Full Spectrum: When LGBTQ Activism Appropriates Black Culture

We've all had that moment when we see or hear something that incites a visceral reaction that's a strange mixture of unease and anger. These triggers might be anticipated in certain situations, but can come from unexpected places.

When I saw this film poster for The Freedom to Marry, I had such a guttural distaste for the rainbow-painted raised, power fist, a popular symbol of solidarity with a long history as a symbol of resistance to oppression from a united group. My first correlation was to this…

Black power salute at the 1968 Olympics

The Black power fist was used in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement. Right away, I felt that its use on this poster diminished the Black Civil Rights Movement and the fight for civil liberties. But then again, this film is a documentation of a fight for civil liberties; the right for same sex couples to be married in the United States of America. And if this symbol of solidarity is so common among other groups before and after the Black Power Fist, what was really triggering me here?

Being a queer person is being a part of a marginalized group. Existing as a queer Black person is being on the outskirts of an already marginalized identity. When an image, an idea, anything is taken from the struggles of an oppressed group, it is valid for a member of that group to feel diminished. In regards to the Black power fist and struggles for equality, I couldn’t help but think "why couldn't the marketing team create a new image, a new idea, rather than stealing from another group?" This then creates a paradox of inclusion when it's helpful for the majority. Though the movie explores a truthful struggle, I don't believe it warrants the right to use the Black power fist.

Here the rainbow fist is supposed to represent solidarity within the queer community to achieve a goal. And that's where the trigger is pulled. Because even though the image is literally just a fist painted with the rainbow flag colors, I felt excluded. I jumped to appropriation because I don't associate my Black culture or history with my queer one. While it's probably expected that there isn’t a lot of acceptance within the Black community for queer people, the queer community has a poor track record of including queer people of color in representation of the larger culture. It’s not that we haven’t made contributions, from ballroom culture to drag queens to every gay rights movement (from Stonewall and beyond).

Paris Is Burning

Just this pass Pride month, when the City of Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs presented a new Pride flag with brown and black stripes as a way of showing solidarity with their local queer community, and acknowledging that queer POCs do experience racism, the entire LGBT community lashed out, enraged by the idea of changing the design of our flag instead of even attempting to discuss why this gesture was needed in the first place. But this was not the first attempt at a Black queer Pride flag.

Montréal Pride flag, 2016

Ultimately, it comes down to inclusion. Inclusion—proper acknowledgement—is the first step in validating our existence within the queer community. Understanding that we are both other and the same. We have been through the same struggles and have been fighting the same fight, in addition to fights around race and being a part of another marginalized group. The queer community is known for forming new families when the ones we are born into reject us and see us as less than because of our sexual orientation and gender identity. Within our own family, we should be celebrating and embracing our differences. Because only together do we make up the full spectrum.

J. L. Barnaby's picture
on August 28, 2017

New Yorker. Born a mutant. Designer of books. Reader of comics and manga.