Recently, I attended a transformative event that flawlessly facilitated a conversation surrounding the shift towards the “New American Majority,” a majority rich in culture and social and economic diversity. Who is the New American Majority? People of color (POC), queer people, trans people, and progressives.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) in Washington, D.C hosted “Decoded – Power, Politics, and Pop Culture”. Local power couple Aisha Moodie-Mills and Danielle Moodie-Mills facilitated the panel discussion. They are also the hosts of Politini, a weekly talk show serving politics and pop culture with a twist. Panelists included NBA player Jason Collins, transgender activist and founder of Trans *H4ck, Dr. Kortney Ziegler, and former NFL Player Wade Davis. Also on the panel were current WNBA Player Layshia Clarendon, Editor-in-Chief of Global Grind and Political Director to Russell Simmons, Michael Skolnik, Chief of Staff for Congresswoman Chaka Fattah, Maisha Leek, and the producer of the satirical comedy Dear White People, Lena Waithe.
The evening revved up with a question addressing the stereotype of homophobia within the black community and the issue of LGBTQ people of color living on the down low. The panel was asked to juxtapose those assumptions and stereotypes against their lived reality and narrative. In a salon style conversation, Davis took the microphone first explaining how these stereotypes are only dangerous when they are believed. He went on to explain that it’s more important to celebrate LGBTQ POC who are living out and proud, and also celebrate the allies who are dispelling the stereotypes.
Collins shared his story about the importance of controlling your narrative by telling your own story. When he came out, he controlled the space in which he told his story by refusing the countless offers to film his story into a documentary.
For Clarendon, living out and proud is part of her brand. She believes that there would not be an opportunity to separate who she was from what she did.
While on the subject of allies, Leek mentioned the pain caused by the deafening silence and lack of support from the white LGBTQ community in tragic events such as the murders of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. This conversation inevitably called out the huge pink elephant in the room, which was the years of silence and lack of support for the POC from the Human Rights Campaign. She went on to say that HRC has understood the error of their ways and have committed to new and solidified inclusionary practices.
Dr. Ziegler shared his pain in the truth that as much as the white LGBTQ community does not prioritize the needs of the black LGBTQ community, the black lesbian, bisexual, and gay communities do not give space for the needs of the black transgender community. His solution was to give serious attention and effort to being better allies, to each other, within our own community.
The moderators described how by living and loving out loud they have become “possibility models”. It is in the living of their truths that they encourage and teach others that it is okay for them to do the same. Collins gave the example of how he was a possibility model during his coming out. It was important for him to tell his story in a classy and dignified manner that shared his story of being a gay black man. Skolnik praised the panel for being role models in helping the world dream and be free simply by them living their truth.
There was not a more exciting moment in that room than when our hosts played a clip of the hugely anticipated satirical comedy, Dear White People. Waithe spoke of how Dr. Cosby, specifically, A Different World changed the direction of her life and showed her that the world was larger than her backyard. The images of main characters like Freddie, Kim, Whitley, and Dwyane Wayne being young, black, and brilliant helped shape her future. To her, it wasn’t just a television show. It shaped her passion for meaningful storytelling.
Her frustration of other filmmakers was clear when she spoke about the importance of using ones platform to shape positive images of POC and specifically queer POC.
Dear White People, written and directed by Justin Simien, is a movie about the lives of four black students at an Ivy League college converging after controversy breaks out due to the ill-conceived theme of the campus humor magazine’s annual Halloween party. This movie will start conversations and hopes to be a catalyst for change. The movie is also about visibility for LGBTQ people that have often been lacking in other black films. It’s important to tell the stories of queer POC because it is no longer acceptable to pretend that this community doesn’t exist.
In speaking about the influence of hip-hop music and its role in shifting conversations, Skolnik shared that it is not just hip-hop that is misogynistic and homophobic. According to him, the blame should not be solely on the hip-hop community. However, he did share that in their day-to-day business, he and Russell Simmons hold young men and women accountable to the importance of their platform and their responsibility to use it in a way that honors all.
Skolnik made it clear that he is not interested in a post-racial society, but a post-racist society.
“Instead of waging a war on sagging pants, a practice that originated in the prison industrial complex, wage a war on the systematic racism that contributes to the millions of brown and black people being disproportionately locked up,” said Skolnik.
This conversation could not end without talking about the recent events in Ferguson, MO and the role of queer people of color, social media, and social justice hashtags. Waithe shared the words of Cicely Tyson: “My generation forgot to give your generation a desire and hunger to go out into the streets and fight for what was right.”
Waithe then made a comparison of Trayvon Martin being the Emmett Till of this generation. She urged everyone to get in touch with the activism within them and come out from behind the computer and get involved in social justice causes.
That call to action was juxtaposed by Dr. Ziegler who explained that Ferguson was a perfect example of both online and boots on the ground action working together to create a powerful example of activism. His reference to Feminista Jones and the #NMOS14 movement that went international made the room erupt in praise for her role in spreading awareness on what was really happening in Ferguson.
“For various reasons, everyone can’t show up on the ground, but with hashtag and online activism, everyone can do their part,” said Ziegler. Also noted was that many of the people on twitter and on the ground who have been prominent in Ferguson were queer POC.
The Decoded event was a declaration of the New American Majority taking its rightful place at the head table of pop culture, politics, and power. What was the takeaway? Be visible, be fabulous, be authentic, be an ally, speak your truth, require more, and show up!