The comedian is on stage
Pisstaking for a wage
The critics think he’s great
But the laughter turns to hate
– Lyrics from Mickey Mouse is Dead by Subhumans (UK)
I was somewhat dumbfounded as I read about the recent and still ongoing controversy of the blackface comedian who was scheduled to perform at the Portland Eagle. Such a performance seems so self-evidently wrong that I was and remain confounded that there could be any controversy surrounding them.
That said, I’m embarrassed to admit that as I read it, my first reaction was to think that there was nothing for me to do about. After all, what could I do to change the situation? Sure, I could very easily add my name to the list of commenters to specific blog posts and relay the standard “racism is abhorrent and unacceptable in our community,” but such a response seemed both obvious and not particularly productive.
After all, we live in a world that in some ways seems endlessly full of tragedy. It is very easy to be overwhelmed with the sheer volume of different injustices and problems. Unfortunately, the standard response in our culture today seems to do little more than click a link a link for an online petition or perhaps send a short tweet relaying how sad a situation is. Such a response to any particular situation strikes me as pernicious because it is typically not rooted in addressing the actual problem. Instead it is rooted in making the person writing or clicking feel better about themselves because they’ve “done something.”
So it was when I read about the Portland Eagle. Why bother to say or write anything? Clearly the situation is so beyond the bounds of reason and taste in our community that no one, certainly no one who I would believe to be a reasonable person, would on the face of it support intolerance on any level.
Thankfully, there are people (Mollena, Master Obsidian, slave namaste, etc.) who did take notice of this situation and did see the importance of talking about it. Not only that, they took the time to explain that while it is well and good that we want to believe that our Leather and BDSM communities might somehow be beyond these sorts of issues, they exist within our communities just as surely as the exist in the institutions and traditions of the larger vanilla world. They also took the time to point out that it was important to them to know that others saw the problem and would speak out that it was wrong. Most meaningfully, they took the time to point out that the spaces we share no longer felt like safe spaces for them to simply exist as who they are.
Having given the matter some thought, I realize now that I was wrong to say nothing or assume that I could do nothing. I was wrong because not only were some of the people in the community who I love saying that they were hurting, I was wrong because what seems so obvious to me (discrimination being wholly unacceptable) was naïve. I remain saddened that so many people would attempt to defend in the indefensible. A rising tide may lift all boats, but draining the levee sinks us all. When a constituency in our community sounds the alarm and says there is a problem, we have an obligation to openly listen to the problem.
To hear the concerns of others and respond with the notion that they need to lighten up isn’t helpful or constructive, it is what I can only describe as a dick move. It says to them that not only is the situation they are describing marginal; it says that they are marginal as well. I cannot help but imagine that if the alarm were raised that a certain person were using the venues where we gather to be ourselves as places to shop for victims to kidnap and murder, the response would have been swift and active. Surely we would all need to protect ourselves and our friends from such a threat. I think in the context of our community, the actions of defending hate speech have the same effect. If our communities are places that are unsafe then people will disappear. The effect of losing people because of intolerance or murder is the same. We lose the talents and friendships of those who can enrich our lives.
I also recognize that I was wrong to believe that I had no particular obligation to speak out because it wouldn’t matter. Being silent about a problem actually says several things. It is an affirmative way of saying that one find finds the status quo acceptable. More than that, it says fairly directly that one has no intention of putting forth any work or thought to changing a situation.
I’m tired of being silent. It is wrong to allow racism in our community, and it is wrong suggest that those who are offended by it are the ones who need to change. I believe that each and every one of us has an obligation to each other to keep our spaces and our communities safe. Without this safety, we lose the ability to be ourselves and undermine the reason for the community to exist in the first place.