Us Vs. Them

About a decade ago, I went to a forum about the cultural differences & rifts between African-Americans and Caribbean Americans. The first part of the forum was presented by a panel, very intellectual & cross-referenced; the second half was a Q&A, where tempers flared but remained polite. The basic issue was that Caribbean Americans hated being mistaken for African-Americans for various reasons, and the African-Americans hated being mistaken for Caribbean Americans.
I remember sitting there thinking, “My brother would call you all n******.”
But what that forum clarified for me was not the actual experience of Caribbean or African-Americans; it was the stereotypes of both that offended both groups. The Caribbean blacks hated people thinking they were African-American exactly because of what people think of African-Americans (that they’re all on welfare, etc) & vice versa. Some of these prejudices were based on truths or half-truths, like that Caribbean Americans all had AIDS. (At the time, Haitians could not donate blood because of heightened concerns about HIV infection). So you’ve got a group of African-Americans hating the fact that they were mistaken for having HIV, because they believed a lot of Caribbean Americans had AIDS, when of course it wasn’t all Caribbean Americans but only Haitians, and in fact Haitians had a higher incidence of HIV due to things that had nothing to do with their behavior, anyway (it turned out, instead, that it was linked with higher previous infections of TB in the Haitian population). Of course, too, no-one wanted to be mistaken for someone with HIV, either, because HIV had already been demonized as happening to people because of sexual conduct and/or needle drug use.
In effect, you had two groups of people who were both oppressed because of the shared color of their skin who spent an entire evening focusing on what they didn’t have in common instead of fighting the prejudices they faced because of their skin color.
I’ve come to about the same conclusion with the arguments between hsts “transkids” and other transsexuals. (I say “other” and not AGP or “late-transitioning” or “secondary” because I don’t think there are only two types of transsexuals). The hsts set doesn’t want to be told they’re paraphilic because that’s what the Blanchard-Bailey junta says about non-hsts transsexuals. The other transsexuals resent being both forced into a box they don’t fit and being told their motivation is sexual in some way or another.
So you’ve got the hsts set not wanting anyone to think they’re “perverts” or nutjobs because transitioning, for them, is about “practical” issues like social and sexual success in life. On the other hand, you’ve got the rest of the transsexuals – the non-hsts type – who don’t want to be told they’re not really transsexuals, or that they are somehow lesser, less real, secondary, or transitioning for some other than “practical” reasons.
And I have to say, my brother would still call you all “n******.”
Really, a lot of people might see hsts transsexuals as self-hating gay men who can’t deal with the homophobia and misogyny within and without the gay community, and who sidestep those issues by becoming women. A lot of people see the non-hsts transsexuals as deviants, perverts, mentally ill and selfish freaks.
Why it seems reasonable for any group to empower themselves by demonizing another group is foreign to me. Why any group would align themselves with a so-called scientist who has been known to abuse the power of his position in order to sleep with his subjects (even while they complain about the power and access other transsexuals have and use in order to educate the public about transsexualism) is also foreign to me. Why any transsexuals go out of their way to “out,” demonize, or work against another group of transsexuals as some kind of “strategy” is also beyond me.
That each of these self-identified groups has differences, to me, is cause only for each group to watch out for and protect their own. That I understand. If one group is neglecting the needs of a subset of their own population, then it stands to reason that that subset has got to be vocal about what they need – and failing help from the larger group – has got to figure out a way to provide their services to the population that needs it.
Instead, transkids are getting kicked out of their homes while other transsexuals are losing their jobs, and people are online fighting about which group is “right.” Essays are written, emails exchanged, posts added to message boards or newsgroups, and my brother is still calling you all “n******.”
So I’m gonna go listen to Leadbelly. I don’t know where he was from, or where he was raised, but he was one damn great musician, and to me, that’s all that ever matters.

To read more about Caribbean-American and African-American experiences, read this essay by Malcolm Gladwell, originally published in The New Yorker in 1996.