I came out late. Growing up as an Afro-West Indian boy in Western Europe always had me very aware that I am black since childhood but I never had to “come out” as a black person.
People around me, from my peers and classmates (by their questions about my skincolour), the parents of the boys and girls from the block (by 3 show ups from the 6 invitations on my 7th birthday), the people from the local football/club (by asking me and another black member if we were brothers and asked us to dance for them), made it all clear to me I am not `like` the others´ because the others were not approached in such ways and asked such questions.
I shall never forget the look on my mothers’ face when at my 7th birthday one of the 3 Caucasian guys showing up, gave me a present in the shape of a second hand latex donkey with one leg swinging loose from a tin piece of metal, obviously hastily wrapped in 3 layers of newspaper. I think my age kept me from understanding my mothers’ anger and coming from a working class immigrant family where (bigger) presents (such as bikes) are structurally second hand, I was happy and grateful with everything I got. Now I do understand. Now I do.
Typing this piece in one of my favorite places in the world, the study and newspaper-section of the local library, the view of many people, Northern European (Dutch) aswell as Asian aswell as Arab on “black”people who decend from Subsahara Africa is evident again: looking for a place to sit down and taking the most inconvenient place as long as it’s as far away from me as possible. And believe me, I take care of myself. I was taught hygiene.
I sit across 3 very young girls (they must be about 17 years old): one of which is clearly Indonesian, the other two are respectively Dutch and Turkish. During their breaks from studying for a test, they gossip about classmates, boys and lipstick. It is so beautiful. It really doesn’t matter. Their hormones are similar, their gender is the same and so are their interests at that age. They eyeball me every now and then as I am typing and thinking about my English grammar. What is more exciting at that age than an older man who is not THAT old that he could be your father? They would be too young for me anyway and the only reason they interest me is because through my overhearing their gossiping I glimpse into the youth-culture as it is today. I am not at all interested in them as a male. I am a gay man: a male who likes males. Women can be great looking but for me there is nothing like a male who thinks, acts, looks and smells like a male. Something which I came out for about 2 years ago. A moment I feared since I realised many years earlier there was no way around my orientation. I could “not fight this feeling anymore”. To my relief both of my parents were “cool” with it and so were my brothers. I however never had to tell anyone I am black since I noticed from a young age it was seen as a negative (now even an African male, many shades darker than I am, chose his seat at the other end of the row I sit in; next to an old white grey male), 4 seats away.
Little did I know, long before I made my first steps into the (oh) so-called liberal and openminded and “tolerant” gay community, that blackness is seen as a negative. Many white gays I speak to, live with the idea that there is “nothing more sexy” than a black man. Last week I brought it up to a Polish bloke I came to know and have seen a few times. He said it too: ”But all white men DREAM of a black guy” and touched me in a certain place. Little does he know about the increasing prevalence of (sexual) racism in the gay community: gay people sexually loathing people of other ethnicities.
Gay sex (for those who did not know yet) doesn’t carry the risk of pregnancy so that can never be the reason (the African man just stood up, got another newspaper and sat down way at the end of the row that the grey old white man hes left).
For a long time I thought it had something to do with HIV-risk commericals in which black people are always depicted. The underlaying message is: “if you don’t want HIV/AIDS, stay away from people looking like this” or at least associating the disease to the racial features . Far most more neutral or regular gay adds for instance parties or for relationship agencies rarely to never depict other races than white (incl. Arabs). Message: white is fun, white is sex, white is safe, white is HIV-negative and lovable and positive.
Confronting white (gay) people with this, the common answer is: “They just want to show it is an issue that concerns us all”. Usually they don’t answer when asked if things such as safe sex, partnership, love and parties aren’t things that do not concern me. But it’s not only a physical syndrome that plays a part in sexual racism I came to know.
Still, as a gay black man, on the internet as well as in “the real world,” there are white men that look for blacks (at least what I have seen in the Netherlands) exclusively. What strikes me, is that most of them are already romantically linked to another (in far most cases white) male and their texts in most cases contains words such as: “big black dick,” “plow my ass,” “rape,” group of black men” (or a derogatory word for black person which in Dutch is “neger” (plural: negers) which can be in fact easily measure up in offensiveness to the term `nigger` although many white and Dutch people but also a number of my fellow black people here do not agree with me on that).
Frequently confronted with these men on the net means being frequently asked:
- How large is your penis?
- Do you want to rape me?
- Are you dominant?
- Are you muscular?
- Do you have friends with whom you can brutally and relentlessly fuck me?
