4 min

Challenging and questioning racism

When you’re a gay white male, it’s not uncommon for other gay white men to try to connect with you through casual racism. Even in the great multicultural capital of Toronto I’m shocked all the time by the kinds of things I hear. It seems as though guys assume that ust because you’re pigmentally challenged, you’re not going to be offended by this kind of stuff.

When I’ve used the internet as a hook-up tool, I’ve found this particularly common. Lots of guys put things in their profiles like “no Asians” or “interested in white guys only” or “looking for European men.” I always found the last one particularly funny because it implies that everyone living in Europe is white which I know is false, having lived in Europe.

When I got messages from guys who posted things like this, I would try to open a dialogue about it. “There are lots of Asians in the world. How do you know you aren’t attracted to any of them?” I would write. The reply was usually something like “Whatever man. I like what I like. See ya.” I eventually gave up, realizing that when someone is looking to get their rocks off, it’s not the best time to initiate a dialogue on race politics.

When I moved to Amsterdam this summer, I thought I’d leave this sort of behaviour behind. After all I was coming to the supremely tolerant, open-minded land of gay equality, legal prostitution, and being able to buy hash from the corner store. Surely people here would be as open-minded about race as they are about gays. Turns out I was wrong.

Douglas and I met online and set up a date at his place. We sat in his living room for a beer and some casual pre-shag conversation. “So why did you decide to move to this fucked-up country?” he asked. Kind of a strong opener, I thought. I talked about the various projects I was working on, but then had to ask why exactly he thought the Netherlands was so fucked up. “The government here have lost their minds,” he said. “They’re letting way too much shit into this country. Too many Turks and too many Moroccans.”

Exactly how am I supposed to respond to this? I asked him to clarify what he meant. In the last several decades there has been a large upswing in immigration to the Netherlands from a number of countries, Turkey and Morocco among them. Like most wealthy Western countries, the Netherlands has seen declining birth rates among its younger generation who are much more interested in furthering their careers and enjoying their lives than being saddled with childcare responsibilities.

As a result the country needs immigrants to contribute to their workforce and social safety net, lest the whole system collapse. The problem, as Douglas sees it, is that the government is letting “the wrong kind of people in.” According to him, Moroccans are fundamentally bad people who are dishonest, lazy and dangerous, and Turks are only marginally better. As he’s going through his diatribe, I’m torn between racing for the door and confronting him about the things he’s saying, the whole time thinking it’s pretty rich for someone from the Netherlands (a country with a particularly brutal history of colonization and slave trading) to be afraid of immigrants.

I ended up opting to race for the door, mumbling something about feeling like my gonorrhea was coming back. As it turns out, Douglas is not alone in his opinions. As I’ve met more queers here, it turns out there is a particularly strong dislike for these two ethnic groups in this community. Part of their justification comes from a number of recent anti-gay attacks perpetrated by young Muslim men, including some in crowded spaces and in broad daylight. Members of the Dutch Parliament have called for them to be deported, in part because they fear the negative press will hurt gay tourism.

Statistics on gaybashings are tough to track since a lot of attacks go unreported. Although there has been an increase in the number of attacks in recent years, this may simply be because more attacks are being reported. What is definitely clear is that the queer community in Amsterdam believes that there is more anti-gay violence than there used to be, and many feel that Muslims are to blame.

I understand where this kind of fear comes from, and I have my own experiences of casual racism every time I read about African American preachers “speaking out against the sin of homosexuality” or anti-gay violence perpetrated by Sikh youth in Vancouver. I know how easy and automatic it can be to jump to these sorts of conclusions, but I also know that it’s something we need to question. One of the big problems in the discussion of conflicts between the queer community and different ethnic communities is the implication that they are two separate communities. There are queers of all ethnicities; however, the homophobia in their own communities and the racism in the queer community can make it difficult if not impossible for them to come out.

There’s no simple answer to this problem, but there are some things we can do as a community to help. Doing outreach to queer youth of visible minorities and creating a dialogue on race within the queer community are a good start. On a personal level, when you encounter racism within the queer community, question it. If a drag queen tells a particularly racist joke at a bar, complain to the management. If you have an online profile, think for a second before you specify that you don’t like an entire ethnic group, and never assume you won’t like having sex with someone just because they are a member of a visible minority. You may find yourself having some unexpectedly hot encounters with partners you’d never considered before. And there’s nothing that brings people together better than good sex.