Cupcakke and other queers raise money to free black men from jail
Words and photographs by Joshua Michael Jenkins
One of the most difficult things for me to do in this short life is to respect, honor, or aide people who: 1) have hatred toward ideologies or people they don't understand, and 2) use that hatred to physically or emotionally attack others. (Obviously, the exception to this is people who think staying silent toward nazis or white supremacists is okay. It isn't.) Don't get me wrong – I advocate, 100%, for basic human rights for all citizens...even those who are rude to me or make me feel uncomfortable. BUT, there's always this burning frustration inside of me toward homophobes and racists, specifically, that makes me wonder: If I had the opportunity to save the life of someone who, five minutes prior, called me a "faggot" or "nigger", would I save them?
About a month ago, I went to Miami for vacation. My friend and I were high as shit while roaming around the now gentrified neighborhood "Wynwood" (if you've never been, think about how Brooklyn is now compared to ten years ago). It was a magical experience, to say the least. In the thick of the neighborhood, expect outside patios, bumpin' music, graffiti everywhere, art galleries, and $8 iced lattes (for a fucking small!). During our walk, I needed to restock on cigarettes. As we walked to the gas station only two blocks away, the neighborhood changed immediately. Homeless tents and twitching bodies lined the streets, and droves of black men parked at the gas station were posted-up next to their cars, blaring music, looking like a whoooole lotta snacks, and waiting for someone like me to walk up so they can say some ignorant ass shit. Let me explain.
Each race reacts differently to my heels, skirt, and long black shirt with the sides cut-out combo:
- Latin men stare, but don't say anything
- white men look, tap their friends' shoulders so everyone looks, then whisper to one another
- black men look and lose their god damn minds
"Yooo, that nigga's wearin' a dress, what the fuck! Ay faggot, this isn't (insert name of gay neighborhood)." And laughing. Lots of laughing.
While I despise any and all forms of bigotry, I am not naive enough to think, despite my best efforts, that it will dissipate any time soon. To be completely honest, I appreciate the insight into each race's unique reaction to me or any other faggots who walk around this earth with the confidence and power of fabulousness. Despite "machismo", Latin men tend to be warmer and more accepting, hence their silence. White men want to be loud and call me a slur, but they won't do it to my face because they're still scared of my brown skin. I may be a faggot to them, but because I'm brown it's very possible I have a gun hidden under this flowy skirt. Black men are boisterous, and use the camaraderie to uplift each other. Ironically enough, when I approached the gas station, these same black men were discussing how white bouncers stereotyped them and wouldn't let them into a club. Immediately upon seeing me and making comments about my outfit, I wanted so badly to interrupt them and explain how their bigotry toward me was the same bigotry they spoke of regarding the white people oppressing them! But, I stayed silent, perhaps to the detriment of all queers' these men encounter in the future, to avoid conflict. There were after all a shit ton of them and only one of me. This silence is called "ruinous empathy".
In the book "Radical Candor", author Kim Scott, who trained executives at Apple and Google how to effectively lead teams, explains that the best way to give feedback is through "radical candor" - meaning you have to care personally about your direct reports and challenge them directly without any cracks through which interpretation could fall. While I in no way think that racism, homophobia, or any kind of hatred deserves any sort of platform, I cannot dismiss the importance of these scenarios, as it opens doors to discussion and education.
As a disclaimer, the above image and the explanation that follows relates to my personal experience. I do not intend to stereotype the way in which straight, cis men react to queer folks, nor am I conflating institutionalized racism with my personal experiences of homophobia.
If you're going to hate someone for being gay or black or whatever, you can at least appear to come from a place of genuine interest, versus saying something hateful for enjoyment (or to merely be an asshole). As illustrated above, saying, "what's up with your outfit?" is radical candor: the "best way" to express hatred or ignorance toward someone is to show you're open to learning. Shouting "faggot" at me is "obnoxious aggression": meaning you care less about the person and want to speak out just to be heard or to cause a scene. This is the quadrant in which these particular black folks lie. White folks, who tend to stare or whisper and motion to their friends to do the same, is "manipulative insincerity": they don't care enough about educating themselves or getting to understand who I am, so they remain completely silent and keep the discussion in their court to avoid discourse (or to prevent a brown person like me from busting a cap). Latinos' complete silence is "ruinous empathy": they seem interested in (or at least curious about) who I am and my well being, but they don't speak up at all. Again, I don't advocate for hatred or bigotry of any kind, but if you're a homophobe or racist reading this, I encourage and challenge you to be radically candid about your hatred - a.k.a. it's completely okay to reveal and release the ignorant thoughts in your head in a way that 1) isn't overly aggressive or deliberately offensive, 2) doesn't entitle you to spew hatred without any possibility of retort from the victim, and 3) is completely silent or remains open to interpretation, therefore causing more harm to both parties. In other words, I'd rather you call me a "faggot" than to stare at me dumbfoundedly.