It is very rarely about dating, movie, cinema, plans and, most of all, what I would like. At least I rarely had that experience. And the rare times I did, the male in question was either above 55, HIV-positive, poorly educated, objectively unattractive or had some other flaw that makes them “not ones’ first choice” or “no catch.”
So it is not so as a black man you never get sex (living in a predominantly white society) but that is in most cases all you get.
I discussed this with another black gay man who frequents Paris. He told me he learned French black gays are really “sick and tired”of how they were picked up, sexually consumed and dumped by their white peers. He told me this brought about an almost real type of sexual and relationshipwise “apartheid”.
I have not been to Paris for a few years now, but I am careful with a not so bad looking slightly older French male who contacted me recently. I am warned.
I once, on a profile- website got into contact with a quite attractive Italian bloke. Note that my nickname was blackman-something and that I stressed out in my text that although the picture (of my chest) may seem light, I am really a black man. We chatted for a while on that site and when we agreed we got along well, decided to take the conversation to skype where he asked me for a facepic which I granted him to see.
“Huh? You’re black?”, he posted me. “Yeah”, I said. “Didn’t you know?:)”.
“Umm, no”, he responded and logged out.
I tried to raise this topic in conversations with white gay guys because I heard from my black peers they had similar experiences. They did not really seem to understand what I was talking about. I got responses such as:
“You can not tell anyone who to love” and “It’s not that I am racist, it’s just a preference” often added with “I am also not into blond guys and fat guys, so I am discriminating against those too” or “You can’t tell me YOU like EVERYONE do you?”
One said: “Well be glad that I don’t pretend to fancy you sexually out of political correctness. What would be that worth to you?”
I myself have a (physical) preference for men with broad shoulders and low voices opposed to men with more narrow shoulders, high voices etc. To be short, I am drawn to man with more pronounced masculine features and characteristics with which skincolour or race has really nothing to do. I can really like an Asian bloke just as much as a Northern white or Arab bloke. To speak with Missy Elliot: “Boys, boys all kinds of boys. Black, white Puerto Rican, Chinese boys. Tayotayatayatataaaa!!”. I am not a fan of her music but I could n’t agree with her more. The men I like only have the physical characteristics in common that are mentioned above and I really don’t understand that if we live in a so called post-racial society as many (whites) claim we do, why race still does seem to matter when it comes to sex and most definately has more weight in dating and relationships. I asked myself the question if I was just “seeing things” or if I was really being “too sensitive”as white people in general claim is the case when racism is discussed. It after all is possible, right? That I am seeing things..
Another question triggered within me was if it was really racist or could be seen as such to refuse any kind of contact with someone because of this persons’ ethnicity.
I decided to test it out. Asian and black people indeed feel unwelcome and unattractive and not valued as a result of this phenomenon of racially motivated rejection and “ignorance” on the internet (I will explain later why ignorance is types between quotation marks), in clubs, in real gay life. As a result of being something other than white or Latino or Arab they are excluded because the rejection is not merely sexual. An Asian guy I have seen being intervierwed on a website stated: “You know, you come on to a (white) guy who says ”not into Asians”, which is basically saying I am ugly”. This bloke was right and the mere fact there was a clip about it says how damaging the effect of this occurrence is on ones’ self-esteem and self opinion.
I wanted to know if it was (f)actually and could be made somehow more concrete and measurable and if it is really that innocent as it is claimed to be by the white guys I spoke to and if it is in all cases regarded as such.
This is what I did.
I decided to carry out an experiment making use of the internet. I chose for this medium because it is in fact common knowledge people tend to respond at least more “socially and collective normatively acceptable” when they are in situations that imply accountability for a less or non-socially acceptable response (when they are recognisable, public and for instance in the presence of cameras) or at least they try to nuance things after they made a comment reveiling a racist or otherwise discriminating stance once in public..
Furthermore, the use of internet was a cheap and quite reliable way to get responses that I could in some cases store and study.
The main research question was: “Does an “ethnic preference” have a racist background and if not, can such a preference lead to the impression of a racist or discriminating stance by an individual of a non-preferred group?”
I went on a gay sex-oriented social network on the internet and created the following profile:
- ethnicity: white, Central European
- sex: male
- sexual orientation: gay
- age: 35
- length: 1.72 m
- weight: 73 kilograms
- Motive: date/long term relationship
- text: no Blacks, no Asians, no Jews
Except from the preferences mentioned in the text and the ethnicity, the other characteristics mentioned were actually based on me. I literally used “myself”in the exercise, partly also hoping to come across the Italian bloke I mentioned earlier.
