Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Don’t Be Afraid of Checking Yourself. We Have to do Better.

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January 30, 2019

Earlier today, it was reported that openly gay and black actor Jussie Smollett was the victim of a hate crime in Chicago that left him hospitalized but in stable condition. A horrific act of violence like this not too long after comedian Kevin Hart refused several times to apologize for his homophobic remarks in the past isn’t surprising in this country. Homophobia and racism are rampant, and people found in the intersection like Smollett are particularly vulnerable. And as news reports were quick to call it a “possible” hate crime, referring to it mostly as “racially charged”, a phrase which almost always simply means racist, I can’t help but marvel at the aversion the media has at referring to a person as a racist. It’s as if they fear the word more than they fear the actual institution that is very much a part of our society.

Ignorance of the intersection usually comes in hand with fear of being called out on that ignorance. Recently, actress Gina Rodriguez has come under fire for making anti-black statements. In one interview, she inaccurately stated that Black women are paid more in the entertainment industry than Asian and Latinx women. Last year after the success of Black Panther, she lamented the apparent lack of Latinx characters in Marvel movies. When she addressed these accusations, she tearfully claimed that she felt she was a part of the Black community – not to mention, saying the equivalent of “I have Black friends” by saying her father is dark-skinned – and instead of addressing her ignorance, only expressed how upset she was to hear those comments.

For starters, there are many people who are shocked when they are called out as racist or anti-black. No matter how progressive of a person you think of yourself; unfortunately, we have been raised in a society that is inherently racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and unfair to anyone who is not a cishet white male. Our country was founded and set up on oppressive systemic systems. It is only natural for us to screw up and say something wrong. That is not the time to cry over being called racist or anti-black. Check yourself. That is the time to step back, understand what the other person is saying, and re-evaluate yourself. Do better at consistently acknowledging where your preconceived notions are and why it has to stop now. And then figure out what role you will play in confronting racism, homophobia and anti-blackness.

Part of being progressive means being able to be introspective, check yourself and accept that you may not even be aware of the inner bigotry ingrained in you.

Furthermore, let’s go back to Rodriguez’s statements that completely ignore the existence of AfroLatinx people. Saying Black people and Latinx people is reminiscent of when people would say minorities and women: it’s ignoring the intersection. Smollett’s attack is a painful reminder of how often that intersection is swept away when it needs to be acknowledged. He was not attacked only because he was black, or only because he was gay: he was targeted and attacked, because he was a black, gay man. He was targeted by homophobic racist bigots who are being validated by the very administration we are under, but that’s a whole other rant.

Small, maybe harmless remarks like Rodriguez’s are the tipping point to unacceptable acts of terrorism like what happened with Jussie Smollett and what happens to black, LGBTQ+ folks everyday. That’s why “jokes” about people beating their gay children have never, and will never be funny. We have to do better — for not only Smollett, for every victim of this hatred, and for young people growing up, in fear, simply for being who they are. This is how we collectively work towards reproductive justice.

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