Cabral: Your sexuality doesn’t excuse your racism

Emilio Cabral, Op-Ed Contributor

Content warning: This article contains mentions of homophobic and racial slurs. 

Growing up 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 one hand. Kids in middle school were calling me “b—ner” and “f—got” before I even knew what the words meant. As I got older, I began to count down the days until I would go to college and finally be free. But instead of freedom, at Northwestern, I found a queer community that desperately needs to address the racism that fuels 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 that are a part of them, not just the formal spaces that their people occupy. It doesn’t matter that queer students of color have these spaces if their white peers are racist. And racism among 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 Latinos or Black guys.” Oftentimes, though, it’s more subtle. Instead of listing what they aren’t looking for, they’ll let it be known that they’re seeking partners who are “all-American.” But it doesn’t end 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 that refuse to date people of color. 

And as a queer man of color on an overwhelmingly white campus, I’ve experienced this firsthand. It’s not that it was something I didn’t expect, but it just doesn’t quite feel real until someone tells you that “you’re cute for a brown guy, but you’re not really my type,” or that it’s funny to make a joke about how if you fell into a load of white laundry, it would stain. When it happens again and again, you start to realize that it’s not just one or two people who are the problem — it’s the entire community.

But it goes deeper than thinly veiled racist preferences. The queer community at NU acts as if being a member of an oppressed group means you can’t contribute to the marginalization of another. Driven by the idea that their experiences mean they understand all types of oppression, white queer students physically and emotionally take up spaces that aren’t theirs. 

Why are you, as a white person, taking up space in African American and Latinx studies classes, making it harder for students of color to enroll? Why are you, as a white person, raising your hand in breakout rooms, trying to equate your experience to the experiences of people of color?

And yes, it’s easy to point to outward examples and say this isn’t only a problem specific to NU. Queer people of color have been pushed aside and erased since Europeans started colonizing the rest of the world. But dating apps that allow you to broadcast racial preferences, the erasure of queer people of color from history and the annual refusal of award ceremonies to award trans women of color such as Michaela Jaé Rodriguez —who won her first Golden Globe for her work in the FX Networks series Pose this year —doesn’t absolve anyone of upholding racist systems on their 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 ever have at a campus-sponsored queer event. We find each other in these informal spaces — spaces that are implicitly queer — because we can’t trust our white peers to hold space for us. SESP sophomore Jude Abijah, a student I met through an LGBTQ+ GroupMe, put it best when he said, “White queer folks expect us to hold space for their emotions when they’re the ones who need to be held accountable. Why should I tolerate their racism just because I’m also queer?”

I’m sure that nothing I’ve written today is news to the other queer students of color on this campus and that every one of them could write multiple pieces on their experiences with racism at NU. If our white peers want to create a truly safe and inclusive queer community, they need to start by understanding and accepting that their passive white liberalism is harmful. 

Because if they continue to deny their racism, they just make it easier to see.

Emilio Cabral is a Weinberg sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.