I am a white guy, a straight white guy in fact. I basically won the privilege lottery.
Last weekend, Black Lives Matter staged a protest to delay the start of the Toronto Pride Parade. They presented a list of demands to the parade organizers and the executive director of Pride Toronto signed off on those demands, allowing the protest to come to an end and the parade to begin.
I am not black, the only time I could even remotely claim to be a person of colour is during the summer when I don’t use enough sunblock. I am a straight cis-gendered man. For those not familiar with the lingo, ‘cis’ means that I identify my gender with the biological sex I was born as. I am not trans, gay or queer in my perception of or identification with my gender and sexual orientation. I don’t live in Toronto, although I did eight years ago.
So what business do I have commenting on a Black Lives Matter protest at a Pride Parade.
Except, that I think black lives do matter. Obviously all lives matter, but that is not the point here. The purpose of the protest and the list of demands at the parade was to make change, to make space for a group of people who don’t feel they are being heard or respected. The people in this case are black and place themselves somewhere on the gender and/or sexual orientation spectrum other than cis-hetrosexual. They decided to make a stand.
I am not qualified to judge whether or not black people in Toronto are routinely being ignored and shut out by other members of the queer community in that city or in other cities since I am not a member of either community. I do know that the group presented a list of demands, the director of the organization responsible for the parade consented to those demands and the next day started backing away from that agreement. From the outside it looks like Pride Toronto is demonstrating that they don’t listen to the voices of people of colour. That is not a good way to build trust.
Black Lives Matter is a grassroots organization and they tend towards more radical actions to make their voices heard. They don’t necessarily represent all black people or other people of colour. Likewise Pride Toronto is an organization that doesn’t necessarily represent the opinions or voices of all Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans*, Queer and two-spirited peoples.
In a world where black men – two this week alone (Alton Sterling & Philando Castile) in the United States – are shot by police in situations where the victim is seemingly not a threat, it is easy to see why people of colour don’t feel safe in the presence of police.
I am going to pause here to say WTF? I know there are several hundred million people living in the US and lots of people get killed every week as a result of gun violence in that country, but these two shootings, caught in whole or in part on video, look like murder and executions to me. I am not qualified to act as a judge and those are big accusations to make. When two cops have a guy pinned to the ground and shoot him 5 – 6 times while he is restrained I don’t know what to call it other than an execution. When a cop shoots a guy – again multiple times – while he is reaching for his license and registration as requested, that looks like murder to me.
Obviously not all police are likely to shoot a black person. Most police officers are probably not racists, although I suspect there are some police forces with higher concentrations of racists. There are however several racist assumptions and structures inherent in policing.
Racial profiling is real. Racial bias is real. I know that I have a media-fuelled, built-in assumption that a young black man in a hoodie is potentially dangerous. It is probably due to the sheer number of Law & Order episodes I have seen in my lifetime. Those thoughts often float through my brain as a result of seeing an unknown young black man coming towards me on the sidewalk. I don’t believe it to be true and I generally don’t have that thought about young white men. This is a totally unfair and illogical assumption and perception and yet it exists in my head, buried wherever fear lives in my brain.
If I have this unfounded and ridiculous, biased perception that I am aware of and work to overcome, I can see how the same bias in police officers would lead to more black men being arrested and shot.
Thoughts from a straight white guy on Black Lives Matter, Pride Toronto & the police killing of black men in the US.Click To Tweet
In this world, where black men are killed with impunity and where people of colour are routinely stopped by police and carded, I think sit-in protests to demand safer spaces and the voices of people of colour be heard within the LGBTQ2 community are totally necessary. I also think that mass protests against police shootings of men who were reaching for their wallets are also not only acceptable, they are essential.
We have a problem of racism in society. People of colour suffer as a result. We as a society, and specifically my fellow white folks, need to do better. We need to make every effort to recognize our racial biases, the systemic racism that comes from those biases, and change them. If the thought of doing that work or the idea of a group of black people staging a protest at a parade makes you uncomfortable, that is all more reason for us to do this work – regardless of our sexual orientation.
Black Lives Matter