"What Happened When Children Were to Blame For a Hate Crime" tells a story from the perspective of a middle class, white gay man whose 12-year-old neighbor wrote “U gay bitch” in sunscreen on his apartment door. The man’s response was to write a cheeky letter to the parents — not as productive or mature as a face-to-face conversation, but okay. That wasn’t enough for the author, however. In his words:
The second step was to call the NYPD and report a hate crime, hopeful to impress on these too-young kids that hate is more serious than a practical joke.
At 2:30 a.m., our neighbors awoke to NYPD pounding on their door, requesting to speak to their son. With a look of fear that matched his mother’s disappointment, our youngest neighbor stumbled down the hallway, still tuckered out from his 12th birthday party earlier that night. And after a few minutes of denial, he admitted his guilt to the police, who explained that this was not a joke, that this was a hate crime, that he could face trouble if this ever happened again.
I don’t want to make assumptions about what anyone reading this understands about police violence, especially that committed by the NYPD. But NYPD’s policies like Stop and Frisk and its murders of youth of color like Kimani Gray prove that police are a force of violence to suppress and criminalize communities of color. (If you feel resistance to this, do the smallest amount of research, and you’ll see that it’s reality.)
White gays are vehicles for gentrification. Lethal ones at that — the attitude of the mainstream cisgender white gay man seems to assume that because he has experienced a form of oppression, he is exempt from participating in the oppression of another person or community. The author of this piece states there’s no difference between "playing a race-victim card" and reporting some sunscreen a 12-year-old smeared on his door as a hate crime to the NYPD. This attitude is the same one that gets LGBTQ (and straight) kids harassed, assaulted, and killed in the name of “cleaning up the streets”. Learn about the gentrification of San Francisco’s Casto District, Boston’s South End, Chicago’s Boystown, all of which involve criminalizing LGBTQ youth’s lives under the guise of fostering gay-friendly businesses and ‘safer’ streets. Safer for whom?
Op-eds like this go viral because queers like me are supposed to “aww” at the generosity of teaching a 12-year-old delinquent that homophobia does not pay. The lesson the blue-eyed gay man misses is that he inadvertently participates in violence by moving into a neighborhood that is historically not his own, and he embraces and perpetuates that systemic violence by calling on the NYPD, who he felt confident would back him up in teaching this child that a hate crime like vandalism via sunblock is not okay. If the NYPD had responded with the humiliation, sexual assault, and overt violence they have repeatedly demonstrated (particularly against communities of color), perhaps the man would have learned this lesson. But instead he is lauded for flaunting his privilege, and never recognizes it only exists because of systemic violence against others. Reminder: a huge part of white privilege is being able to ignore that you have it.
As a white, cisgender queer person with class privilege living in a historically diverse neighborhood in Boston, I participate in gentrification, and I benefit from racism. This is hard to confront and navigate, but it’s absolutely necessary if I want to play an active role as a white ally and do the least amount of harm possible. Sometimes that means accepting the fact that even if I smile at people when I walk down the street, not everybody wants me there. I can live with that.
A final protip to fellow white people, homos and otherwise: don’t harp about your intentions — you aren’t exempt from perpetuating violent harm just because you didn’t intend to.
* Note: the author of the piece objects to most of these arguments because he points out he never specifically names the child’s race. However, he does refer to the child as having ‘minority status’ and EVEN if this were between groups of white people, it is still an issue of violent gentrification.