Mi gente is Spanish for “my people.” In a recent conversation with a Puerto Rican friend about the massacre in Orlando, at which 49 brown and black people were shot dead, there is strong opinion that the coverage of the event has been whitewashed. “Whitewashed” is a term used by cultures other than Caucasians and describes the stripping of all things organic and cultural to a particular event. It is not a positive term. It is not a positive action. I want to bring this conversation into its rightful place, because in some sense people of color (POC) have been stripped bare of the vigils that have been held in many places of faith over the last week.
I attended several of the ceremonies and I’d have to agree, there was a definite lack of representation from the brown and black communities. The sadness is exacerbated by the fact that it was a gay bar that was shot up and the vast majority of the victims were part of the LGBT+ community. This community, is mi gente, even though I identify as a cisgender, straight, white person. Some POC would not allow me to claim this, and in all sincerity it is a stretch, I agree.
Let’s take a moment and unpack these thoughts. Why are they mi gente? Well, because half my family and one of my children is gay and I am an ally, so we are all part of the LGBT+ family, together. They are mi gente because we are all children of God and loved unconditionally and equally by our Creator. So, our familial lines bleed together as our bodies and hearts bleed together. Why then is it a stretch for me to claim them as mi gente? Because to do that whitewashes and attempts to normalize the atrocity, as if I suffer as the brown and black community suffers. Which is simply not so. I do not profess to intimately know the culture and customs that white America has stripped from POC, those who invest their time, talent and treasure in the same economy I do.
The majority of the vigils that were held this week to mourn for Orlando where organized and attended primarily by white folks. Where are the brown people? Where are the black people? Why are they not standing up? Why are they underrepresented? It is not for lack of want, I can assure you. Many are in hiding, in fear of additional victimization and harm. (This I know because I met with them.) They are huddled together in private masses and vigils held in homes where safety is not an issue. (This I know because I met with them.) Some would argue and say that the brown and black community should be grateful that the white community “stepped up” to organize gatherings. And those I spoke to are glad and grateful the white community has mourned along with them.
As a white American, I want to ask where our support for our brown and black brothers and sisters is on a daily basis. How do we engage with their culture in a way that celebrates our diversity and agape love for one another? It’s a nice sentiment to come out in droves to show support after tragedy; But white folks, where is the support during times of peace and harmony? How dare we commandeer their vigils? How dare we profess to know the ache that lives in their homes and in their hearts? How dare we whitewash religious services with comfortability and practices that are common to the mainline, white, Christian community in hopes to ease their pain?
To mourn with mi gente, I need to learn their language of love, so I can love them how they need to be loved, not how I perceive it so. We must learn to love our multi-cultural country – embrace our diversity. We must learn to sit in our discomfort and listen to the pains that spill from our brown and black family. I do not write this post to divide us, but rather to unite us. While my words may seem harsh, in reality it is my attempt to raise awareness of the additional victimization that takes place when white America rushes in to solve an issue we don’t know anything about.
The white LGBT+ community is a sibling to the brown and black LGBT+ communities.
How can we make a difference then? We can listen. We can support. We can mourn by the side of our ethnic family. We are all one family, true, as we all come from one Creator. However, around half of the victims were brown and the other half were black. There was not a single white victim. Therefore, as a white American, to claim them as mi gente only works to ease my pain. If I am truly interested in showing up for my ethnic siblings, and sincerely desire to ease their pain, it must be on their terms. In the blurred lines of the kingdom of God they are mi gente, but the love they need at this time will acknowledge, respect, and appreciate our cultural differences.