Over Tuesday, Sept. 20, and Wednesday, Sept. 21, the world changed for me. Lying in my bed in the relative safety of my New Orleans apartment, I watched my home town become something entirely different than the place I thought it was. But this shift was not because something new had come to Charlotte; no, it was because something very old had finally broken to the surface.
Horrible darkness gripped my heart as I watched Facebook Live videos of my dear childhood friends taking part in protests that became riots. I saw my friends get tear-gassed. I saw them shot by rubber bullets. I saw them run from police officers in full riot gear while the only meager protection my loved ones had was their dark skin.
I’ve heard different accounts of how the riots started. Police authorities claim that it was the protestors who became violent. Protesters who were present insist that the gathering was peaceful until police officers began to use force. Whatever the trigger, nothing changes the fact of the violence that occurred in Charlotte on those two nights after the shooting death of Keith LaMont Scott by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer. The question—why?—is not a question of the immediate trigger, but rather the long-term, systemic issues that have for decades, even centuries, led up to this moment in our town.
As LGBTQ people and allies, the readers of qnotes have some notion of systemic injustice. I have personally covered developments in the fight against HB2, North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” that discriminates against transgender people. I have also read much of the NC legislature’s other discriminatory rhetoric, including a recent voter-ID bill that the Supreme Court of the U.S. struck down because it “target[s] African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Both communities, LGBTQ and people of color (POC), have first-hand experience of legal discrimination in the very recent past or present of North Carolina.
Both LGBTQ and POC know what it is to be openly regarded as less-than, as unworthy of basic rights like voting and taking a pee.
This is not to mention that many people who identify as LGBTQ are also POC.
Our communities are inextricably linked. One of the friends whose protest videos I watched identifies as a gay black man. Another is a black LGBTQ ally. As I watched their fight for justice in the case of Keith Scott and so many others, I wondered how the white LGBTQ community would react to this horrific scenario. I wondered how I would, if I was a little less aware of my own privilege.
Wednesday night, full of passionate tension, I got into a discussion on Facebook about privilege with a white “friend” with whom I went to high school. He got very defensive when I implied that he was privileged, and that reaction made me reflect.
“Privilege isn’t something to be ashamed of,” I wrote to him. “It is something to be used.”
I, myself, am highly privileged. Despite my Latinx roots, I look very white. Despite my pansexual identification, it happens that I date mostly cisgender men. I “pass” as white and straight on a daily basis, and because of that I have not dealt with the same discriminatory treatment, the same blatant hatred that so many LGBTQ and POC have to face on a daily basis.
Because I acknowledge my privilege, I am all the more determined to use it.
There are patterns of discrimination in this state and in this nation. There is discrimination everywhere in the world, of different types. But if we identify the patterns specific to our daily lives, we have to admit: the U.S. system of “justice” and “equality” excludes minorities. In a day and age where the North Carolina state legislature can pass two bills that blatantly discriminate against LGBTQ and POC citizens respectively, We the Privileged have to be willing to stand up.
I will stand. I will fight. I will use my voice and my privilege to call out injustice as I see it. I will participate in conversations with those of different views than I have. I will attend events and demonstrations for causes I believe in. In this time of conflict, passive acceptance is no longer an option. I urge you, the readers of qnotes, to do some thinking about where you stand in terms of privilege and in terms of activism. People of color need our support, just as we have needed and received theirs in our own causes.
Open the dialogue. Listen and learn. Take a stand.