Within minutes of entering a gay bar after an empowering Stonewall March in Atlanta, a young white guy we don't know “borrowed” my sunglasses and called himself the N-word in front of my black husband. We were taken aback, but we’re no strangers to idiots in bars or racism within the queer community.
My husband took my sunglasses off the guy, handed them back to me, looked at the guy and said, “We’re done here.” When the young guy tried to hug him drunkenly and apologize, my husband said, “Get off me. We’re not friends.” It was way more gracious than I would have been.
Not 15 minutes later, my husband’s actual friend, a straight white guy, let slip the N-word in reference to someone else. While I pulled myself together, the straight guy then called the little gay who first said the N-word a “faggot.”
My husband had the wind completely taken out of his sails. I was so incensed, I had to walk out. I was furious and disappointed. What started as a day of hope got completely hijacked by racist ignorant dicks who are supposed to be allies, and even part of the community.
I wonder what you might say to help expose this type of behavior, how to handle these incidents, and what we might do to move past them.
It’s a lot to unpack, but we’ll try to at least open the suitcase knowing we can’t put everything away.
Kudos first to your husband. His lifetime of experience allowed him to remain calm and defuse the first instance without tolerating the affront. In the second instance, it’s hard to imagine his pain when even more racism, with a side order of homophobia to boot, came from someone he considers a friend.
As for you, your emotions were on high as an ally. You’re naturally sensitive to the slight to your loved one, not to mention motivated to defend common decency. We can’t always do so with a cool head, so it’s better that you left rather than escalate.
You both avoided making things worse in the moment, but of course the disappointment lasts. It’s stunning for some of us to realize that people would believe any of this behavior is OK. It’s disgusting we still need to say out loud that those offensive words are never, ever (ever-ever!) OK in the mouths of people outside the community that they once oppressed.
It’s worth noting that N-word Gay got the F-word used on him just as flippantly and so soon. Karma snapped back on him to remind all of us why it’s particularly ironic and sad when members of one marginalized group show bias against another: We should know too well how it feels and why it’s wrong.
Healing is in the long game — increasing our own understanding, then spreading it when and where we can. Space is too limited here to hash out the whys and wherefores, but here are a few things that people of privilege can do to help fight bigotry against allied groups.
Check your privileges and prejudices. Recognize the allowances and opportunities you’re afforded, and scan for possible wrongheaded assumptions you hold.
Speak up when you can in instances of discrimination in action and let everyone else know you aren’t OK with it.
Learn to challenge instances of racism in productive, defusing ways.
Remember it’s not about you, and don’t congratulate yourself for doing the right thing.
The Q is for entertainment and not intended as professional counseling. Send your burning Qs to [email protected].
Illustration by Brad Gibson
A version of this calendar originally appeared in Q magazine. Read the full issue online here: