Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013, January 06, 1984, Page 6, Image 6

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    itu is n
New attempts to understand old attitudes
b y O e n n is Peterson
Alienation is what I feel standing
on the outside lookin’ in
leaning towards anarchy and approval
It’s true I’ve lost my identity
but I swear it was stolen from me
and that’s no reason for you to try
and define me
I do n’t symbol a goddamn thing
and I learned to sing,
I sing about alienation.
c 1978 by Naomi Littlebear, used by per­
Naomi Littlebear is a Chicana poet and
songwriter in our community. I spoke with
her recently as part of a series of interviews on
racism in the gay community. Racism is not
m uch different with us than with the larger
Portland community, although there are
reasons to hope that it would be. It is m y hope
that in spotlighting what we need to do within
the smaller context, the points raised will
strike closer to home and give us all some­
thing to work on.
“I came out in Orange County, California,’’
Naom i began, “and was around the O C wo­
m e n ’s com m unity and the LA women’s co m ­
munity about ten years ago. These same wo­
men I was com ing out with had been in high
school calling Mexicans greasers, spies,
beaners, and bull riders. They were all brought
up with a very intense dislike. It was still re­
flected in the way that they mistreated me.
Racism is more blatant in California because
there is a very large Chicano population
there. Because there is such a small number
of Spanish-speaking people in Portland,
people are not used to having their racism
tested. Th e attitudes are there and the pre­
disposition to having a racist response, be­
cause everyone is taught to think a certain
way and react a certain way to non-white
people. I think it’s subtle and repressed here.
In southern California it was pretty blatant
and I experienced it in ways that weren’t very
pleasant There was a lot of off-handed anger,
looking-down, not being brought into the cir­
cles, and condescending energy.’’
“I was playing music with a woman there.
Th e women in the community would go up
to her and tell her how great she was. but they
would never come up to me. They also
thought I was a bad influence on her. It was
never explained; there were no tangible
reasons; I didn’t turn her into a drug addict or
anything. I think a lot of people traditionally
look at the dark-haired, dark-skinned woman
as the villain, and if she dares to relate with a
white woman she is no doubt going to cor­
rupt her in one way or another."
“W hen I first came out there wasn’t a lot of
political consciousness around the issue of
racism. W omen were focusing on raising
their consciousness about sexism. Racism
wasn’t talked about or thought about back
then. Racism is*always there, the question is
whether it’s a topic of conversation or not,
whether it’s something people want to look at
inside themselves and want to change. When
I got to Portland I was in the middle of con­
sciousness-raising around issues of race and
class within a certain segment of the gay
community, and that seems to have dwindled
down. It’s not an issue anymore. I think there
are concerned people who make an effort to
change, but the majority of people can’t be
bothered. Now that there are other causes to
take up, why bother with this one? Th e point
is I have to bother with it every day.’’
"I also became an object of sexual curios­
ity, but it was mixed with distrust They
wondered what it would be like to go to bed
with me. A woman who was involved with me
also got involved with another dark-skinned
wom an and said, ‘Well gosh, I’ve got two
wom en of color now.’ It’s like being put into a
collection. She felt that if she got involved
with m e no one would call her a racist At that
time it was popular to be politically correct I
felt like there wasn’t a lot of honesty with
people who wanted to get to know me as a
wom an whose background was different and
should be respected. There was always a
Racial differences can exert an influence
on a relationship from within and without I
spoke with Rupert Kinnard, a Black man who
had a White lover for four years. “If a Black
man and a White man are together some
people will think that the White man is into’
Black men. That’s a certain manifestation of
racism. I would hope that the relationship
happened because of the quality of their per­
sonalities. That is not to say that I don’t want
m y Blackness to be seen. I am not a part of
the melting pot; I want it to be seen and
appreciated. There are benefits that can be
derived from different cultures getting
together." Jim Gambrell, his ex-lover agrees.
“I grew up in Alabama. My mother used to be
more racist than she is now, and m y father is
out-and-out racist My hometown was fifty
percent Black, yet I only knew the two peoptej
that worked for us. I wanted to help Black
people with their oppression, but I was scared
to draw attention to myself because people
would find out that I was gay. Rupert was the
first gay person I got to know when I came to
Portland. I’ve learned to speak out against
racism when I encounter it through Rupert
and his friends.”
very defensive; they would prefer to think it
was something that happened in the South
with Black people. There was a great deal of
denial there and anger if you broached the
subject” People try to dismiss it by saying, “
Basically we’re all just people and we live on
“Th e first step in solving a problem is to
realize that there is a problem. (Bertrand
Naomi says, “I have only been able to have
conversations about racism and its effect
here in Portland. I wouldn’t have been able to
have had such conversations with women in
LA at the time I was there, because they were
V .
tj C -
Just O u t January 6 -January 20