May 23, 2016
By: Angelica Walker
A couple days ago, I was listening to my white transgender friend talk about somebody that was bullying them: “I tried to explain cisgender privilege to him, but he just laughed and made fun of me. And you know, this guy was African American, so it’s not like he has any room to talk anyway. I’m sure he experiences racism. You’d think he would get it.”
I nearly fell out of my chair. I thought about calling my friend out, but I could barely gather enough of my thoughts to muster up a semi-sincere, “I’m sorry he hurt you.” After thinking about it for a while, I realized that I see this same sentiment all the time, especially among members of the social justice community.
It’s easy to call out rich, white, cisgender men for saying blatantly racist things. It gets a little bit harder when you’re dealing with somebody who has good intentions, which is why these sorts of stereotypes are usually ignored. When people fall back into these more positive assumptions, they often believe they’re doing the minority group a favor by pointing out, in this case, how most of their black friends aren’t transphobic. That’s not racist… is it?
Don’t get me wrong; I’m sure that bully was being a total jerk. I’m not siding with him. But, that doesn’t change the fact that it is never okay to use race (or gender, or class) as the determining factor on how any given person should view the world.
I am vehemently pro-choice, but I would never label a pro-life woman a “traitor to her sex” because of her beliefs. I would never call a black guy against affirmative action a “traitor to his race” or a gay guy against same-sex marriage a “traitor to his sexuality”. Call them misinformed. Call them evil. Call the woman sexist or the gay guy homophobic, if it helps you sleep at night – but leave their own identity out of it.
By putting various minority groups into these boxes, we are perpetuating the very stereotypes we claim to be against. These hierarchical, paternal undertones parallel the ones used in negative stereotypes. When my friend said that they felt that that guy should have understood, they were really saying, “If you’re transphobic, or homophobic, or sexist, you’re not really black. But if you’re transphobic and white… meh, it’s expected.”
Let’s take the time to acknowledge that expecting all minorities to be perfect, super liberal, intersectional activists is racist. It might not be as problematic as, say, expecting all black people to rob you, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is racist. You are using your privilege as a non-member to determine how every member of a given group is supposed to act, think, and feel, for your own political gain; that’s pretty much the definition of racism.
Minority groups are not homologous, so don’t pretend problematic minorities don’t exist. There are always going to be bad people in any given group – and that’s okay, because we know that those people are not representative of the entire group. We, as activists, should know that we can fight against the bad apples without fighting against the entire tree.
Angelica Walker is an intern for The New People covering LGBTQ rights and criminal justice reform. She is a junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying social work, legal studies, writing, and political science.