I had to present myself as white because I would be socially and normatively vulnerable as a black man. You will understand why if you keep reading.
The theoretical background was that the root/base of a preference can be based in the area of race (phenotype) but can equally be based on religion, culture or ethnicity. The fact that an individual is not sexually attracted to Asians is no indication or reason to assume any conscious hate, conscious disrespect or conscious aversion against Asians. This is a valid reasoning since there is no aspect (i.e. intention) of direct and intentional harm, destruction, direct and intentional (violent) oppression or genocidal activities aimed at Asians in that but an undeniable, overwhelming sexual and/or relational preference for non-Asian men.
Above that, culture (i.e. the cultural mindset inherent to a religion or religious culture) is an even more valid reason to choose not to date someone: very deviant ideas regarding matters such as food, costums, language, family values and holidays are, to my opinion, valid reasons not to get involved with someone. In the Dutch culture there is a saying which can be best translated as: “The devil sleeps between two religions on one pillow” (in Dutch it rhymes) meaning that people of different religious conviction getting romantically involved or married are bound to fail in this relationship. It is “asking for trouble”.
I decided to do this in English (which is not my native tongue as you probably can tell by my vocabulary and grammar) because I wanted to reach a wider range of respondents and chose to focus on Amsterdam because it seemed to be the best location to present myself in for the sake of the experiment. Amsterdam is commonly regarded as a gay capital and a metropole with what is commonly known in literature and speech as a “melting pot”. Furthermore Amsterdam is siginificantly inhabited and visited by plenty attractive, well educated gay men from all over the globe so the odds of finding English – and Dutch speaking (bi-lingual) respondants was more than sufficient. Added to that, better educated people, in general, respond to things differently than less educated people; they have the ability to think more “abstract” (can think in concepts), have, in general, read more books, have travelled more often, have more self-reflective abilities and especially in the Netherlands a lot of them claim to be very “openminded” and “progressive”as a result of their higher education. Next to that, Amsterdam has a historically large Jewish population and the influence of the Jewish community is more than significant in nowadays Amsterdam.
With the profile (fig.1.1) connected as a link I logged on several chatboxes that were primairly or solely aimed at gay and/or bisexual males and waited for the responses I would get.
The results were very clear. Black/darkskinned and Asian men did not respond at all. Even when I approached some of them myself, I got no response. I am not sure if that was because of my text.
The majority of the responses I DID get, were mainly direct, hostile, threatening and agressive and for the full 100% sent by Jewish men and men who claimed not to be Jewish but had a significant number of Jews within their direct social environment or peer group.
Here is a collection of the responses I received:
“Why, no Jews?”
“What is wrong with Jews?”
“Are you crazy?!! You hate Jews!”
“I am Jewish. Is that a problem for you?”
“I can understand no blacks. But Jews? You MUST be kidding!”
Where possible, I responsed, just as I had been responded too bringing up racism, that I just have a preference for non-Jews andmy statement therefor would not be antisemitic I got the following response:
“Yeah, but they are not a race”
In some cases a slightly longer dialogue developped, by which I got the opportuntiy to explain myself. I stated to a very angry non-Jewish (I asked if he was and he said no) man that the fact that I (my alter ego) do not date and have sex with Jews doesnt mean I am antisemitic because I have Jewish friends and neighbours. I recorded the responses. These arguments were structurally ignored and I got responses such as:
“I will report you to the editor of this chatbox for being antisemitic so you will be blocked. Hopefully for good.”
“Go back to your backwards Eastern European village, you nazi!”
In all other cases in which it came to the point of me telling the respondant I have Jewish friends, the dialogue was abandoned or I got no further responses.
There was only 1 (white) guy who said: Are you out of your mind? You are being discriminatory and hateful. I asked him what that was based on and he did not respond in the favour of any specifically mentioned group. His upset seemed to be so intense, I decided to inform him about it being an experiment.
Background, Explanation and Conclusion
Answer to the research question: Can an “ethnic preference” have a racist background and if not, can such a preference lead to the impression of a racist or discriminating stance by an individual of a non-prefered group?” the answer is positive. Yes it can on both parts of the question.
Apparently the expression not to want to have sex or date with members of a specific (ethnic) group because of a certain characteristic of that group is or at least can be regarded as bigotted and/or discriminatory. What applies to Jews also applies to blacks or Asians; If not having sex with/dating Jews is discriminatory (antisemitic) there is no logical reason to state that not having sex with/not dating blacks and/or asians (or whites if you are black or Asian) is not racist.