Now, let's tie this all together: on Saturday, 4/21/18, comedian Peter Poppy held a benefit for their birthday at The Silver Room to raise money for the Chicago Community Bond Fund (CCBF). This non-profit raises money to keep non-violent criminals out of jail by paying their bond. Non-violent folks, perhaps those who were caught with marijuana or stole something, should not have to sit in jail simply because they can't afford to pay their bonds. This disrupts their families, their jobs, and their future. As we know, black men are incarcerated at significantly higher rates than white men for the same crimes. While white, privileged entrepreneurs open dispensaries and sell weed legally, there are still thousands of black men who sit in jail for possession. The CCBF pays 100% of bonds for folks impacted by institutionalized racism and violence (i.e. black men) to give them the fighting chance that our government and law enforcement strips away on a daily basis. The purpose of this introduction (besides pointing out the irony of a group of queer folks coming together to raise money to keep black men - (and in my personal experience) queers’ harshest critics - out of jail) is to express how we can eliminate these walls we’ve all built around each other and ourselves by talking and lending our hands to folks who need our help - even if they don't understand us. Disclaimer: I want to again stress that my personal experience is not reflective of every queer person of color, but helps those who share my experience look beyond their perceptions/experiences for the benefit of their fellow man/woman.
Joshua: First off I want to thank you for using your birthday as a way to give back to marginalized communities. In our phone addicted, selfie-taking, drama-infused reality, it’s rare to see such selflessness — especially on one’s birthday. So thank you for that.
Also, happy birthday! What drove you to use your birthday as a platform to bring these talented artists together to raise money for a cause that doesn’t directly affect you?
Peter: I had been interested in philanthropy but had no real experience with fundraising. A friend involved in the Chicago Community Bond Fund messaged me on social and as soon as I learned of their work, I knew this was a cause that would be important to support.
Joshua: What is the Chicago Community Bond Fund? What makes their cause so important?
Peter: The Chicago Community Bond Fund works to end the injustices of the prison industrial complex. This means different things in America, but so important about the Chicago Community Bond is that the money raised goes directly to Chicagoans, black men on trial, being harassed by the American police force and the United States legal system. The money isn’t for politicians or marketing - it’s to pay bond so black men can return to their homes when they are arrested on trumped up charges by racist white cops. Everyone knows that when you’re facing the American legal system, money is the only thing that matters. The Bond fund isn’t a charity - it’s a working fund to pay for legal services in active Chicago criminal cases.
Joshua: The lineup of artists was incredible. Were you acquainted with everyone prior to this?
Peter: Everyone was either or a friend or an artist I admired. I worked very hard and for a very long time to assemble this lineup on the exact date of my birthday, the beginning of Taurus season!
Joshua: I hadn’t heard of The Silver Room prior to your birthday party - why choose a clothing store in Hyde Park for these performances?
Peter: The Silver Room is iconic and 53rd St is the best in Chicago. I had looked at larger concert venues but honestly, this was a birthday party and not a show. I didn’t really want a stage. Choosing The Silver Room presented some challenges when I was booking the larger artists. I’m thankful they were willing to perform at an intimate venue on the south side of the Chicago.
Joshua: A lot of folks in marginalized communities don’t have the bandwidth or resources to procure a venue, pay performers, and get word out about events such as these. What advice do you have for folks who want to make an impact in their communities but can’t seem to open the door?
Peter: Of course I’d recommend planning far in advance, playing to your strengths, and getting your friends involved. I emailed Cupcakke six months before my party praying she’d see my message in her email inbox (which I’m sure is flooded w stans). She replied that night and for the next six months I worked very slowly to create a show that was worthy of Cupcakke. By the time March had come, I knew what I wanted and it all fell into place perfectly because it was my birthday and the universe loves birthdays.As far as playing to your strengths and getting your friends involved, I mean to say, above anything, when people come to see a show they get to enjoy company, art, get out of their apartments and maybe ignore how disgusting and horrible the world is for 3 hours. Everyone has friends and everyone can throw a party so if you create an environment that’s nice for people to exist in, you can add performative or philanthropic aspects so easily. Of course, if you’re broke or in debt or in jail, no matter how many friends you have, you can’t throw a party. Everyone needs to speak out in active life about how rigged the system is, specifically against black people.
Joshua: There are people out there (i.e. conservative white folks) who would use arguments surrounding “black-on-black crime rates” or find statistics stating “black folks and white folks die at the hand of police officers at similar rates” to negate or disprove the significantly higher incarceration numbers for black and brown folks. What do you have to say to them?
Peter: I'd say that if they’ve ever stepped in a court room, they understand how money controls every aspect of the legal system. I’d ask them who they thought the black folks incarcerated were and what life they deserved. I’d remind them that the amount of weed they buy from medical dispensaries from white tech bros has ended the freedom of black men across America.
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