The UK Black Pride co-founder and DIVA columnist on why being yourself isn’t the same within all LGBTQI spaces
Pride month always brings with it conflicting feelings. From brands amplifying their solidarity to the kaleidoscopic display of personalities, the noise is certainly something to feel joyous about. At the same time, it’s a reminder that our understanding of what makes someone proud comes from a narrow idea of what it means to be LGBTQI in a predominantly white western world. Pride month is, for many, a time in which they see, all around them, displays of queerness or otherness that are far closer to the norm than they are. It can be a reminder that pride and safety are not the same and one often comes at the expense of the other.
At UK Black Pride, we have to continually consider the language we use and the questions we ask of our community. What does it even mean to be proud? There’s a strong connection between the words “out” and “proud” and an explicit suggestion that to be proud is to be out. Those of us from marginalised communities know that isn’t true.
We’re not all fighting the same fight. Sure, we are part of a collective movement, but long ago it sprouted tentacles and began to slide off indifferent, often conflicting directions. Marriage equality is good, but does not prevent our Black trans siblings from winding up dead in hotel rooms. Coming out in the workplace is good, if you can get a job in the first place.
The decision to live as who we are is daring and brave. But when businesses take down their Pride flags, and as people slot back into their quotidian routines, are we safe to be ourselves so loudly? Not often.This is not to say that we shouldn’t be working for a world all of us deserve to live in, rather if we stick to the limited demonstrations of Pride as we know it, we’ll continue to ignore the realities of many within our community. We need to make space in our movements and language to account for people who may always, because definitions are limiting, fall just outside what’s deemed socially normal.
Angela Davis once said, “The importance of doing activist work is precisely because it allows you to give back and to consider yourself not as a single individual, but part of an ongoing historical movement”,and it’s something I reflect on often.When we speak of allyship, of asking those in different positions to listen and act accordingly, we can forget that allyship is also needed withinthecommunity. So much of the violence and discrimination we experience as queer Black people comes from within the LGBTQI community. Many applaud when Black people and people of colour are themselves, when that self aligns with who they think we should be, but don’t act in our interests when it really matters. When lives are on the line.
There is something in my spirit that moves me to action. I am the descendant of warrior women. My heart beats at my intersections, the places where Black meets queer meets mother meets woman-lover. I am an activist because I feel compelled to be one. Which is to say, so many people are being themselves because they have no choice: pointing to them as an example of “proud” means nothing if you can’t guarantee their safety.
“What does it feel like to run free and not be tethered to other people’s dreams for you?” is a better place to begin a definition of Pride. The questions we ask of each other need more space: to breathe, to cry, to laugh, to share. Being you is not automatically a form of activism or protest; it is always an expression of your humanity, of your essence.
However you decide to express yourself, I will fight for you. I will pick you up when you’ve fallen and hug you hard when you’ve won. I will fight for a future that you deserve to live in, a future that can bear your brightness.
Above all else, I will love you and that is an activism we can be proud of.
This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of DIVA, available to buy via the links below. Find out more about UK Black Pride at ukblackpride.org.uk.
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