The perception of the content of the message pushes the same buttons in a black or Asian psyche as it does in a Jewish psyche: “you do not want to have sex with me because of who I am/ you do not find me sexually attractive/a potential partner because of who I am > in your eyes I do not have the same value as you and you see me as less > you are discrminating against people who are like me.
The statement lead to a feeling of rejection on the basis of a characteristic over which there in this case is control because going from the base that it is a religion there are people who become Jewish later in life or are “former” Jews or if you are born to a non-Jewish mother but adopted by a Jewish family, it is likely you will be raised as a Jew. Black and Asian people can not become Black or Asian later in life and can not turn their back on the way they look and being adopted by a Caucasian family does not and can not make you Caucasian.
This is, because the argument that the actual disinterest did not indicate there was any hostile, bias or anything akin involved against Jews, did nothing for those who objected to the content of the text. The fact that my statement did not make me anti-Semitic because sexually rejecting blacks or asians doesn’t make one racist, was totally ignored.
The only difference in the common response to the text was for which group most respondants would stick up. There was only one that stuck up for all groups, leading to the conclusion that in the white Dutch collective consciousness and mindset, Jews are a group of people that need to and/or deserve to be protected against bigotry and other people do not.
Racism, like at least most of all others –isms that exist (including anti-Semitism), is learned behaviour. Reasoning from the tabula rasa-concept, a human being is not born with a preference or a distaste for a certain race or ethnic group.
The moment an individual is being exposed to the norms of his (direct) environment and the power structure that exists between “white” people at the top and coloured and especially black people at the bottom , the racial “contamination” starts: the individual learns to connect certain standards and values to different racial physical appearances such as skin colour, hair colour, eye colour, skull shape, length,
lips, hairtype, eye shape etc.) by which one “racial type”or race is being mentally favoured to the other which is internalized during a process of years during ones’ youth and adolescence. In general white and black people learn to attribute commonly negative aspects to all features that are traditionally “black”.
Same dynamic plays a role in the phenomenon of antisemitism or sentiments that are or can be connected to it (like excluding Jews for sex and for romantic involvement). Nobody is born antisemitic. It is through the internalisation of antisemitic norms and values within the (direct) social environment that this stance towards Jews is developped and is “stored” within the consciousness of an individual.
Apparently, at least in the Netherlands (where this experiment was carried out), there is an ethnic double standard in the context of the view and condemnation of discrimination, oppression and exclusion.
Only one of the respondents reacted to the concept and statement of “no blacks”and “no asians”. The rest of the reactions showed only upset about the line “no jews” and (falsely) identified it as a sign of antisemtism implicitly ruling the other 2 out as racism.
The idea of being regarded as “unattractive,” “unwanted” “not desirable” or “intrinsicly wrong” by an individual who makes clear not to want to be sexually and/or romantically linked to another individual only within the context of that consensus is only understood when it involves Jews. Not blacks. Not Asians.
Since WWII the Netherlands has developped a very strong tradition of keeping the ideal of equality, “equal opportunity” and “anti-racism” alive. I remember there was a lot of awareness about this issue somehwere in the mid 80’s after a West Indian youngster was stabbed to death by a neo nazi.
Demonstrations were held by anti-racist groups and right next to all these liberal and non-white people were the gays, claiming to feel the need to show solidarity because they were a minority aswell. Times were different then.
In general, research has shown that an overwhelming majority of the Dutch population claims to be opinionated that any form of exclusion, discrimination, xenophobia and octrisation should be battled. One of the main sources for this stance is, that many white Dutch people, during the occupation of Germany in 1940-1945 did “nothing” to stop the atrocities they undoubtly knew were going on and allowed it to happen or even in many cases cooperated with the Germans (volunteerly or not). There is a common adagium in the Netherlands which is taught to most citizens in the school program aswell as at home that “this (i.e. the Holocaust) may never happen again and we must see to it it doesn’t”.
However, evidently in spite of this common knowledge and the lesson to be drawn from it, a large majority of the Caucasian Dutch and gay population conforms to racist norms without their lifes being directly in danger.
This is even more startling since the Dutch gay community has been one of the most resiliant and succesful ones in the world claiming equal civil rights and promoting “visibility” as a group claiming to aim for a society in which classifications such as religion, sexual orientation or race should not matter. White gays fought less hard than black people had to, but are economically still more siginificant to any nation, society or region than blacks in any nation, society or region.
The social sanction that is being expected (sexually) dating with or being seen with and certainly (duurzaam) connecting to someone other than Caucasian is however of more siginificant weight than the ethical aspect a large number of non Jews in WWII in the eyes of the majority shamefully lacked.
