ROY GLUCKMAN: Both Pride and prejudice
I’ve always found it ironic that the more “woke” the think-piece, the more likely it is to be blind to false binaries. Despite professed commitments to “intersectionality” and understanding the complexity of different “subjectivities”, it is amazing how often social critique lapses into a “hot take” where the thing critiqued is either entirely right or wrong, good or bad, exclusionary or inclusionary. It’s a game of Pride or Prejudice, nuance be damned.
Reporting and commentary on the Pride of Africa march that took place on Saturday 26 October has been no different. An article on this platform vilified the VIP section at the event, reinforcing the author’s worst fears about the event being too corporate and dominated by the privileged.
Let us put aside the irony of the author voluntarily going to an “exclusive” VIP space at an event which is supposed to be about equality and inclusivity. The difficulty with articles like this is that they distract from the magic that many found Pride of Africa to be, in favour of click-bait narratives of prejudice over Pride.
I marched through the streets of Sandton on Saturday afternoon and expected it to be totally empty, but it was instead lined with families, aunties, shoppers and commuters alike. All observing, cheering, hooting and gawking at the rainbowed, glittered and bolshie marchers, showing up for the world to see.
Where on this continent does this happen on such scale? Where church-goers hold up signs of apology and love for injustices caused by organised religion. Offering hugs to the wounded and scarred. Where Somizi and his husband, atop their Mercedes-Benz van, sipped champagne without even acknowledging the masses of young queens trying to capture a selfie with them (royalty, if ever I saw). Where our own government has a stand promoting safe sex. Where start-up clinics for queer bodies “spread diseases” in an effort to raise awareness of the public health concerns that our community ought to be aware of. Where despite the narratives of an ‘exclusionary’ (read: white) Pride, it is one of the most racially, ethnically and economically diverse queer events in this city.
What I am not saying is that Pride of Africa is even close to being beyond criticism. And I am certainly not against anyone publicly holding Pride of Africa to account. Yes, a VIP area is exclusionary. Yes, critique the commercialisation of Pride. Yes, Sandton. Yes, Locnville as headliners (shem!). Yes, that white DJ’s choice of 90s Darude Sandstorm. Yes, yes, yes.
But what I am bored of are pieces that continue to divert important attention away from queer celebration and magic and encourage readers to commit to a binary understanding of South Africa.
This is the story of Pride that we don’t share. That thousands of queer folk, mostly people of colour, shut down and joyously occupied the streets of the richest and wealthiest economic hub on the continent, to celebrate being queer. That as we touched up our makeup in the mirror-reflective panels of the Discovery building, we felt truly seen and safe, even just for that moment. That as dark rainclouds threatened to wash all the glitter from the streets of Sandton, erasing our celebration come Monday morning, the sun burned the clouds away, leaving with it a double rainbow. A sight that collectively took our breath away and validated our existence in that space, at that time (this is a true story!).
Again, I am not saying that Pride of Africa should be allowed to evade critique and questioning. We must continue to hold the organisers to account for exclusionary, and what is clearly evident, bullying practices. However, when faced with the fact that the only major story about Pride that EWN ran was about how exclusionary the exclusive space of VIP is, we do a disservice to the queer community, the South African people and grossly misrepresent the overall experience of many of those who attended Pride.
If the treatment of transfolk of colour has taught us anything, even within our own LGBTIQ community, there is pride despite prejudice and prejudice despite pride. There is no binary of either pride or prejudice. The “or” is really an “and”. So, despite Locnville and in spite of the VIP section, the Pride of Africa march reminded us that in the face of the ugliness of queerphobia, sexism, classism and racism, there are still opportunities to celebrate our community and allies. Let no binary snapshot blur the fact that on 26 October 2019, we marched together in Pride, against prejudice.
Roy Gluckman is director at Cohesion Collective, an equality, diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm. Follow him on Twitter: @RoyGluckman