Mom. Dad. I have something I need to tell you. For a while I’ve struggled with how I would break the news to you. After all, there are plenty of social taboos and myths surrounding what I’m about to say. But, after much deliberation, I don’t think there is reason for me to be anything other than direct with you.
Sure, you’re probably a little confused. Perhaps you’re wondering why I would want to talk about something so seemingly obvious especially given the paleness of my skin. However, we’ve never talked about what it actually means to be white. As a child, we’d talked about the difference between good and bad, the birds and the bees yet somehow, we had managed to overlook something as potent as whiteness.
Do you remember how weird the conversation about the birds and the bees was? I mean, the way you taught it to me left so much out of the conversation. Who would have ever guessed a bird could love a bird or a bee could love a bee? Yes, coming out as gay was difficult. I had to release the homophobia in my heart as well as the fear that you would peg me as one of the many hyper-sexualized, drug-addicted party boy stereotypes we’re constantly fed through the media and homophobic institutions. The ones that fail to recognize the humanity of gay men and LGBTQ communities at large.
Coming out as white is significant because it demonstrates the way the “coming out process” is never really over. Even if I were still only talking about my sexuality, coming out is a cycle that never ends because there will always be someone who may not know my identity and I may choose to verbally confirm or deny it. I choose to repeatedly come out. So today is no different. It is a reminder of what it means for me to come out.
My decision to come out today is rooted in a fear of something not given the same platform as gay rights today. We must consider those who are allowed to speak for mainstream gay rights. White, bourgeois, gays and lesbians. For me, coming out as gay and coming out as white aren’t mutually exclusive acts as they are commonly thought of. I am a white gay man. While most of my other white gay brothers (and sisters) will dismiss their whiteness and focus solely on their oppressed identity (ies), I simply cannot remain silent on the potency of my whiteness anymore. I refuse to be a victim to my homosexuality while being a perpetrator of my whiteness.
Some of the reasons I felt the need to come out as gay were: 1) a desire to be honest and true about who I am (for myself) 2) to let people around me who may be struggling with their identity know it is okay to be transparent and honest about who they are 3) to end the silence and 4) to fight for change. Similarly, my decision to come out as white has similar meaning. One of the greatest privileges whiteness possesses in America is the inability to name itself. As white people, we don’t have to name our racial identity unless we want to but all non-white persons should (in the eyes of the state). In the same way homophobia required my silence to function without interruption, so too does white supremacy.
As my parents, I hope you’ll understand how important this decision is for me. I can’t sit at the dinner table anymore and listen to you talk about “those people” in a demeaning manner that, yet again, re-inscribes whiteness as the center. I can’t sit by as you talk about throwing people into jail for crimes they haven’t even been proven guilty of; knowing the prison-industrial complex is disproportionately targeting people of color, queers, and queer people of color. I don’t want to hear about the significance of “safety” in our community knowing that the state is surveillancing communities of color, even as you read this letter. Furthermore, I want us to stop the thing that white people have gotten so good at: whispering. Coming out as white is a declaration to live my politics publicly. Who better to begin my public declaration with then my family?
I can’t sit back and watch you roll your eyes when the news finally brings up “Driving While Black” (despite its existence for decades) and it is dismissed as some mythical excuse people of color use to avoid taking responsibility. Absolutely not. If that’s what you think, perhaps you would have liked to have been in the car when my friend was harassed by Chicago Police Department on the hood of his car, his vehicle searched and his spirit demeaned by their verbal assaults, all for running a red light. Even this scenario cannot capture the essence of white supremacy’s destructive reign. It fails to acknowledge family life, educational disparities, interpersonal micro-aggressions and a seemingly never-ending list.
You see, I have to come out to you today. Coming out (as white) is me communicating I’m ready to take responsibility for whatever my identity means, to myself, to my communities and to society.
It means, I will be unapologetic in its meaning. I will not ignore the racist undertones of anyone close to me, including you two, simply because it’s uncomfortable to discuss. Because guess what? So was talking about any of my relationships in the many heterosexist and/or hetero-normative spaces I existed within, the last family party for example. It means, I will discuss my whiteness aggressively in the presence of other white folks and be conscious of how it is operating as often as possible. To forget or willingly walk away from it is an exercise in its very privilege. It means I will admit when I’ve done or said something racist. Just because I am conscious of my whiteness does not excuse me from the impact of my identity.
Some people say coming out as gay creates the potential for a space someone else can feel a little safer in. If that’s true, I hope my coming out as white will encourage other folks to come out as well. My coming out acknowledges the importance of decolonizing our minds of white supremacy. However, it cannot stop there because white supremacy functions on micro and macro levels. Just because I, as an individual, may be conscious of the relationship I have to whiteness and white supremacy, it does not mean the institutions that run our country (a country predicated on white supremacy) stop functioning. You’ve seen the pictures of those “forefathers”, haven’t you? The architects of our governmental structure? White as the snow that’s beginning to fall this brisk December. And they wore wigs, but we’ll talk about ol’ George, Tom and Ben as drag queens another time.
So I hope you’ll support my decision to come out. I hope your support comes with the openness and sensitivity to learn something that may be foreign to you, or all too familiar. I hope you’ll stop and think before asking me if I’m suffering from internalized self-hatred because I acknowledge the reality and impact of white supremacy. Again, my identities do not exist in vacuums separate from one another. Being queer does not negate my white privilege. I love myself too much to sit back and watch as a system affords me privileges and rights that are not mine. Privileges and rights that come at the expense of others because no, I did not “earn” or “work hard” for them. My whiteness stole them. I also hope you’ll make the decision to come out.
If you walk away from this letter with nothing other than an eye roll or dismissive sentiment, please remember: a failure to acknowledge your white privilege is your own implicit confession to your belief in white supremacy.