Next to that the collective double standard regarding political correctness is exposed.
One who does not sleep with Jews because of their jewish-ness is being seen as antisemitc. One who does not sleep with asians because of their asian-ness or blacks because of their black-ness is generally considered someone with a set of “preferences”.
Stating not to be interested in sleeping with Jews is seen as “politically incorrect” because it is socially not accepted to vocalize this stance. In the collective norm stating not to sleep with blacks or asians is being seen as something not thát upsetting and basically normal. The difference between the characteristics that differs Blacks and Asians from christian or secular and liberal whites is seen as not the same as the characteristics that differ Jews from christian or secular liberal whites. In that light it must be stated that being Jewish is however one puts it, a choice because there are people who become Jewish or are ex-Jews. There is no Asian or Black person who was a former Black or former Asian. If you are white and reading this upsets you, you are being politically correct and within the current concensus “we need to get over that”. You might want to think twice next time before getting angry at an individual from a minority group telling what effect being a member of that group has on his/her life and what things he/she is confronted with at the hands of other (white) people.
The respons to so called hate crimes against gay people or bullying of gay youngsters and general discriminatory behaviour against gay people is in general within the gay community regarded with explicit, unmistakable and clearly vocalised disapproval. Gays in general (of each creed, age and size and cultural background) fight all around the world for equal (civil) rights, equal treatment and fight in sociological sense to get aknowledged and accepted by society as who they are. The pressure to “come out of the closet” and “don’t hide yourself”can be described as strong in the Netherlands; show and tell people you are gay. It is not something to be ashamed of. It is as natural as heterosexuality and it should be accepted. There is even a television programs in which young gay people are given a podium to “come out” in front of about 2.5 millions of viewers. “Everybody who does not accept you being gay is wrong and should be told the truth”. Hand in hand together we fight to be accepted for who we are is what I generally hear on mainstream gay websites and in mainstream national culture.
Still, when it comes to race, the stance, concept and consensus within the current white gay community is totally different (at least from what I see). I have never seen any show in which kids of any race are being `helped`, in front of millions over viewers, telling their parents, siblings and peers they are dating outside their culture or race.
Within this I indentify these different sex/dating norms becoming increasingly more common within the white gay community:
- You can have sex with a non-Caucasians but do not let your friends see you associating yourself with them. The social sanctions you will suffer for it are relatively severe.
- You can have sex with non-Caucasians but you can not start a relationship with them. “Welcome to my bed but stay out of my life”.
- The battle against discrimination is only reinforced by me when it is in the favour of white gays. If it’s not, I don’t understand what this specific other group wants. They are playing a card, other than the gay-card.
Of course there are those white gay men who are sexually attracted to blacks and Asians but are not willing to `come out` for that by talking to them in public, fancy them let alone “get serious”with them so their friends and family knows about that specific attraction. They fear the reaction of their peers too much at the same time fighting for gay right and urging ailing young homosexuals to come out `and make sure to be who they are`, to `Stand up for their love right`as acid house singer Yazz and her Plastic Population once sang referring to gay people claiming their right to love whomever they choose. I was young in those days, just discovered my orientation and really thought white gay people were cleansed from bigotry through their own struggles. Little did I know. “Don´t let nobody walk on you, don´t let nobody tell you what to do`, she sings. They do however. They let their peers tell them who to love and who not to.
No, white Dutch gay males and other people, I can sit in the train without being lynched. I can go to the shop of my choice and buy what I want. I get access to the library where I write this piece and nobody verbally objects to that. These things I can do. But this IS going on in your liberal, free, modern, `tolerant` country.
But I have seen the still resonating ugly faces of bigotry and racism and the double standard that is inherent to during the conduct of this experiment: yes, ethnically based rejection can come off as racially discriminating as much as rejecting someone for his Jew-ness comes off as antisemetic. I guess y’all white people got sum’n to think about now, hunh?!
The newspaper section of the library is almost empty. A young white boy with brown hair came to sit right next to me to pretend to read the newspaper but peeks at the notes I put besides my laptop I wrote to help myself writing this piece. I sigh, pack my things and go home.
- Michael Vriesde
- A Tragedy, Not A Token: To #Occupy and White Liberals/Radicals
- Petition to Ban Racist Performance
- An Open Letter (and Invitation) to the So-Called 99% from People of Color
- Dear Angry White People, Get Over Yourselves
- Debate: Are Racism and Sexism Universal and Not Gender-Dependent or Race-Dependent?