I enjoy reading essays, articles and anything really, that attempts to view the world, to some degree or another, through the prism of critical race theory and also attempts to apply it to our everyday lives in a way that appears to be worthy of intelligent consideration.
I had anticipation then when a friend brought a recent essay by Mia McKenzie to my attention. The essay he recommended I read was a recent one by the author entitled, Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It.
My friend had a positive reaction to the piece. So once again my anticipation was raised. And at the same time a certain amount of trepidation accompanied my anticipation. This was not only because of that title, which I found to be somewhat ominous and foreboding. It was that. And it was also because I had read other pieces by Ms. McKenzie. I had found those previous essays to be problematic in the same ways I find the writings of many people to be problematic. All of these problematic writings betray a certain type of woundedness in the author that is apparent to me. That perception I have tends to bring to my mind those two great, classic Taoist questions: Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?And Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?
And so, these two questions came to my consciousness once again while reading, Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It. They are the questions I am symbolically asking Mia McKenzie, even as I compose this response to the words she chose to include in it.
Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?
Over the decades of my life, I have discovered there are generally two principal ways those questions tend to be worked out by people who also have been wounded by life while also having some writing, singing or oratory skills. On the one hand there are those whose wounds are burnished in the fires of pain, loss, and redemption. Their raw emotions become the clouds that lift them to the heights of wisdom and spiritual awakening. These are people like Toni Morrison, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maya Angelou, Nina Simone and Gil Scott-Heron, to name only a few. On the other hand there are those whose wounds reflect a different aspect of the clouds. Their thinking becomes clouded by bitterness, anger and injury, which too can ultimately all be great transformative coals in the fire. While their skills and talents may be equal to some of the giants I just listed by name, the burnishing of these latter individuals wounds however, often remain too incomplete or too superficial to truly inspire profound transformation in those who are also struggling to find their voice in the fire as well.
Ms. McKenzie is still a relatively young woman. Presumably she has time for further burnishing. In the meantime she is still writing and making her opinions known and presumably also trying to figure it all out in an authentic and beneficial way for herself. People however, are reading what she writes. She is having some degree of impact. Therefore, some critical analysis of her work and words is appropriate.
Here is the opening paragraph in Desirability: Or Why That White Ally Who Dates All The Brown Queers Needs To Stop It.
I have been thinking and talking a lot lately about the politics of desirability. In particular, the way that some white queer allies move through QPOC spaces, dating every brown queer they can get their hands on, almost always going unchecked, and never really understanding or acknowledging why this behavior might be problematic.
This, I believe, accurately sets the tone for the rest of the essay. It does not however, for me, set the appropriate tone for an essay that is honestly looking at "The politics of desirability"
Both the title of the essay and the opening paragraph present the reader with a fair amount of evidence that Ms. McKenzie is going to lead us on a journey into the admittedly treacherous and sometimes shark infested waters of the politics of desirability. I don't however, believe that is what happens here. I have no doubt that McKenzie believes she has written an essay about desirability. The key foundational ingredient, I believe however, in writing an honest essay about the politics of desirability within the context of dating between people of color and whites is to look at this from both perspectives, with an analysis of how, more or less, both groups of people participate in the phenomenon and with some effort being put forth to come to some enlightened potential solutions, preferably, under the rubric of intersectionality. Here is how McKenzie addresses these important elements:
None of this is to suggest that the brown queers who date these allies aren’t making those choices themselves. It’s not as if these white queers are forcing them into romance. But I have dated white allies without even knowing that they only dated POC. When I became aware of it, I definitely felt some type of way. (And, of course, some POC date white queers knowing that said white queers tend to date only POC, and they don’t have a problem with it—that’s a whole other blog post.) The point is, the politics of desirability are at play in these situations.
No, it is not a "whole other blog post" if one desires the current blog post/essay to have any real legitimacy. In order to add that legitimacy to the blog post at hand, some exploration of that very issue needs to be delved into further. Every LGBT person of color I know is very aware there are many LGBT people of color who exclusively date white folks; they exclusively desire white folks. It would not even be too extreme to say that such people are legion. There are many diverse reasons for that. The politics of desirability being one big reason along with its first cousins white privilege and white supremacy. There are others though that do not reflect so well on LGBT people of color ourselves such as internalized racism and self hatred. Dating can be an extremely complex and complicated bag of worms. And desirability itself is never a one way street. All of these aspects needed to be at least touched upon in a more in-depth way in order to add legitimacy and an appropriate balance to this essay.
