I am Ken Mejia-Beal, a proud member of the LGBT community, a black man, and an American citizen.
Although I am a citizen, America has not shown me the kind of love that others might expect. My life, and the life of my people, has been one of constant struggle. I read article after article about the life of ‘everyday Americans’.
These articles make me wonder, am I not an everyday American?
The answer to that question is complex. You see, I am an everyday American, but I’ve had an extraordinary journey. I want to take you on that journey with me monthly in a new series on DemWritePress: Chronicles of an Outsider.
The Stonewall riots (also called the Stonewall Rebellion) started in the early morning of June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. This was a time when police raids on gay bars were commonplace. On that day, however, the crowd fought back. They overturned police wagons, slashed tires, and threw beer cans at the officers. The leaders of these riots, who are usually forgotten, were Sylvia Riveria and Marsha P. Johnson, two self-proclaimed “Street Queens of Color”.
In the years since, the month of June lost the Street Queens of Color, and with them an aspect of the activism. Replacing the marching, protesting, and raised fists are now mostly white, muscular men dancing through the streets to the hottest club remix of some top 40 radio hit.
To make things worse, corporations throw branded rainbow flags, clothing, and support everywhere for the month of June, but ignore the queer community throughout the rest of the year. Each June, politicians come out of the woodwork to make promises and connect with the LGBT+ community, but their enthusiasm and conviction dwindle by fall.
This year, the folks in Hillary shirts exclaimed “If she had won, life would be better.” While this truth is not lost on me, as a man of color, regardless of who won, I would still be an activist. This was the divide in Pride Month 2018. People that are not of color haven’t had to fight until now.
The voices which have been fighting for social reform in our prison system, advocating for HIV outreach in the black and brown communities, and educating our communities about our struggles have been washed away by the voices of angry white men whose main concern is denouncing Trump.
I wish that my community could rally around each other a little better in these times when we need each other. The LGBT+ community spans EVERY demographic. We are everywhere, and we all need a platform. Hopefully, next year more of our voices are included.
I’d now like to shift gears and broaden our examination of current human rights abuses in America.
Children at Our Border
The Trump administration has stepped up their reign of terror on Mexican and Central American asylum-seekers at the border. In June, the “zero tolerance” policy kicked into overdrive and tore away thousands of children from their parents. This naked cruelty is clearly meant to deter those seeking asylum from gang violence, extreme poverty, rape, and murder.
The US government currently cannot account for 1500 of these children.
I couldn’t help but remember that, during the time that slavery was legal and widespread in the US, children were also separated from their parents.
As I began speaking out about this issue, something quite surprising began to happen. Black people began to get angry with me. The first incident was a black man sending a very long and nasty email to me about speaking out on the subject. I was a little surprised. I thought it had to be a fluke, but it kept happening.
Day after day, black people were messaging me, showing an angered indifference to the border crisis because they believed that problems in the black community should take precedence. I asked other black writer friends if they were seeing the same thing, and they said they were indeed experiencing the same blowback.
While trying to process this, I heard Rachel Campos-Duffy (former reality TV star, current Fox News talking head) say that she “spoke to African Americans who say, ‘Gosh, the conditions of the detention centers are better than some of the projects that I grew up in.’”
The purpose of this talking point hit me like a ton of bricks. The Trump administration is doing this to turn black and brown people against one another. This is called ‘crab in the barrel syndrome’ – the notion that, if I can’t have it, neither can you.
Due to the treatment that black Americans have endured in this country, there exists a small percentage of us which has developed apathy for others and their plights. As this administration keeps lying, claiming that illegal immigrants are taking jobs and taking things that do not belong to them, it can cause black people in particular to turn against immigrants as well.
Why? It kind of goes back to something that President Lyndon Johnson said. “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
If Trump and the Republican Party can convince the lowest black man that he’s better than the best undocumented man, he will cede not only the money in his pockets – but also his vote. We will see a small group of angry black voters go for Trump in 2020. If this happens in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio, the nation is trouble. This is a time for all people, but especially marginalized people, to come together and push back against the Trumpian propaganda engineered to rip us apart.
I will finish by turning to another recent development which is causing great anxiety in many Americans – the makeup of the Supreme Court.
As a member of the LGBT community who got married last year, I fully understand the importance of the Supreme Court. When news of Justice Kennedy’s retirement was announced, I felt physically ill.
For those who don’t know, Justice Kennedy is currently the swing vote on the Court, meaning he wouldn’t vote along ideological lines. He was the deciding factor in many civil liberties cases that came before the Court. His retirement is a gut-punch to progressives, and especially women wishing to make their own choices about family planning.
Although I have no chance of ever needing to rely on family planning services, I am concerned because, if I weren’t, I’d be contributing to the slow death of democracy. When we begin to only care about the issues that affect us personally, we stop operating as a unit. This practice is in an invitation for our opposition to divide and conquer us – an invitation it will take with ruthless precision.
As much as it pains me to admit it, I think the far-right is going to win this round. As Democrats, our recourse is to show a huge turnout in November and flip Congress. We have to flip it now, because if we don’t, the damage already done will take longer to fix than any of us can imagine.