A riff on being white

It's Not Easy Being White, Whether You Are Straight or Gay, Conservative or Liberal, or a Person of Religious Faith or no Faith: The Impact of the late Malcolm Boyd, a Gay Episcopal Priest, on my Life.

But First;

Kermit the frog said, "It's not easy being green." I, many years ago, reached the conclusion, "It's not easy being white," as well. I have my own measurement as I have assessed whether white persons are authentic in their commitment to racial justice. My measurement? Whether or not white  persons are able to confront other white persons about their racially insensitive attitudes, and at times racist actions, toward those of us who are black.

The experience that influenced my measurement: 58 years ago this coming November, Grace and I got married and traveled to the Poconos in Pennsylvania to spend our honeymoon at the Mt. Airy Honeymoon Lodge. When I went to the check-in desk with a confirmation of my reservation in hand, I immediately sensed that the person behind the desk was uneasy in my presence. I was told they did not accept black persons in their Lodge. When I asked "Why?", I was told, "Our guests would be uneasy if you and your bride stayed here."

I was a third year student at Boston University School of Theology at the time, and therefore left the Lodge after considerable discussion and located the pastor of a nearby Methodist Church. I explained our plight to him, expecting that he would go with us back to the lodge and confront the management on our behalf. Instead, he took us to an out-of-the-way lodge that catered to black hunters who came to the area in search of bear. It was easier for him to find a place for us to stay than it was for him to confront his white peers and their conformity to the culture and practice of black exclusion.

"It's not easy being white," when one seeks to advocate for black folks in the presence of white folk who exclude, segregate, and/or are uncomfortable in the presence of black folk.

Malcolm Boyd died on February 27 at the age of 91. He had been a “Freedom Rider," integrating with blacks and racial segregation on busses, and as a result he experienced the physical violence imposed on Freedom Riders by white racists. Boyd was a participant with Martin Luther King and the rest of us in the Selma to Montgomery March. And it was Malcolm Boyd  who announced to the public in 1977 that he was gay, when I was pushed to confront the heterosexist homophobia that was buried deep within me. At the time I asked myself, "Do I get rid of his book of prayers titled, 'Are You Running With Me Jesus?’; Do I reject the influence that his writing and civil rights activity had on my life?" My answer: "Of course not”. And the rest is history.

Malcolm Boyd is one of my "4 B’s” — Gay persons whose names contain the letter “B”: James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Barbara Jordan, and Malcolm Boyd. They, as gay persons who have been so important to the Black justice journey, loom large in my consciousness in this time of greater polarization between blacks and gays. Three of them black, one white; an ebony and ivory quartet!

Why have I begun this epistle with a statement about the "dis-ease" that seems to accompany efforts of white persons to be advocates and allies of blacks? I liken this "dis-ease" that I observed first-hand among some gay rights organizations vis-à-vis persons who define themselves as trans. Despite the fact that the “T" in LGBT represents trans persons and their community, there was/is reluctance to be in advocacy and acceptance of those who are trans.

And I have found reluctance among some gay rights advocates and their organizations, even as they claim to embrace and imitate the Civil Rights Movement, to include black gay persons on their staffs, in their organizational structure or in other places where "white is right" and "black is not." My black gay colleagues in church and society share with me that at times they are treated as children who are to be "seen but not heard.” Women experience this at times, thus I am always a bit surprised when women mistreat blacks in ways comparable to the mistreatment they have known as women.

Levi Petit, the University of Oklahoma SAE fraternity member who was expelled from the University, had a press conference this week. He acknowledged his new awareness that the use of the n-word, and references to lynching in the song he and his colleagues sang on the bus, was wrong. But he would not identify the source of the song that they sang. Personal confessions of racial insensitivity and ignorance are great, but an unwillingness to uncover and reveal the history and culture of institutional anti-black racism in one's fraternity, culture, and history illustrates what I wrote at the beginning.

"It's not easy being white".

A return to correspondence between Marilyn and Gil:

Gil-and-Marilyn

Dear Elder Brother,

I'm eager to explore this piece with you, especially how to hear the concerns about gay equality and white supremacy. And my view on the religious "freedoms" laws and bills (one is being heard in Montana legislature today) is that this is the religious rights answer to losing on marriage equality. They've just changed tactics. The anger, bigotry and bitterness represented by those who bring these bills is astounding. Just another chorus of humanity's disregard for each other. The OU incident was horrendous and unconscionable. I guess conscience is key to all of the good and evil, whether one has one or not. 

I wanted to get a few words to you before I get back to editing the film. I also want to say that the historical impact of these type incidents, yours and our country's, is the trajectory of our film's story. 

Love to you and Grace,

Younger Sister

YS,

Your response is "right on." I know that you, Tonya, Ky, and Benjamin will script a film that captures the downs and ups of these moments. We are aware, more than ever, that we must visit, again and again, Selma, Stonewall and Seneca Falls. We must "live" in them, rather than pass through them. I will be visiting Duke Divinity School on April 17th before the Jack Crum Conference in Durham, NC where I will speak. This will be the first time that I will be visiting the Divinity School that rejected my application for admission in 1954/55 because of my race. 

 Gil, a.k.a. EB