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When It Comes to Race, Watch Your Mouth

When It Comes to Race, Watch Your Mouth

When It Comes to Race, Watch Your Mouth

Sampson McCormick laments the clumsy and infuriating ways race is casually discussed in this year's election.

I'm not politically correct at all. I'm a black gay man who shamelessly embraces his identity and remains vocal about his experiences in a country that stigmatizes both his skin color and sexuality. In a time when respectability politics are encouraged, being proud and unabashed about calling out injustices wherever they are or how I experience them in its own way makes my very existence "politically incorrect." Let's face it, talking honestly about race issues and, sometimes, just being black and walking into a room, bar, or elevator can make people uncomfortable, even if you appear to be "nonthreatening."

In my life, that stigma itself has caused white women to clutch their purses to their chests when I walk by, people to shift and lock their doors when I pass their vehicle at a stop light or grocery store parking lot. The stigmas render me invisible in bars until folks are drunk enough to stumble over and inquire whether or not I have a big black cock -- especially in gay bars, where I have had some of the most awkward, racist experiences. For a long time, it shocked me that gays can be just as racist as anyone else, coupled with the fact that some queens just plain old lack tact and decency to begin with. In the most unfortunate of circumstances, seeing black youth brutalized and murdered by law enforcement officials, those sworn to protect and serve, can be the result of long-festering stigma.

Those are hard issues to talk about, but the reality is, not discussing them or working to change the ways we view race issues in the country accomplishes nothing. While we've made some progress socially and politically, I'm appalled that with each election cycle we still find ourselves grappling with issues that we, as a supposedly civilized society, should have moved past, including immigration, health care, education, LGBT rights, women's rights, and race. While the election of President Obama is proof of advancement, we can't forget that he's also been one of the most disrespected presidents by Congress and even within many parts of the country -- much of this just because of the color of his skin. It absolutely kills some folks that they have to turn on the television every day and see a man of color as our commander in chief. To me, he's been one of the best presidents of my lifetime, helping our economy recover and moving our country forward by leaps and bounds when it comes to social and civil rights issues, including marriage equality.

As we approach the upcoming election cycle, the goal is to continue that progress. This brings us back to the issue of race and how it's handled by our presidential candidates, and courting black voters. We already know that Donald Trump is a bigot, a racist, and, well, an idiot. As a minority who identifies as liberal but most of all, a person who values common sense, for me it goes without saying that a person like Trump doesn't have my best interests at heart. The lack of political correctness -- which I appreciate -- and tact from the Republican platform allows conservatives to come right out and say the things that let us know to never vote for them.

While I usually have my mind made up to vote Democratic, I've always made a point to see how our candidates and party interact with the black community during election season. This year has already proven somewhat awkward, even a little cringeworthy. A few situations involving Hillary Clinton made me give the former secretary of State the side eye, including waving off protesters who had valid concerns about past comments she made in reference to black youth being "super predators." (Remember earlier when I mentioned the harms of stigmatization?) Then, recently appearing on a black radio show, The Breakfast Club, she talked about hot sauce in her bag, which seemed like a Beyonce "Formation" reference, and the most awkward being in New York City, on stage with Mayor Bill Di Blasio, and an actor from the Broadway musical Hamilton. In an exchange, the mayor throws his support behind Clinton, who jokes that it "took him long enough." After a giggle from the crowd, we watch as he responds "Sorry Hillary, I was on CP Time" (commonly known as Colored People's Time, because of the stereotype that black folks are always a few minutes or a couple hours late). This drew a groan from the crowd, as the Hamilton actor, who's black, said he didn't approve of the joke. Hillary, looking mortified, carefully cleaned it up, saying he meant "Cautious Politician Time."

The general response to the comment was a big public eye-roll as if we all know that some white people, attempting to seem "hip," can appear quite awkward. It was the equivalent to seeing a group of black youth break-dancing or twerking, then watching a clueless white person get in the dance circle and try to emulate the moves, only to look completely out of place while everyone else stops dancing to stare in disbelief or walk away, shaking their heads and laughing. The fact is, some things, especially making jokes at the expense of any minority group, aren't cool to do on a national political stage, where race is already a hot-button topic.

It's simple -- unless you belong to a race, group or culture, you don't have the privilege of using certain expressions. I personally don't use the n word or similar expressions, but I've had white friends and white people who I don't know ask, "Well, if you all get to say it, when why can't we?" If you have to seek permission to use a term, that should tell you something is wrong.

People need to understand that expressions are exclusive to a specific culture for significant reasons, which most times involve that group taking the power way from the term -- originally intended to insult or harm -- and turning it into an culturally collective expression of endearment and empowerment.

Whether it's gay men using the t word or white folks dropping the n word, there are certain expressions that simply aren't cool to use. This isn't about political correctness -- it's about respect. And for when you don't know what to say, maybe don't say anything.

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SAMPSON MCCORMICK is a comedian, writer, and activist. He also produced a documentary about his experiences trying to make it in the comedy world, A Tough Act to Follow.

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Sampson McCormick