Black Queer American Male: A Life in Fear
Like most people, my identity exists at the intersection of the communities I am a part of – and because of this, I feel like the least safe person in the United States at the moment. The constant threat under which both Black and LGBTQ people live every day has come to a head in the last few weeks, and it has forced me to recognize that I live in country where my death can come as a result of being who I am. The highly public murders of Black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police highlight the state-sponsored violence Black people face on a daily basis, and illuminate the perpetual devaluing of Black lives that’s commonplace in this country. The massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida was a tragic loss of life and a resounding reminder that LGBTQ people in the United States are not safe anywhere we go. The killing of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge represent America’s failure to address issues of systemic racism through policing and a desperate response to it. There is a war going in my communities that is deeply rooted in racism and homophobia, and the nightclubs and convenience stores in my community have become battlegrounds.
Alton Sterling was a 37-year old Black man confronted by the police for selling CDs in front of a convenience store. As they were subduing him they allegedly saw a gun on his person, which, even though he never once touched it, became their excuse for shooting him on the spot. To add to the horror, this event was caught on tape and broadcast via social media and major television networks alike, and Sterling’s graphic death was on the air waves for all to see, a spectacle that can only be related to a modern-day lynching. News outlets played this video over and over and over again in order to get ratings and individuals shared it over and over again via social media making this graphic example of Black death inescapable. The Black community was being forced to relive the death of one of our own so that media corporations could profit from making a spectacle of our murders. The climate of fear created by watching someone who looks like you being murdered on national television while news anchors attempt to justify the police’s actions is an indescribable horror.
If this wasn’t enough to send the Black community into a panic, the next day another video emerged of Philando Castile, yet another Black man, also being killed by the police. Officers pulled him over for a traffic violation, then shot him several times when he attempted to reach for his ID, even though he had clearly stated that he was armed and was being pressured by the officer to produce his ID immediately. Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds was in the passenger seat of the car and recorded the incident which, like Sterling’s, was subsequently shared. For the second time in as many days, my community was forced to watch as one of our brothers was murdered, we did this with the understanding that if things continued as they have for us then the officers responsible would never be brought to justice. To live in a country where people from my community are murdered publically with impunity is to live in constant fear for my life.
While both tragic and inexcusable, these kinds of events are commonplace in Black communities all over the United States and have been for years. Only now, with the evolution of Black Lives Matter and widespread use of social media, can these injustices be seen so clearly and shown so widely. These incidents are just a sampling of the larger war that is being waged on the Black community by the State, local policing agencies, and corporate interests. Lawmakers create laws that disproportionately affect the Black community, corporations profit from Black death and mass incarceration, news outlets intentionally assault the character of our community by creating the myth of “superpredators”, and thus the larger society justifies the killing of innocent Black people. The murder of Black people is acceptable in America today because the country does not believe that Black Lives Matter. My people have been reduced to profit either for media companies through the exploitation of our deaths or for prison companies that use us for slave labor while receiving a government subsidy.
It is not just attacks on the Black community that leave me in fear for my life, but the attack on the LGBTQ community. On June 12th, an armed gunman went into Pulse, a gay club in Orlando, and opened fire, killing 50 people and injuring dozens more. Though it has been called the worst mass shooting in US history, people have failed to acknowledge that it is also the worst hate crime in US history. Friends and family of the shooter say the attack came after the man became incensed by a gay couple he’d seen earlier that day with his son. Media reports that stated that the shooter pledged his allegiance to ISIS on a call to 911 has turned the conversation into one about Islamic terrorism instead of the real issue of homophobia at the root of it all. 50 people were killed, and yet the country still isn’t ready to talk about the fact that, by allowing systemic injustice to flourish, we breed hate.
In the United States we are having a conversation about where transgendered people can or cannot use the bathroom, and why it is or isn’t appropriate for transgendered people to be in one locker room or another. Conservative politicians routinely point to the LGBTQ community as an example of the moral degradation of the United States, and continue to make laws that openly discriminate against us. Recently a major sporting event, the NBA All-Star Weekend, was moved out of Charlotte, North Carolina because they passed a law that excludes sexual orientation and gender identity from antidiscrimination protections related to the workplace, hotels and restaurants; and overrules local antidiscrimination ordinances. When the larger society demonizes a group of people because for who they are, and treats them as expendable, it gives license to disturbed individuals to take violent action.
While the LGBTQ community is no stranger to hate or violence, the attack on Pulse in Orlando act felt particularly invasive because of the loss of life, the destruction of a safe space, and refusal to engage with the homophobia it entailed. For many years, there have existed havens for the LGBTQ community where we could be out and proud and not have to deal with the persecution of the outside world. In every major city there are gay bars and shops owned by gay people where LGBTQ people can exist and truly feel safe, even if just in in that little bubble. When the Orlando shooter came into one of those spaces and killed 50 people, this sent a clear message to me and every person in the LGBTQ community that we truly are not safe anywhere. By refusing to place homophobia at the center of this attack and not having a real conversation about how our society contributes to ideology that condones violence against LGBTQ people, we perpetuate the climate that allowed for the attack in the first place.
Allowing a climate of violence and fear to be the reality for any group that is deemed other is now coming back to haunt our country in a most unfortunate and grievous way. On July 7th, police officers manning a rally in Dallas to protest the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were attacked by a sniper who killed 5 of them and injured 9 others. On July 17th, officers in Baton Rouge were led into an ambush where 3 of them were killed by assailants. Though the second police shooting has not been officially deemed a retaliatory act, the Dallas shooter in Dallas made it clear that his intention was to kill white police officers for their injustices. The country has created such a climate of fear that oppressed citizens believe that their only alternative to getting killed in the streets is to begin shooting back. While I cannot condone the taking of any life, I will pose the question: what did the State think was going to happen when it continually allows people to be killed with no opportunity for justice, and no real solutions to decreasing the violence that we are exposed to on a daily basis? It has built a population so disillusioned with being part of the country that some deem it necessary take up arms to get the justice they seek.
Violence in America has reached epic proportions, and it’s clear that it stems from an oppressive system of white supremacist patriarchy, one where lives who do not fit this ideal are time and again systematically devalued. The violence leveled by the State against the Black population reaches all the way back to the beginning of the country, and if we don’t collectively work to ensure that Black Lives Matter, the country will continue to see escalating civil unrest. The violence against the LGBTQ community stems from a society that has for decades turned a blind eye to the suffering of an entire group of people, simply because we love differently. All these forms of violence are rooted in a system of racism and homophobia that must be excavated if we are to move forward as a country where “all men are created equal”. It is at the intersection of this violence that I find myself living as a Black Queer American Male.
written by Ronald Collins (Solidarity Correspondent, International Strategy Center)
[Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article is not necessarily that of the International Strategy Center.]