UK Students Union Passes Policy Banning Gay White Men From "Acting Like Black Women"
News fit for the Onion comes out of the United Kingdom today, where the National Union of Students (NUS) has officially banned gay white men from "appropriating black female culture." Yes, this is a real thing that has happened.
The motion passed by the union (which is comprised of more than 600 student groups around the UK) titled "Dear White Gay Men: Stop Approprirating [sic] Black Women" states that the behavior of white gay men is "unacceptable" and "must be addressed."
"This may be manifested in the emulation of the mannerisms, language (particularly AAVE- African American Vernacular English) and phrases that can be attributed to black women. White gay men may often assert that they are 'strong black women' or have an 'inner black woman'," the NUS motion reads.
"White gay men are the dominant demographic within the LGBT community, and they benefit from both white privilege and male privilege."
Setting aside the inherent homophobia in the new NUS policy for a second, let's unpack the outrageousness of the claims. I'll give it to the group that gay men claiming they are "strong black women" or have an "inner black woman" is offensive, and itself racist. It is distasteful, insensitive and not particularly original. We can do better than that. But that's the only concession I'll make.
Tossing gay white men in the "privileged" category is shortsighted. By doing this the NUS ignorantly assumes that gay men can decide whether or not to "act gay" in public, or, decide whether or not to risk a hate crime or "pass for straight male a.k.a. privileged" with the ease of flipping a switch. This assumption is homophobic and outrageously out of touch with the prevalence of violent hate crimes, murders, discrimination, harassment that gay men -- yes, even white gay men -- regularly face in day to day life. The NUS is reducing gay men to just what we do behind closed doors in the bedroom and lacks an understanding of the nuances and complexities the community as whole and the individuals within it express, consciously and sub-consciously.
Now on to the elephant in the room: If the NUS really wants to go down this path, then it should actually ban black straight women from "appropriating" the culture of black gay men.
As HuffPo's Antwaun Sargent pointed out in July 2014 (when the topic of white gay men "appropriating black female culture" first sparked debates online):
Shade, if we are returning words and behaviors back to the originators, isn't Mannie [who attributed it to black women] or Lowder's [who approves it for white gay men] to use. Mannie called out white gay men for appropriating black women's language by appropriating language developed by black gay men. And Lowder defends white gay men by wrongly ascribing to gay culture broadly and black female culture singularly words that are rooted in black gay men's resistance to both gay and black culture. These words allowed black gay men to form community when they were trying to escape from the scorn of gay white men, challenge the larger black community's resistance to black gay men's freedom of sexual expression, and survive. These words allowed black gay men to aptly describe their feelings, and themselves, when the language didn't exist because gay, black and mainstream culture was keen on not accepting them. What is often missed is black gay men throw shade because shade was all they had to challenge the stereotypes that were promoted by both gay white men and the straight black community.
Can one human group claim propriety to body language, behaviors, or speech? Assigning ownership to the most human of our expressions within our communities is troubling, to say the least. But if the NUS insists on the heinous act of copyrighting expression, it must actually do its homework and attribute the very mannerisms it's attempting to "protect" to the actual group that birthed the culture. While the (very small) subset of white gay men who claim to have "inner black women" owe an apology to black females, the NUS also owes an apology to both white and black gay men -- and society in general -- for perpetrating insensitivity and being hypocritical in the process.