One Saturday night during Winter Quarter at Northwestern, the Northwestern chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) hosted an event at an off-campus house. Aside from being a fundraiser, the party was for those of us who were unable to craft a good enough argument as to why we should torture ourselves by participating in Northwestern’s Dance Marathon (DM). The party was entitled, “DJuke Marathon” and in the description it read, “The D is silent” which I found incredibly clever because: 1) I jump at any opportunity to mock DM, and 2) that was one of the few lines from Django Unchained which made me actually laugh and not chuckle out of extreme discomfort…
For the majority of the event, I hung out with one of my closest buddies in his room, sipped on some Jameson Irish Whiskey and coke, all the while enjoying musical (re)creations like Kaytranada’s remix of Beyonce’s “Party” featuring Andre 300. And, when we finally did venture downstairs into the party, we had an enjoyable time: not too crowded, good music, (seemingly) good people, and good djuking (the D is silent…).
It was an enjoyable event, until I heard someone yell, “NIGGA, YOU GAY!”
Let me be clear: I heard a person many (and I mean MANY) are friends with at Northwestern yell, “NIGGA, YOU GAY!” to a friend of mine while he was dancing at the party…and I am remembering it today, still just as disillusioned as I was at that very moment.
“NIGGA, YOU GAY!” said this young black man to this fellow who he was not friends with, a fellow he did not like. My buddy and I, taken aback and feeling out-of-place, looked around to see if anyone else noticed…seems like we were the only ones, as this young man and his friends carried on merrily doing whatever they were doing (he, himself, was on the wall getting worked by some girl who I guess is cool with anti-gay epithets). All I could see were smiles, laughter, lust, happiness…you would think we were celebrating the death of racism. Yet, I had just heard an epithet full of violence, an epithet which socially polices how bodies should act, an epithet which marks out subversive acts as uncool/weird/unacceptable/inferior (regardless of whether one is gay or not, whatever that means). And those around us continued on as if we had not just witnessed a violent act.
At that moment - “NIGGA, YOU GAY!” - folks who would call themselves progressive or would say they are active in the fight for equality on Northwestern’s campus were complicit in an explicitly anti-gay act. These are my words to each of them: To “fight” for (racial) equality and diversity in the public visibility of daylight and to be complicit in such identity-based hatred behind the veil of nighttime - literally and metaphorically - makes you a hypocritical coward. You are the company which you keep.
So I ask now: How willing are we to invest in the fight for equality by making such violent acts speakable, contesting them, and dealing with the challenges that follow such contestations? The fight for equality isn’t a part-time job…it is a continuous and lifelong project.
[Note: This young man who yelled, “NIGGA, YOU GAY!” was not a member of NSBE. I in no way intend to fault members of NSBE any more than I implicate myself and my inability to confront this young man. I might have said something to this young man had I not been jumped at a party less than a year ago for intervening in a similar situation in which a friend of mine was being grabbed repeatedly by strangers. As rumor has it, that group of guys jumped me because I’m gay (again, whatever that means)…but that’s a story for another post.]