Content Warning: This article contains mentions of homophobic and racial slurs.
To grow as the gay eldest son of two Dominican immigrants living in League City — a predominantly conservative suburb of Houston — meant the only people who looked like me lived down the hall, and I could count the number of queer people I knew on the one hand. Middle school kids were calling me “b—ner” and “f—got” before I even knew what the words meant. As I got older, I started counting the days until I went to college and was finally free. But instead of freedom, at Northwestern, I found a queer community that desperately needed to fight the racism that fueled it.
NU’s Multicultural Student Affairs page promotes two groups specifically for students of color in its LGBTQ+ organizations section. B. Burlesque and Living in Color are designed to create a safe space for queer students of color to express themselves and find community through dance and art, respectively.
The University would have us believe that the mere existence of these spaces is proof that NU exists in a post-racial bubble. But a community and its principles are shaped by the people who are part of it, not just by the formal spaces their members occupy. It doesn’t matter that queer students of color have those spaces if their white peers are racist. And racism within the queer community at NU takes many forms.
One of the most common ways racism is expressed in the queer community, both at NU and in the world at large, is through dating profiles with statements like “I just don’t like people. Latinos or blacks”. Often, however, it is more subtle. Instead of listing what they’re not looking for, they’ll let it be known that they’re looking for “all-American” partners. But it does not stop there. Apps like Tinder allow users to list organizations and movements like Black Lives Matter as interests and passions. Not only does this reduce people of color to fun quirks that help users get laid, but it’s also deeply disturbing to see these “interests” on the same profiles who refuse to date people of color. .
And as a queer man of color on a predominantly white campus, I experienced that firsthand. It’s not that it was something I wasn’t expecting, but it just doesn’t seem quite real until someone tells you that “you’re cute for a brunette, but you don’t ‘re not really my type”, or that it’s funny to make a joke about the fact that if you fell into a load of white laundry, it would stain. When this happens over and over again, you start to realize that it’s not just one or two people who are the problem, it’s the whole community.
But it goes beyond thinly veiled racist preferences. The NU queer community acts as if being a member of an oppressed group means you cannot contribute to the marginalization of another. Driven by the idea that their experiences mean they understand all types of oppression, gay white college students physically and emotionally occupy spaces that are not their own.
Why, as a white person, are you taking up space in African American and Latin Studies classes, making it more difficult for students of color to enroll? Why, as a white person, do you raise your hands in the breakout rooms, trying to equate your experience with that of people of color?
And yes, it’s easy to cite outside examples and say that this isn’t just a NU-specific problem. Queer people of color have been pushed aside and erased since Europeans began to colonize the rest of the world. But dating apps that let you broadcast racial preferences, the erasing of queer people of color from history and the annual denial of award ceremonies to recognize trans women of color such as Michaela Jaé Rodriguez — who won his first Golden Globe for his work in the FX Networks series Pose This Year Does Not Exempt No One from Maintaining Racist Systems on its College Campus.
In my two years at NU, I’ve met more queer people of color on Twitter and through the Northwestern University Marching Band than I’ve ever met at a campus-sponsored queer event. We end up in these informal spaces – spaces that are implicitly queer – because we can’t trust our white peers to reserve space for us. SESP sophomore Jude Abijah, a student I met through an LGBTQ+ GroupMe, said it well when he said, “White gay men expect us let space for their emotions when they are the ones to be held accountable. Why should I tolerate their racism just because I’m also queer?
I’m sure nothing I’ve written today is new to other gay students of color on this campus and each of them could write several articles about their experiences with racism at NU. If our white peers are to create a truly safe and inclusive queer community, they must begin by understanding and accepting that their passive white liberalism is harmful.
Because if they keep denying their racism, they just make it more visible.
Emilio Cabral is a sophomore at Weinberg. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to publicly respond to this editorial, send a letter to the editor at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all Daily Northwestern staff.