Queer Voices of Color is a multimedia blog series highlighting personal issues of queer racialized people. Saidue Karmo is a co-host on Queer State of Mind, and a NYC-based performer and real estate professional. (Photo by Ben Taylor/Lit Riot Press )
By Saidue Karmo
People always told me I was a beautiful baby. An even bigger deed, since I almost died from thrush when I was young.
Born on February 22, 1979, in Cincinnati, Ohio, I shortly was shipped to Monrovia, Liberia where I’d live till I was 13. My wide, bright smile and facial structure meant I often received the question “Are you a boy, or are you a girl?” all through my young preteen years.
The thought of color was something of a fairytale to me, like a lot of young kids growing up in Africa. We long to come to America to believe what we saw on television. We wanted the toys, to see all the great places and have what the American kids had. This dream would come true, even though it was due to an unfortunate situation. And the dream was quite different than reality.
I never realized people saw me as something ‘different’ until I came to the U.S. at thirteen. I arrived and started school at the age of thirteen, and remember being called lots of names and put in many uncomfortable situations. I came to terms with my sexuality at the end of high school and during my early college years, as many do. And, my first group of gay friends were mostly white, as is the case many times. That’s when all the interesting stuff began.
I remember them always asking me about black things and experiences I knew nothing about. As a young, naïve African kid I always carried around this notion that people were all equal. Well, that all changed when I first heard the line “You are so much fun and cute…but I don’t date black guys.” I was very confused. I tried to figure out how you could be attracted to someone, but not at the same time.
It only got worse when I people shopped me around to all the white guys who ‘liked’ black guys. I remembered feeling very sad and disappointed. The next year, I completely changed the group of people I was hanging around with. I found a group of friends that were all young gay black men. Of course, this is not to say I exclusively had black friends, but my inner circle was. I finally felt a brotherhood (Sisterhood) like I never had before, so it when my next experience happened much later, it shook my world.
I remember being out at a club with my friends and dancing the night away. I often fellowship with the other black gays outside of my circle, so it was a great surprise to me when one of them said to me “You are so cute and funny but I wish I was into black guys.” I stepped back and went, ‘Wait? Am I talking to a white woman!?’
This was a normal occurrence during my ten-year stint in Columbus, Ohio. I would have people consistently reminding me that I’M NOT WHITE. This was not exclusive to me but also happening to others around me. I remember seeing a joy in the eyes of some of my black friends’ eyes because they heard that a particular white boy liked black boys. And it made my soul sad to watch it. It got so bad in the city that I had friends who loved other men of color start to give up. Some stopped dating and some deemed every black guy with a white man a ‘Snow Queen’, in order to avoid rejection. I still carried the hope that people should be judged as individuals.
Cut to 2006, I moved to NYC living the poor artist dream. I was surrounded by great artists and so many different types of people . I thought, ‘Surely, dating here was definitely going to be better than the Midwest’. It was the spring of 2008 and I was at one of my favorite NYC bars. There was a tall, beautiful black man standing alone and I decided to strike up a conversation. We had many laughs, flirted, drank and exchanged numbers. I was excited as I headed home. I exited my train on my way to my apartment and sent him a text saying, “It was nice meeting you and let’s hang soon.”
He responded, “It was great and just so you know I am not into black guys.”
Here we go again…and it seemed to happen to me a lot, even follow me from place to place. It was the first time I said to myself, ‘I’m not white but am I ugly?’ So many layers define beauty, but it seems that racialized beauty standards have overtaken a community that is supposed to be all-inclusive.
I have had this situation happen to me so many times over my past ten years in NYC , I feel jaded by it all. Ninety percent of my messages on apps or online come from someone searching for a BBC (Big Black Cock) or some other racist, fetishizing mess. I encounter it so much, and so badly, that when I travel with my friends, we turn it into a game to see who gets the most disturbing message.
There have been many articles on Racism in the gay community although I think many stem from being validated by the white boys. It’s not about their validation. But, it is very hard to live in a world where no matter what you do or how educated you are, your desirability rests on what you are not. And sometimes, even often, people of color hold each other to the same white supremacy based beauty standards and prejudices as some white people do.
And as I sit here, 37 and single, It makes me think these words each time I see an attractive guy.
“I’m not white, but am I ugly?”