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Black pride, non-black allies

19 Jul 2017

A couple weekends ago, I spent my Saturday at London Pride and my Sunday at UK Black Pride. UK Black Pride’s mission statement is to promote “unity and cooperation among all black people of African, Asian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern and Latin American descent, as well as their friends and families, who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender”.

Just like Pride exists because society is engineered for heterosexual people, Black Pride is important because lots of queer spaces are overwhelmingly white, with minimal inclusion or representation of people of colour (PoC). Black Pride doesn’t aim to segregate. Instead, it gives queer people of colour a safe space to come together and celebrate their intersectional identities.

“When you’re a member of two or more minority groups, it can be very hard to find places where all aspects of your identity feel recognised and celebrated.”

When you’re a member of two or more minority groups, it can be very hard to find places where all aspects of your identity feel recognised and celebrated. Lots of my queer friends of colour struggle to feel like they fit in at mainstream Pride events. A few examples of racism within LGBT+ culture include blackface being sadly all too common in drag, the huge number of online dating profiles which express outright racial prejudices, the Islamophobia aimed at queer Muslims, the whitewashing of LGBT+ history, and the othering of black bodies.

Pride itself is also hugely commercialised, with extortionate fees being required to march, music performed by mostly white artists, and a large police presence which many black people find uncomfortable due to the systematic racism embedded in the police.

These negative experiences suffered by queer PoC explain why safe spaces are so important. Black Pride was, for me, much more enjoyable than the mainstream Pride event the day before. It was refreshing to be surrounded by so many queer black and brown people – people who are incredibly underrepresented on the “gay scene” normally.

“Allies have an important role to play when supporting a marginalised community”

Black Pride is not a racially exclusive event – non-black allies are welcomed. I took my white girlfriend along and we had a really lovely day with black, brown and white friends. Allies have an important role to play when supporting a marginalised community, because they can use their power to advocate on behalf of people who don’t have as loud a voice in society. The contrast to that is people attending events as allies can take up too much space and expect too much attention, and potentially ruin the experience of the people the event is for, whether consciously or not. If you aren’t black and attending an event aimed at black people, it’s important to think carefully about how you can be a good ally. With that in mind, here are some tips for non-black people attending a Black Pride event:

1. Know that it’s a black event.

This might sound ludicrous, but I managed to interact with several people at Black Pride who didn’t seem to know it was Black Pride. A lot of white people especially are so used to being constantly centred that they don’t even notice when an event is specifically aimed at a different group. Black Pride exists because mainstream Pride events and LGBT+ spaces are so often excluding of queer black bodies. Black Pride is an opportunity for queer black people to be their authentic selves without having to conform to the whitewashed ideals of the more visible white LBGT+ community. It’s an event which allows queer black people to explore, celebrate and represent their identities – it’s not just one more excuse for a party.

“Be a good ally by prioritising the black and brown people who are attending”

2. Prioritise black bodies.

Be a good ally by prioritising the black people who are attending. It’s their space and you’re a guest. Be polite, be respectful. Don’t be the cis white guy I had to queue next to who tried to scold a black women for cutting in line. Wait your turn like black people have to every other day of the year.

3. Don’t fetishise.

Yes, queer black people are so very gorgeous. But nobody is performing for you. Do NOT touch people without their permission. Do NOT grind on people while they’re dancing with their mates. Do NOT assume anyone who’s there is remotely interested in you.

4. Check your friends.

If you’re a group of non-black people, and you’re attending a Black Pride event without a single black person with you, you might want to consider why. How many PoC can you count among your friendship group? If you’re struggling with that question, the answer isn’t to go make yourself a token black friend to prove how open you are. Do some serious thinking about why it is your entire friendship group is this way, and if it’s okay for you to go to a black space if you haven’t been specifically invited by a black person.

5. Ask how to help. 

Get in touch with the organisers, and see if there’s anything you can do before/on/after the day to help out. Maybe that means you’ll have a nice day in the sun, then help pick up litter at the end of the day. Remember not to be pushy though – send a message and wait for a reply. You’re not necessarily top of an organiser’s list, and they may well not need any help.

“Photos should be representative of the community the event is for”

6. Don’t make the day about you

If you post a picture of you and your non-black friends in attendance with #BlackPride underneath, please ask yourself why do you want people to know that you were there? Are you boasting about how diverse/tolerant/alternative you are? Photos should be representative of the community the event is for. If you go and enjoy yourself, that’s nice for you – but don’t use that to score brownie points in your own social circle.

7. Don’t take photos with the police. 

Donning a fluorescent flower garland does not make you an ally. The police are keen to use events like Black Pride to demonstrate that they’re progressive and unprejudiced. That’s simply not true. The police continue to be routinely racist against black people, and the black people attending Black Pride are six times more likely to be stopped and searched than you. So don’t help sanitise the police by encouraging their self-promotion. Remain critical and questioning.