let me backtrack with a quick story from my childhood. My mother used to tell me all the time that extending friendship and trusting people would only ever lead to hurt and pain. She consoled me when people I thought were friends turned their backs on me, when I was betrayed, when as a kid, in my trust of so-called friends, I ended up getting beaten up.
And yet, I trust. I end up joining communities that make some lofty claims; that the people who engage in these communities live by trust, honor, and respect. That they gather in perfect love and perfect trust. That they will stand by you, that if you come to them with a painful situation, there will be people there.
So, with that tiny bit of background, imagine my distinct lack of dismay upon hearing that the Eagle Bar (a quasi-connected chain of international bars that cater to the gay/queer Leather community) in Portland had decided to hire a white, gay-male comedian whose best ‘bit’ is donning blackface to portray a “middle-aged black woman on welfare with 19 kids”. I sat, dumbfounded, as this act and the booking was defended by the proprietors and others in Portland and beyond. I sat, feeling that same bitter disappointment in being betrayed by so-called friends and community members who started calling for neutrality, claiming that “art should NOT be censored” that those of us who were kicking up a fuss were too emotional and sensitive, that we (but really, people of color in the Leather community) did NOT deserve to feel our anger, our hurt, our OUTRAGE at being thrown under the bus for the sake of someone’s laughs.
The words my mother said came tumbling back down onto me. And I had the usual response I’d had as a kid growing up, “Why? Why did I trust them? Why didn’t I listen to my mom?” There were times in the past when that worked, when I’d pull so far into myself that I ended up appearing anti-social, withdrawing into books, into my studies, into my own self. But, like many humans, I am a social creature. I have a need to be in a group of people I choose to have around me, who see value in my contribution and with whom I can commune with. CommUNITY.
I am hoping that in 2013 I wouldn’t have to explain the history of blackface in the US; that we understand that white performers putting dark facepaint on and acting like caricatures that humiliate, demean, and denigrate black people (sometimes by making African-American performers put the paint on their own faces!) has no place in today’s society. That the redemptive value of ‘art’ (which I loosely define as a body of work that draws the viewer into questioning some basic understanding of how their society functions, not just as a whole but as themselves in said society) is NOT found in this act. I won’t even LINK to any of Knipp’s videos because I REFUSE to provide this person with more hits to his YouTube videos. I am also hoping that we can understand that yes, blackface in the rest of the world is NOT based on the racist undertones that existed here in the US. This is NOT about art, or blackface outside the US, or any other attempt at gaslighting the pain being experienced by real people who entrusted their fellow community members to stand up to racism.
This is about accepting and acknowledging and seeing the pain for what it is; a feeling of betrayal, as raw as any other betrayal; be it lover, friend, family, or any other relationship that calls on some of the very vulnerabilities that we willingly expose ourselves to when we decide to take a chance on a community. To hear just a bit of how painful that sense of betrayal can be, here is Mollena William’s post, this is a video I am more than willing to share.
That hitch in her voice? That rueful laughter? That hurt in her eyes? I know them all. I feel them all, to varying degrees when I think that somewhere out there, at some play party I have yet to attend, or some leather weekend I bust my ass for, there is someone who says that Knipp’s act and the hurt it causes me and those I care for, is OKAY. That I need to lighten up.
Blackface is racist. Full stop. When a person of color states that a ‘comedic’ act is a horrible action that brings pain and hurt and disappointment and anger and a myriad of emotions too numerous and HARD, if you are ANY KIND OF AN ALLY, do NOT attempt to explain away our feelings, don’t take away that moment, and our being present to the pain and wanting to do something to stop a hurt so deep and heavy that humanity hasn’t even been able to find a balm for it; just acknowledge the pain. Be the ally you claim to be and lend us your voices.
My current standing in the leather community is on shaky ground; I believed that if I lived a life of integrity, if I followed the tenets of Trust, Honor, and Respect that I would find fulfillment in my authentic, kinky, liberated self. In the leather community, I have found friends, partners, family. Community. But that foundation has been rocked to its core. In writing these words, I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of the pain I am feeling.
I had originally thought of doing a video post to get these words out. But a post where I sob for 15 minutes (maybe more) wouldn’t do much. I feel like I have barely even given voice to the knot in my throat.