It’s 1:00 am, I have to wake at 6, but I cannot go to sleep without purging my busy thoughts. If you watched my story today on Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook, you saw that I attended a certain event. It was a book launch for author Clay Cane’s Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race. Through the lens of my phone it was just like any normal book launch. The author does a reading, there’s a Q&A, and then a signing. But what you didn’t see (and some of what even I didn’t see) is what made the most impact.
A Book Launch
Picture the scene: after a rapturous reading of a chapter by Cane and an enlightening interview of him hosted by Malcolm Kenyatta, there were a few questions from audience members – the content of which escapes my recollection. The final question had been answered, the audience was happy, the author had done his job, and everyone was ready to get their book signed and go home. But then something happened.
Cane awkwardly asked a member of his team, stationed at the back of the room, if they were still doing this. After getting an answer in the affirmative, he proceeded to make mention of a man who bought twenty of his books and decided to donate the books to the Attic Youth Center, a local community center for LGBT youth in Philadelphia. The thing that made this so strange was that the man was none other than Darryl DePiano, white owner of the club iCandy. I bring his race into it for a reason. For, in late 2016, he was caught on camera calling some of his patrons the n-word. Not to their face, of course. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding race relations within Philly’s LGBT community. To bring it back to tonight, it wasn’t that DePiano bought books to donate that was so odd to me. It was the fact that it needed any acknowledgement at all. After a long conversation about marginalized people within the LGBT community, and a celebration of this Black man’s achievement in publishing this book, it ended in a rousing acknowledgment of a man who used a racial slur. Suddenly, and only for a quick moment, Clay Cane took a back seat at his own event. He even had another gentleman (whom I believe represented the Attic Youth Center in some capacity) come up and make a statement on DePiano’s gesture. This gentleman, caught off guard, continued the awkwardness by basically shrugging and not confirming whether or not the Attic would accept the donation. It may sound like a long, dramatic scene here, but it was only a few minutes long. And while I felt the twinge of the event hitting a bad note, I still clapped along with rest of the audience as Cane announced this as “a good first step”. That was it. I had cast the moment out of my mind, for it was a good first step by a man who needed to make repairs for the damage he’d done. Wasn’t it? One attendee didn’t think so.
The audience broke and we all got ready to line up to get our books signed. Me being my “fearless” self, I had sat in the front row. So, I noticed when journalist Ernest Owens approached the stage. Since the event morphed into a more social atmosphere, I had adopted my protective mode – a way of being that can be described as aloof. Gay Philly has taught me that there’s little value in kindness and common decency. So I expected to make nice with a couple of people I knew, but long ago dropped the expectation that any of them actually cared for my presence. With that in mind, I was happy to see Ernest. He was one person I could always count on for a genuine greeting with a smile and even an inquiry into what was going on in my life. I came up beside him, he saw me, we said “hi” and hugged, but that was it. He wasn’t the same person I had met multiple times at various events around town. Something felt…off. At first, I chalked it up to yet another person whom I thought genuine, but was just indulging me so that I could move along faster. But when I got home, I realized that there was something brewing just beneath the surface.
Reading Between the Lines
I arrived home, undid my button-down, checked my phone for the millionth time that day, and saw that there had been a live video posted by Ernest Owens on Facebook. My first inner reaction is best described as identical to the popular image of Little Women: Atlanta’s Ms. Juicy saying, “Ooh, gurl…”. Owens’ Facebook video was titled Coonery, backstabbing, books, and betrayal. He always has a good Facebook live video, so needless to say, I was ready for the tea. What I didn’t expect was how hot it would be – nor how much it would shake me up.
Owens posted a reaction to something that had just happened at the event. I, of course, missed the drama. Apparently, after I left, Owens was drawn into a conversation with Cane’s team member about the strange shout-out on stage. After being asked his opinion, he stated that it was a bad idea, which caused the conversation to escalate. Owens left and proceeded to record his reactions in two videos: one right after the event (above), and another when he got home (below). He thought accepting money from DePiano and then to announce it on stage was flat-out wrong. I would describe Owens in his video as flabbergasted. While watching, I found myself agreeing with what he said, but something troubled me: Why wasn’t that my reaction? Why hadn’t I seen all the wrong with what had happened on stage? I felt like I shouldn’t have clapped; like I should have had a more disgusted look on my face instead of just momentarily confused.
I didn’t get to a moment of clarity until I watched the second video, where Owens mentioned that Cane’s team member allegedly approached DePiano to buy the twenty copies of books. That’s when I had an “aha moment”. If this is true, DePiano didn’t take any of his own effort and initiative to make a donation of books, but saw it more as a marketing opportunity. And after Owens said “…stand for something,” in his video, this caused me to take a hard look at my own thinking.
Just how “woke” am I? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for some time now. When reading tweets and replies of various serious online discussions, I marvel at the depth of understanding of the nuances of particular situations. I approach Twitter nearly every day with a bit skepticism when I see the torch-and-pitchfork language of a public dragging. Yet, somehow my skepticism changes from to Oh, I see! Then I get into the very bad habit of comparing my level of understanding with others and feeling bad that my wokeness isn’t quite up to snuff. Owens’ videos brought these feelings to the surface again, but instead of feeling bad, this time I got a bit of hope.
I may not immediately get all of the arguments that people make regarding serious racial / political matters, but I’ve learned to keep my mouth closed and ears open to listen and learn. Now, it’s time for me to stand for something. There are some brands that I won’t buy and some clubs I won’t go to, but that resolve has a tendency to waver. An example that comes to mind is: How long can I really avoid _____? Fill in the blank with a brand. What I learned tonight is that the answer should be forever, or until they make huge, serious change in what they promote or how they operate. I have to strengthen my resolve to say no to the things that don’t support my community. If I had that resolve, perhaps I wouldn’t have gotten swept up in the crowd mentality and applaud at the event.
I wouldn’t have come to this realization if Owens didn’t say anything, so I thank him. My hope is that by writing this, I haven’t hurt my relationship with Clay Cane, whom I hope to someday have on The Read. I merely had to set up the story to reveal its impact. Most of all, I hope that whomever reads this takes home the same message I got. When you learn something, you have to act. Don’t watch that film when you know all about the troublesome casting. Don’t go to the restaurant that you know supports causes against your community just because you like their nuggets so much. Resist.