Hello Professor Friess,
I read your article in TIME, entitled ‘Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away’, which was a response to a young black woman’s article about cultural appropriation and racism.
I think you bring up an interesting point. Perhaps white gay men are, on the whole, good allies for black women. But, Professor Friess, I don’t think that black women need you to tell them what to do.
I think maybe they might need you to have a seat and have a listen.
Even if, as you say,
“White gay men as a group could be the truest friends black women can have in American society.”
Because actually, I think black women are the truest friends that black women have.
But before I get ahead of myself, I want to talk about your mischaracterization of Ms. Mannie’s argument. You said the following:
“Her fire is fueled by some undeniably racist interactions, a supposed epidemic of white gay men who actually wish to be called by stereotypically black names and anoint themselves ‘strong black women.’ It’s difficult to dispute that such behavior is weird and offensive, but it’s illogical to suggest all gay white men are ‘thieves’ on that anecdotal basis alone.”
The young woman was not criticizing all white gay men. In fact, the very first line of her article reads as follows:
“I need some of you to cut it the hell out.”
What part of ‘some of you’ did you not understand? It seems that literally three words into the first sentence, you turned your mind off.
And actually, each and every instance of the word ‘you’ that appears in her article either has the qualifier ‘some of’, or otherwise makes it very clear that she is only speaking to a certain, limited group of people.
She wasn’t talking about you, at all. But you immediately got defensive. Why?
I notice that you are a Professor of Journalism at Michigan State University. I assume that in your classes, you teach your students how to not only write articles, but also to read them. But you didn’t seem to actually read hers.
To be honest, this confused me at first.
I was even more confused at at your responses to questions about the article on Twitter. I couldn’t understand why, when black women asked simple questions about your article, you shrugged them off. Or why you later started responding with sarcasm,
or claimed that you were being ‘attacked’.
But then, I noticed how you responded to @SonofBaldwin, who is male.
Cordial, polite, and thoughtful. As though you were engaging with an equal.
And then I saw how you abandoned the conversation a mere six hours after it began,
and how your next post was a retweet of a picture of Skittles. As if to signal that you were done with the conversation.
Then, I looked back at your article.
I noticed that when you speak of Ms. Mannie, you say that she is launching a ‘full-frontal assault’, you say that she writes ‘cluelessly and obscenely’. You say that she ‘barks’.
And then, I finally understood what was happening.
Professor Friess, it seems as though you have a difficulty with living up to your word. You claim to feel a ‘kindred spirit’ with black women, but you don’t want to listen to them when they talk.
When a black woman opens her mouth, you label her ‘angry’, or ‘clueless’. And you stop listening.
Which is why I am writing this in the first place.
See, I’m not really the person to be writing this at all. I’m not a black female, so I can’t speak for Ms. Mannie or her sisters. And I’m not a white gay male, so I can’t speak for you.
But I am a male, and it appears that you are only able to listen to words when they’re coming from someone with a Y chromosome.
(This seems to be a pattern recently.)
So: man to man, let’s proceed.
The core of your argument seems to be the following:
- White gay men have dealt with oppression just like black women. Thus,
- white gay men have a ‘natural affinity’ for black women. So,
- you promise that they will ‘harness [their] white male privilege for good’, and essentially sneak black women in the back door to freedom.
This is an interesting idea.
You also mention that by the early 1990s, (white) gays had been accepted enough so that ‘metrosexual’ was a popular term. So, by your calculations, you’ve had about a quarter of a century to ‘harness’ that privilege.
So, what, specifically, have white gay men done for black women in the past twenty-five years? I’m not aware of any organization that brands itself specifically as a group of white gay men benevolently helping black women.
I am aware of a few groups who could do this, such as the Human Rights Campaign, which is largely composed of the same white gay men whose privilege you promise to harness. But this group has repeatedly ignored the needs of minority LGBT people, and has actually prevented them from speaking out at rallies. I’m also aware that when Prop 8 passed in California, many white gay males, including Dan Savage, blamed the whole thing on black people.
So, have I been missing something?
And don’t get me wrong,
there are plenty of places that black women can use, in your words, ‘a conduit through which [they] can work against both countervailing forces that push them down’. Right off the bat, healthcare and the tech education gap come to mind.
Or, if real life work is too much, let’s look at hashtag activism. When #IstandwithJada jumped off, do you know who was running the lead? Black women. Do you know who started it? A black woman.
Also, it’s a little ironic that you mentioned that you attended the Sugar Water Festival in 2005. That festival was centered around a ‘message of comfort, authenticity, and community among women’. That is, a group of black women put on an event to inspire (black and other) women. They didn’t need any men — white or gay — to do this for them.
