Going to the MLK memorial dedications gave me quite a bit to think about. I struggled, a lot, with Dr. King’s messages of non violence growing up, and I am working on a piece about these different schools of thought and how they influence us. I was grateful to Xernona Clayton, for being so candid about her struggle with accepting nonviolence while studying with Dr. King, because she articulated so much of what I felt.
So imagine my surprise this morning, while checking my feeds, to see this piece from Kenyon Farrow, titled “In Defense of Brontez—and the Rest of Us Too Proud or Too Trashy to Go Down Without a Fight.” In it, Farrow describes a situation where a friend of his was subjected to homophobic comments, and what happened after the situation escalated:
[H]e and friend/bandmate Adal had left the Paradiso nightclub when two Black men with some Caribbean accent began harassing them as they left the club. Adal is not queer, but the two men, according to Brontez, assumed that they were a couple, and began calling them “batty boy” and other epithets. Finally, they made the statement, “if we were at home you’d be dead by now.”
Brontez, clearly enraged, went the fuck off. After more words were exchanged, and Brontez says he spit at the car the men were in, and then he was punched in the face. Brontez says he then hit the man’s car with his bicycle lock and they assaulted Brontez and Adal (who’s face was broken in five places). The police were called but no arrests have been made.
In a write up of the incident in the Bay Area Citizen, another prominent activist (Kevin Bynes) entered the comments section and disputed the version of facts Brontez gave, which sparked an argument – and led Farrow to reflect on how we expect people to respond to violence:
But as Brontez himself said, and I very much believe, he wasn’t going to just let that shit slide. Brontez actually states in the article what Bynes re-asserts in his comment—he didn’t expect to be threatened with violence at a place he’d frequented for years (both men live in the neighborhood where this incident took place), so I am not sure why Bynes re-states this point in his comment—unless he flat out does not believe anything at all transpired to make Brontez angry in the first place (The Bay Citizen published a second story where Adal corroborates Brontez’s assertion that the men started harassing them first). Bynes’ assertion that the club used to be a queer space but is still frequented by queers seems to ignore the realities many of us know from experience. Many of us have been at “the club” in any city USA that used to be a queer bar, and the straights who then take it over act brand fucking new and further marginalize queers who continue to go there. And since when did neighborhoods or establishments with lots of LGBT people mean they were free from homo/transphobic violence? That doesn’t make any kind of sense.
So the question for me here, and where I vehemently disagree with Bynes, is how one defines “provocation” and who judges what then is the socially acceptable response. I tend to agree with Brontez. Too often people who are targeted for violence have to have their motivations and their recollection of all the “facts” or chronology of all the events hyper-scrutinized beyond recognition if they at all do anything other than lay down and take the abuse (or in the case of sexual assault, you’re accused of lying if you don’t have any physical evidence that you fought back, or you choose to try to still (and steel) yourself to try to avoid further violence, or are simply in a state of shock). And what is more true than not, most of us, in some way, respond verbally or physically fight back.
I think Brontez was enraged by the situation and responded accordingly. But rage, as bell hooks once stated, is an appropriate response to oppression. I actually have never seen Brontez angry to the point of fighting the way he clearly must have been that night. But any of us, caught at the right place at the wrong time, may have responded similarly. People get tired of this bullshit. I am tired of it. I have had people hurl similar epithets and make threats to me. One day I may walk away. Another day, I walk right into that fire. Once, similar to what happened to Brontez—two Black men started with me, but when I didn’t run or back down, they punched my non-black friend instead—who once they engaged, thought was going to be an easier target. So I know what it means to reach that point where you say to yourself, Fuck it. I don’t give a fuck what happens today. I am not going to be disrespected and let you walk away from here thinking that shit is OK to do. Not now.
Farrow is hitting the nail on the head here, and I’ll take it a step further – sometimes, walking away or taking the high road reinforces to that person that their behavior is permissible. Because there was no get-back, and there was no come up. Perhaps this is a class influenced response – I love how Kenyon writes “too proud or too trashy,” because fighting or making a scene in public are both coded as low class behaviors. I’m still thinking on it and forming what I want to say, but for now the floor is open.