In that quoted paragraph above, which is paragraph #12 in a 13 paragraph essay, McKenzie, for me, confirms that the framing for her essay as being one about the politics of desirability is more or less a ruse. It may have been an unconscious or unplanned ruse. However, for me, it is a ruse nonetheless. It is apparent to me she is not wanting to have an honest, open, and transparent discussion about the politics of desirability. So that of course begs these questions: What is this essay really about? What is it really trying to accomplish? What is its true objective? I believe McKenzie answers those questions rather eloquently if unintentionally or unknowingly, when she asserts this.
If you’re a white person, especially an ally, whose last five dates were brown people, maybe consider this: if you know yet another brown queer you think you might want to date, introduce them to one of your sweet brown friends instead! There’s a great way to be an ally.
That is the concluding paragraph of the essay. And that is fitting. Because in that last paragraph, just like any other evangelist, McKenzie leaves her flock with her central commandment, as it were, before them. And what is that central commandment? It appears to be a commandment for white gay and lesbian people, who truly view themselves as allies to people of color, to opt out of continued dating of people of color and in doing so maybe also help facilitate the potential coupling of someone the white ally him or herself may even be strongly attracted to, to another person of color, instead. And all that appears to be in the name of supposed allyship and the greater good of us all. Of course McKenzie would likely balk at the suggestion that this is a commandment. She would most likely prefer we all see it as merely something to think about and consider. That to me is a version of smoke and mirrors that is well used by those who throw rocks into a crowd at night and then hide their hands behind their backs while copping a facial expression that bemoans, "What!?!" However, there is usually someone, somewhere, guided by some remnant of light, that enables him/her to observe it all; one who is willing to tell the truth about what they've witnessed in the shadows. In this critique, I have cast myself in that role. And I'll take the good and the bad that may come with the assuming of that role. Remember, I am being guided by the light.
And with that commandment (or something to think about or something to consider), Ms McKenzie is also giving all the power in this dynamic over to the white folks whom she also lets us know she has some "funky" feelings about.
Not once in the essay does McKenzie suggest anything for people of color ourselves to think about or consider. That presumably may (or may not) come at some later date in some other essay/blog post. However, for the essay at hand, empowerment is not given to us. The impression one gets is that it is only white allies who are the power brokers here. That's ironic. In the meantime, responsibility translates into acknowledged power here for some and completely unacknowledged power for others. It is white allies this essay is directed at (and not too far behind them it is also obviously being directed at whatever amen chorus Ms. McKenzie may have to her credit). And it is white allies who are being called into action, albeit an action that may be completely against their own interests and desires. Still, I suspect McKenzie might be more than a little horrified to realize that by directing her attention exclusively at white allies here, she has also given over all the decision making power in the exercise to those same allies whether they choose to accept and embrace her considerations or not.
And who, in the broad and current discourses around topics like freedom to marry whomever we want and choose to and equality for all, does Ms. McKenzie appear to be more in alignment with? Millions of people across America and across the globe are working for these rights to be extended to all members of the LGBT communities. In the exact same week that Mia McKenzie's essay made its debut on the internet, Richard Noble completed his historic walk across America from southern California to Florida for LGBT Rights. Do McKenzie's words seem to be in alignment with and to support him and his very ambitious and auspicious and laudable achievement in defense of LGBT Rights and freedom of choice? Or do her words find a more comfortable cohabitation with the pastors and politicians who use their bigoted pulpits and legislative authority to implore their congregants and constituents to support ever more oppressive, restrictive, and hate inspired limitations on LGBT couplings? These, I believe, are important questions and appropriate contexts in which to evaluate this essay Ms McKenzie has birthed into the world and put out there for this same world to digest.
Finally, what about intersectionality? If we are to take the words of Audre Lorde to heart, in her work, There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions and to also take those words of hers to the next level, we are then provided with a beautiful template and important further instructions for an even more critical analysis of the words of Ms. McKenzie in her essay, Desirability: Or, Why That White Ally Who Dates All the Brown Queers Needs To Stop It" The two essays begin, for me at least, to stand at stark odds with one another. We see with intense clarity the true designs and intentions of them both. We see what stage of the sacred burnished fire each one resides in; and we see whether or not that fire is a relatively new one with much more to consume through its burning. Or if it is a very old fire, well prepared to teach and inspire through the many experiences that have been consumed and transformed by its flames, and its years of wisdom and learning.
Mia McKenzie's essay in its entirety may be found HERE
BTW, this above link to the original essay is now correct. Since I initially published this piece, Ms. McKenzie has changed and revamped her blog complete with a new URL and for a time the link I provided was a bad link.