A white gay man in a black neighborhood

By Mubarak Dahir

I am driving in a friend's car past my new home.

The house is located in the northwest section of Fort Lauderdale, just north of Sunrise, just west of 15th Avenue.

It is not a predominantly gay neighborhood. I found those to be economically prohibitive.

So instead, I bought in one of the only areas left where you can still purchase a single-family home without mortgaging the rest of your life for it: I bought in a predominantly black neighborhood.

The combination of economic reality and real estate prospecting helped convince me to take a gamble on the house in the hopes that this area of town will, in time, do what everything else in the property market in South Florida is doing: Go bonkers.

But many of the friends who come visit my first-ever home purchase don't see the potential that I anticipate is in my new house.

Instead, they seem to see only one thing: black people.

And almost uniformly, it seems to scare the gay guys I bring into the neighborhood.

On this particular day, the friend who is driving me in his car past the house is especially uninhibited in his prejudice.

We slow down to go past the house, and the car comes to a crawl. As it does, we both turn our heads to peer at the house, which at that point is still occupied by the previous residents.

As we make our drive-by inspection, neighborhood kids dart in and out of the street, playing some sort of ball game.

"Watch the kids!" I say as I realize we are both paying more attention to the house than to what is in front of the car.

"Oh I know," my friend responds. "I wouldn't want to hit any jungle bunnies."

Stunned at his comment, I give him a stare that he immediately understands. Out of embarrassment, he semi-apologizes, shrugging it off as a joke.

But I have now come to believe he was simply more transparent in his real feelings than most of the other gay men I've driven with in the neighborhood.

Although one gay male friend of mine did go so far as to call my neighbors "niggers," most of us, even if we harbor prejudice, know how to pretty-it-up a little.

"Are you sure it's safe here?" one gay man asks me in a not-so-veiled reference to being surrounded by black people.

"Do you think you'll be comfortable here?" another inquires politely.

"You are going to install an alarm system, aren't you?" a third chimes in.

Their comments are not as politically incorrect as calling little black kids jungle bunnies, or using the N-word, but their underlying sentiment is the same.

There is no denying that some predominantly black neighborhoods are in fact dangerous places to live. I know, because when I was shopping for a house, I looked in those neighborhoods, too. I decided I didn't want to live in them.

There's also no denying that race and economics are still inextricably linked in American society today.

You can tell this as you drive west from the heart of Wilton Manors through Progresso and into Lauderdale Manors (my new neighborhood). A visual inspection makes it clear that most of the people in Lauderdale Manors (the black neighborhood) are not as financially well-off as the residents in Wilton Manors (where the white gay boys live.)

But simply because a neighborhood is predominantly black, doesn't automatically make it dangerous or unsafe.

Most of my new neighbors are not renters; they own their homes. They have jobs, they have families, they have hopes and wishes. They just don't have quite as much money as many of the gay boys do to pretty up their houses.

And they have a different skin color.

When I call my gay friends on their prejudice, they find ways to rationalize it.

"Well, you have to admitÉ" many of them begin, as they paint an entire race of people with hackneyed clichŽs and generalities and stereotypes.

As I listen to them, in my mind I replace every time they say "blacks," with "fags." For every stereotype they offer on race, I counter in my mind with the litany of tired old ones we've heard about sexual orientation:

Gay men are sex addicts.

Gay men are child molesters.

Gay men spread diseases.

Gay men are sissies.

I am still surprised that in this day and age, we can continue to lean on such flimsy images of who people are based on black and white, gay or straight.

One of the most insulting things about the racial comments is that the people expressing them say them freely because they assume it is safe to do so in the presence of other white people. The insinuation, of course, that we, as white people, will "understand."

Well, as a gay person, I can't understand.

It still amazes me that gay men Ñ a group of people who have been ostracized and ghettoized and demonized and stereotyped and made outcasts our whole lives because we are different from the majority Ñ fail to see the fallacies and ironies of our own racism.

I can't help but contrast the reaction I get from my gay friends, to the welcome I get from two neighbors, Alice and Betty. The two women saw me standing in front of the house the day I got the keys to it.

They came over and asked if I bought the house, and then asked if I was going to rent it or live in it. When I told them I would be occupying it, they made a clear gesture of welcome.

"We're glad you are in the neighborhood," Alice said.

"Yes, you are most welcome here," echoed Betty.

Without saying it, they were clearly making a reference to a white man living in a predominantly black neighborhood.

I don't know how they will react when they find out, as they eventually will, that I am gay.

But I hope my black neighbors don't judge me as harshly as my white gay friends have already judged them.

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