By Amelia Mya Alleyne
I have sat on the idea of writing about this particular topic, because I’m aware that this is perhaps an attack on the character of many people within my own community. After some deep, deep reflection, I decided that I don’t actually care. Whilst I believe the onus is not on us to destabilize a structurally and systemically racist society we did not create, I do believe a lot of growth, reflection and unlearning needs to be done within our own community. Many of us are subconsciously fighting a fight for the black lives we deem to be important as opposed to all of them, and it just doesn’t sit well with me. I know this conversation will be uncomfortable for some, but growth and comfort don’t exist in the same place.
Whilst I’ve been gassed at how many people are taking their outrage to the streets, literally, on behalf of the members of my community, I can’t help but feel as though the activism is somewhat capped at heterosexual black men and deeply lacks a sense of intersectionality. Which is why I was really relieved to see many others speak out about this too, starting a dialogue on why there seems to be a blatant erasure of black women and the black LGBTQ+ community in our activism. The obvious lesser energy towards these two groups in particular is most noticeable within the black community itself and is something that really needs to be addressed. So let’s do that.
Black lives simply cannot matter to us if we do not include all genders, sexual orientations – and disabilities, physical and mental. The first example I’d like to use is the one of Breonna Taylor, our sister who was brutally murdered in her sleep by the police, and who’s case initially gained exposure around the same time as the tragic killings of both Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. However, whilst the media and press used the names of the black men who were murdered when documenting our calls for justice, it was particularly heartbreaking to see minimal coverage on the case of Breonna Taylor. Some may argue and say “but we’ve seen her name a lot”, but that’s more to do with the fact that individuals have worked to remind you of who she is, urging for her not to be forgotten. This silencing of the experiences black women face in comparison to the struggles of black men is only further proof that black women are consistently ignored in the fight against systemic racism and misogyny.
Many black women, myself included, have often found this fight for black lives by members of our community disingenuous because of how prominent colourism is in our community, given that it’s mostly – if not entirely – perpetuated by black men against black women. With its origins in colonialism, the tool of colourism has been used as a method to divide the black community and create hierarchical structures between us. It is something that has failed to disintegrate.
For a long time, the colourism has played a huge part in the desirability politics within our cultures, where dark-skinned black women seem to get the short end of the stick in relationships and respect. Black men for centuries have openly shunned dark-skinned black women, only showing any sort of respect and kindness towards those of a mixed-heritage, or those who display more eurocentric features.
When called out about how damaging their behaviour is and the traumatic effect colourism has on black women, time and time again, our experiences are dismissed or simply denied. It needs to stop now, we’re tired. It particularly feels like a kick in the teeth when black women are often behind the movements championing for our race, sometimes even risking their lives, in order to challenge the corruptivity of the police department, the mass incarceration of black men, and the general manhandling of black men at the hands of the system. But it seems as though we’re fighting two fights, and have been for a while. A fight for the end of white supremacy, and the fight for visibility within our own community too. And we’re tired of doing that now.
What I also find particularly troubling is the lack of inclusivity when it comes advocating for black lives due to the rife homophobia and transphobia within the black community too. To me, it seems as though the black community has a long way to go in terms of how we view the gay/lesbian and trans community, because in many ways they are seen as sub-human, invalid and illegitimate. The irony of it is embarrassing, as we are technically perpetuating the attitudes racists have towards our community as a whole. I once read that communities that are oppressed often deal with that by the oppressing of those more vulnerable, and that appears to be the case within our community too. I often wonder when our people will outgrow the idea that heteronormativity is the only lifestyle that’s acceptable, and view the LGBT community as people, rather than those who need to be “tolerated”.
The selective acceptance of some members of our collective black community has left many people in the LGBTQ+ community in danger of facing intolerance, not only from wider society, but within our community, too. Though the mainstream media refuses to report on it, there are an alarming amount of black trans men and women being murdered or going missing in the US in particularly, with the average life expectancy for a transgender person being a mere 35 years. I believe the onus is on us to unlearn the attitudes that ostracize the LGBTQ+ community from the rest of us as black people, with the intention to protect them at the same lengths we go to when protecting heterosexual black men. If you were to scratch the surface of our history, you’d know that many trailblazers and frontliners who fought for our visibility and justice were members of the LGBTQ+ community, and so we owe it to them to fight for their lives too.
We need to go harder for our own. And that means all of us. You simply cannot be an ally for black lives if you do not see the lives of those who live a different lifestyle to your own as worthy. In the eyes of the oppressors, we’re just black. For us to progress as a community, we need to unlearn the white supremacist, superior attitudes that have seeped down into the black community. While that was a method designed during colonialism to divide us as a race, the responsibility is on us to disable those toxic ideologies to ensure that everyone within our community is seen and valued.
Amelia Nya Alleyne is a final year English Literature student at the University of Surrey.