By Jimmy Edward Hill III
I grew up in affluent white environments from the time I was 5 years old. Being socialized in a mostly white society, I was black first and Jimmy second. There has not been a day that has passed that I have not been reminded of the fact that I am an African-American. People in my everyday life, the mass media, and the opportunities that I have received, remind me everyday that I am different from the rest of society because of my race. This caused me to suppress my feelings of anger and hurt, resulting in me internalizing their beliefs and I turned on my own culture.
I wanted to belong so badly I thought that I had to purge myself of “black behavior” in order to gain acceptance. Jokes or questions often referenced my race, even if they were giving me a compliment (or so I thought). “Oh Jimmy you’re not like the rest of them,” they would tell me. “You’re so proper!” they’d say. It reached a point to where I didn’t think that I was attractive because I couldn’t measure up to the white standard of beauty. I would never have a long torso, or chiseled jaw line that people found attractive. My skin would never be light enough to “pass” the test.
I tried to assimilate as best I could. I relaxed my hair, tried to get name brand clothes, but somehow it was never enough. I would always be “Jimmy, the black guy who sounded white.” As I got older and educated myself, I realized that mainstream society implicitly developed a standard that privileges one group while marginalizing the other.
I came across this quote by José Esteban Muñoz in Disidenfitications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics, “Subjects who attempt to identify with and assimilate to dominant ideologies pay every day of their lives. The price of that ticket is this, to find self within the dominant public sphere, we need to deny self.” It resonated with me because I denied my culture and myself for the sake of belonging.
In the gay community, where I thought I would find solidarity, I found that there was a racial divide instead. It left me in the mental state of the black queer, fragmented and damaged.
My peers, whether intentional or unintentional, always make it a point to never let me forget that I am different in some way.
As a gay man of color I have felt that the Castro, home to San Francisco’s gay community, makes me feel as if I am an outsider where I should belong. No one flat out says, "You’re black, you don’t belong here," which I feel is a big issue among the mainstream gay community because most feel racism is this explicit and overt act. What is happening is that there is a tolerance for our presence but without a sense of inclusion.
The windows in the Castro are filled with a plethora of pictures of white men of all shapes and sizes. Many gathering spaces in the Castro have one thing in common: whiteness is present and visible and queer people of color remain underrepresented, if at all. This lack of presence has unfortunate consequences that can continually damage the queer person of color. Even the music discourages certain groups from coming out and participating in the community. I worked for a gay club and I was told that we don’t play certain music because we don’t want that kind of element in "our bar." The LGBTQ community of color is free and welcome to participate in the larger mainstream community but just don’t count on them to make you feel included.
All this is an issue of serious importance to me as a queer person of color because racism has had unequivocally produced deep pain and deteriorated my self-esteem and self-worth. If external and internal oppression have caused such devastating effects on me I can only imagine the damage racial oppression is doing to our youth, ethnic minorities, and other queer people of color.
As a community we need to recognize that there are differences among us. These differences should not be used as a tool to divide but as a means to initiate conversation and create understanding. There is no way our community has a chance to dismantle hate if one section of the community is continually marginalized and is considered “other” and that starts with having talks about issues that affect minority and mainstream communities. United we stand, divided we fall.
Jimmy Hill aspires to be one of America’s most provocative public intellectuals; a champion of racial justice, an advocate for social change, one mind, one heart at a time. He is a graduate from San Francisco State University with a degree in Sociology with a concentration in Ethnic Studies: Race and Resistance Studies. Find him on Twitter @JMYHL.