No one appointed Black Lives Matter (BLM) to act as spokesperson for the entire black community. Much of the public, however, has taken them as representative of an entire race.
I am black and gay, and I do not agree with the divisive tactics adopted by BLM Toronto — including its disruption of last year's Pride parade in Toronto, and its subsequent demand that uniformed officers not participate in the event.
In fact, a lot of black people in Toronto and elsewhere don't agree with the group, but they are afraid to speak out. Many are worried about being called an "Uncle Tom" or a "House Negro" for expressing their opinions.
Not a monolithic community
American writer Zora Neale Hurston captured this idea when reflecting on her own disassociation with the black political elite, famously saying, "My skin folk ain't my kin folk."
Hurston was a Republican who was critical of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools, which made her an easy target for criticism in the black community. Her point, nevertheless, was that just because people share a racial background does not mean they necessarily agree with each other on certain issues — a truth that is often overlooked in commentary about racial issues.
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I, like many people who make up what is likely the silent majority, believe that the Toronto police should be allowed to participate in the gay Pride parade in their uniforms. For one thing, more uniformed officers would mean help would be easier to find if someone is in distress and immediately needs assistance.
But beyond that, the Toronto police has worked hard to build bridges with the gay community — by formally apologizing for the 1981 bathhouse raids, by regularly participating in Pride parades, by raising a rainbow flag outside headquarters for the first time and so forth. Not allowing them to wear their uniforms at Pride is a step backwards for the relationship.
What's more, Pride Toronto has worked hard to create safe spaces for gay LGBTQ people of colour. For instance, for the last near-20 years, Pride has hosted "Blockorama" during the weekend of the parade — an area specifically for black artists, musicians, writers, singers, dancers and regular folk to celebrate black and African cultures. By contrast, there has never been an official program for LGBTQ people during the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly (and colloquially) known as "Caribana."
Indeed, I can honestly say I feel uncomfortable at Caribana due to black homophobia, which Black Lives Matter casually ignores. I am constantly looking over my shoulder in fear of being attacked, simply because I am a gay man. In recent years, I have stayed away entirely. Yet there is virtually no dialogue about anti-LGBTQ prejudice within the black community.
Speaking for others
Black Lives Matter could use their political and social power to actually raise awareness about this issue, but it is apparently easier for them to target the white gay community than it is to tackle black homophobia. And Pride Toronto yields to their requests, as if the black community is a monolithic entity represented by a single group.
In her essay "The Problem of Speaking For Others," feminist writer Linda Alcoff writes about the quandary of certain individuals or groups speaking on behalf of marginalized communities, which she argues can stifle the diversity of voices being heard. Indeed, that seems to be happening here.
Yet no one appointed BLM to speak for the entire black community. The police, Pride Toronto, the media and the public need to remember that.