“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King said it best in that clichéd, yet powerful, statement that grew out the response to one of the most horrific incidents of police violence ever caught on tape. However, many of us in the movement for Black lives know that getting along is the furthest thing from the actual problem. As people who were once classified as 3/5ths of a human being, we have been fighting for the right to be whole people since our ancestors first tilled the land now known as the United States of America. Unfortunately, as we’ve pushed for freedom, some of us have taken on the oppressor’s tools and have used them against one another to create a hierarchy of which lives in the Black community matter the most.
Black, heterosexual men are at the top of the pyramid, with the rest of us—Black women and LGBTQ people—sprinkled throughout, fighting for acknowledgment and inclusion. We have seen it time and time again, the Black community stands in full solidarity with Black men who have been murdered by police, complete with marches and calls for boycotts, while the outrage is quieter, or even non-existent, when someone outside of this beloved group meets a similar fate.
Over the weekend, I was reminded of the hierarchy of Black lives when dozens of protesters were arrested in Baton Rouge. Among them was DeRay McKesson, one of the most prominent faces of the Black Lives Matter movement.
After McKesson was taken into custody, I noticed an alarming trend across my twitter feed—countless people decided to use his arrest to be pro-Black with conditions. Many straight men and women made statements about McKesson’s sexuality (he’s gay, by the way), noting, “I hope the brotha is okay, but I’m not sure if I can be led by a gay man.” While some in the LGBTQ community criticized McKesson’s “cisgender gay lens,” which they claim often excludes trans and agender people. For me, it was a yet another moment when some us made a left turn at “woke,” and instead ended up “sleeping with the enemy,” and once again using the oppressor’s divisive tactics on each other.
As a Black gay man, I often wonder, “Would people march for me?”
I’m in an odd position where my intersectionality dictates that this may be up for debate. You see, I’m queer but I’m a Black male. I’m an outspoken LGBTQ activist, but I’m also a member of a Divine 9 fraternity. I have a Master’s degree and I’m photogenic, but I’m also HIV positive and fight for the positive community. Given the many facets of my identity, would the hetero population be able to see the forest for trees? My suspicion is that the full erasure of my sexual identity, gender fluidity, and lived narrative would be needed in order for many to see the value in my life, even if it were taken by police.
The unfortunate truth is that unless you fall within a certain segment of the Black population—male, straight, and “respectable”—many view your life as a little less valuable. Black women, felons, the LGBTQ community, the mentally ill, the homeless, and Black trans women—who are being killed at alarming rates without much fanfare—all take a backseat to the stories of Black men who’ve been killed as a result of state-violence.
There is a serious problem if the Black community can only see value in a life, or a leader, if they fall within society’s standards of “normal” and “acceptable.” And quoting Martin Luther King, who was “led” by Bayard Rustin—an openly gay civil rights activist—or James Baldwin, while tearing down LGBTQ Black Lives Matter activists is not only wrong, it’s hypocritical.
Remember, there is no such thing as a “perfect victim” or messenger, whether we deem them “respectable” or not. But if you truly believe Black Lives Matter, then you must also believe that poor, highly educated, HIV positive, felon, LGBTQ, homeless, mentally ill, wealthy, uneducated, hood, and bougie Black lives matter too.
If you are pro-Black with conditions, then you don’t really want freedom. You want power, privilege, and the right to choose who matters— just as the majority has done with us. Black people can’t survive as a family divided. The real “Black on Black crime” occurs every time people keep their mouths shut when a trans sister is killed, or a you allow the oppressor’s excuses for killing us to become your explanation for marginalizing other Black folks you deem less respectable.
Some of us are tired, battered, and bruised fighting for people who would sadly never fight for us. And we can’t continue to force the marginalized members of our community to fight other Black folks for inclusion, while also fighting for justice from the wider world too. I do believe that we will win, but only if we realize that we are much stronger as a fist, than individual fingers fighting in segments. If Black lives truly matter, then ALL Black lives must matter, even if they aren’t perfect.