Pride Without Blackness is a Broken Celebration of Exclusion
Dr. Jon Paul
In the summer of 2013, I decided to attend San Diego Pride with a close friend who had repeatedly invited me to attend. My friend promised that this pride celebration would be a bit calmer than the other local Pride events knowing that I struggle with being in public spaces involving large crowds of people.
Though I was contending with my anxiety, I felt good about going to the event given all the positive things I had heard about how progressive, safe, and welcoming San Diego was for LGBTQI+ people. Knowing that I’d had several bad experiences both at Long Beach Pride and Los Angeles Pride, my companion assured me that my experience in San Diego would not only be better, but would in fact remind me of all the things that I love about the pride season. I was hopeful.
While we were preparing to head out, I kept thinking about how much fun I was going to have at the event. I thought about the joy I would see in other queer people’s faces. Seeing folks who looked like me and loved like me dress up and stand in their full, authentic truth. Once there, however, as I revelled in the joy of being present with other queer people who I assumed would be like family, I began to realize that not everyone at the celebration found the same joy in my presence.
As we walked through the large crowd, the joy I experienced in coming to this Pride event quickly dissipated.
“Watch where you are going you stupid niggers!” someone yelled at us, causing us both to stop, pause, and look at one another. “I think we should just go,” my friend said to me with a look of sadness and disappointment. In that moment I knew that it would be the last Pride that I would ever attend.
Driving home, that moment played in my head over and over again. The space where I was supposed to find joy and safety was, in fact, no longer that. What made this moment so difficult to grapple with was knowing that for years I never viewed my race and my sexuality as exclusive to one another; and in my eyes, Pride was where I should have been able to celebrate my full authentic self. But in this moment, I was reminded that though my LGBTQI+ identity was welcomed into the space, my Blackness wasn’t.
A stark reality that is often overlooked in the mainstream is how dangerous Pride has been and continues to be for Black and Brown queer people. While many paint a picture that queer spaces can be “safe” for LGBTQI+, rarely do these conversation engage the ideology around who gets to be safe in these spaces. The world never has been and still isn’t safe for Black and Brown queer people, and though the thought of us being present at Pride events can be considered political acts of resistance, we are still viewed as the “other.”
Though I have written about why Pride will never be safe for Black/Brown people in the past, this event highlights the experiences of Black/Brown LGBTQI+ people who enter into white queer spaces. For us, there has always been a heightened sense of risk. Because our “pride” often requires more room in the community for celebration, we become a problem for those who refuse to make space for us to exist.
As James Baldwin frequently articulated, white gay people often feel cheated because they are not given the ease of acceptance that is otherwise provided to them in relation to race. The idea of them being seen as “less” in society often drives many to try to reclaim the power they feel they have lost when they are categorized within a marginalized group against their will.
Since that terrible incident, I have refused to go to another Pride celebration. I struggle to comprehend what it is I should have pride in. The history of violent acts that have happened and continue to happen offer me great pause.
I believe that if we truly want to make Pride safer and more inclusive for Black and Brown people to attend, white LGBTQI+ individuals must have a true reckoning with what “pride” they are actually celebrating and who gets to be a part of that celebration. Until then, I will continue to celebrate in spaces where both my Blackness and queerness can be celebrated as one.
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