I’m sure that in all of the above, there are black gay and straight men, Asian and Latino men, and yes, white gay men in the background helping where they can, when asked. But we can’t pretend that any of us are their saviors.
Because black women are perfectly capable of running things on their own.
(as an aside, I think you also do a disservice to the immense diversity of gay men’s lives by claiming that Queer Eye is a good representative of gay men. Not everyone is overly concerned with looks, or is ‘fashion-forward’. The color scheme of your website is a testament to that.)
But back to our conversation,
I want to bring up a point that Ms. Mannie made that I think you missed:
“A culture of racism is bad enough, but pairing it with patriarchal structures that intend to undermine women’s advancement is like double-fisting bleach and acid rain.”
It’s almost as if she predicted your entire article, a week before you wrote it.
Ms. Mannie is completely correct. Having to deal with racism sucks, but having to deal with sexism on top of that sucks worse.
I’d also like to draw your attention to the phrase ‘undermine women’s advancement’. This is what you’ve done. You’ve completely ignored the fact that black women have done, and continue to do, plenty to uplift themselves. You’ve suggested that black women should let white gay men lead the way. And by closing with ‘don’t push us away’, you’ve actually hinted that you can take that gift of benevolence away at any time.
I don’t think you did any of this on purpose.
But if you were familiar with black people in any other format than via handing them money to sing and dance for you, you would have known that the ‘benevolent white savior’ thing is a little off-putting to us.
I know it might be a little odd, but you’ll just have to be patient with us. We’re a little sensitive. After all, we’re still dealing with politicians that claim that slavery was good for black people.
And again, I want to stress that I don’t think that all white gay men view themselves as saviors of black women. As a matter of fact, I think you might actually be the only one that does.
After all, I know an awful lot of gay people, and I’ve never met anyone like you.
But I want to return to the second part of your core argument:
that of motivation.
You seem to believe that the reason white gay males are eager to ‘harness [your] white male privilege for good’ is because you’ve been ‘intensely vilified’ in the past, and have ‘learned what being on the outside is like’.
Professor, I’m not sure if you understand how racism works.
Here are some other groups that have been ‘intensely vilified’ in the past: Italians, Irish, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Germans, Scottish and Polish people… you may be seeing a pattern here. Most of these groups have experienced being on the ‘outside’, and are now in a large part on the ‘inside’. But none of them have proclaimed their unified dedication to the cause of black female liberation.
Neither have they been on the front lines of liberation for Asian Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, or Muslims, or the poor.
And yes, many of them have contributed — individually. As part of a team. And I’m sure they were appreciated. But I’ve never heard of a formalized group of them leading the charge for black women’s rights. And trust me: Italians like Beyoncé as much as you do. Perhaps more.
So, if you want to argue that the white gay man is a divine gift to the black woman, you are going to have to prove, with historical facts and figures, that white gay men are somehow fundamentally different from German-American women today, or straight Irish-American men in the 1800s.
I would like to see that article next, Professor. Not in TIME, though.
One last thing.
At the end, you say the following:
“…cultural alliances like this are rare and should be treasured, not chastised. Black men didn’t have one. Neither did Jews or Native Americans. Arab Americans sure don’t. But through some fluke of cosmic association, black women have kindred spirits in white gay men.”
I noticed that throughout your article, you only talk about black women as recipients of either white discrimination or white benevolence. You never once mentioned your personal connection with black women as people — only as entertainers or decoration at a festival. As fascinating objects to be consumed.
I also wonder why it is that you aren’t reaching out to Native Americans, or Arab Americans. (You say that you are Jewish, so I assume you make that connection personally.) Is it perhaps because they have not been commodified into a globally popular entertainment like blacks have?
Is it perhaps that you have a difficult time actually imagining the genocide and displacement of Native Americans, or that you aren’t particularly interested in Arabs? Is it because you learned a bit about blacks in school but not about the other groups?
Is it because aligning yourself with black people is a more efficient tool in your quest to claim a me-too victim status?
Is it possible that this ‘fluke of cosmic association’ that you refer to is actually the very same thing that allows my classmate’s grandmother to call black people ‘filthy niggers’, but proudly proclaim that Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ is her favorite record in the whole wide world?
Is it perhaps possible that you do not actually have a ‘kindred spirit’ in actual black women, but that instead your ‘cultural alliance’ is actually a one-way fetishization of an imaginary vision of black women that exists nowhere but in your mind?
It’s the middle of July, Professor Friess,
and I imagine that you’ll be preparing for the Fall semester at MSU soon. In your class, I imagine that there’s room for a section on how to honestly engage with people you are writing about, and why misrepresenting and insulting black women can be hazardous to one’s credibility as a journalist.
So, please, Professor Friess, for the sake of your students: