This article was written by a white BiCon attendee and is primarily aimed at other white people.
Most of us think of BiCon as home away from home, that place where we can express ourselves without judgment or assumptions. For one weekend a year, we’re among friends, family, and we have worked hard to make that family inclusive of all who want to join us. We can see the results of this inclusion work in our demographics: trans, non-binary and disabled people tend to be well represented compared to the UK’s general population, and some regular attendees make long trips from abroad to be with us.
But that same look into our demographics shows that this inclusion work hasn’t reached everyone. For all our efforts to be a diverse bunch of bisexual folk and allies, we are still a pretty white bunch. Black and minority ethnic presence at BiCon is always much lower than the general population, and those who do come once often find it's not worth coming back. Something is going on here, and we can’t pretend we don’t see what it is.
Bicon is racist.
“But – but!” No. Listen. Or rather, read.
Nobody likes to think that something they hold so dear and precious to them has problems. How can a space that feels so welcoming to me be putting others off? It doesn’t make sense!
I get it. BiCon is home for many, a safe space. Proud of what has been built over the years, some can get very protective of it. But we can – and we must – learn be protective and proud of something while still seeing its flaws. We have to be able to acknowledge those flaws if we want to move forward and improve.
So, yes, BiCon is racist. Say it out loud. Say it again. Yes, it’ll make you uncomfortable. It’ll get personal, and it’ll hurt for some. That’s what we’re going for here.
The thing is – It also hurts when our black attendees get asked if they are in the right place by workshop facilitators or other attendees (because white people assume talks about non-heteronormative sexualities are not for black people? Or suddenly forget that black people can be bisexual too? Because we don’t even realise we are making excuses, but we make them anyway because that’s how structural racism works?). It hurts to bring those comments to the attention of the organisers, only to be dismissed because “it wasn’t on purpose” or “we can’t control what others say”. And so a big part of our community is hurt and pushed away, and most of us don’t even notice.
But if BiCon is racist, does it mean I’m racist too?
I can’t be racist! I don’t hate black people! I even have black friends!
As long as we define “racism” and “being racist” as only those overt, extreme actions of hatred, we’ll continue to ignore the more subtle (but no less hurtful) signs that we’ve been brought up in a racist society, and that we reproduce and perpetuate this racism even when we don’t mean to. We need to broaden our definition and our understanding of racism if we want to work on tackling it within ourselves and within the communities we love. We need to learn to admit that we’re probably more racist than we thought, more than we would like to be. And then, once we acknowledge the problem, we can finally take steps to address it.
So say it again: BiCon is racist.
The good news is that tackling this racism, now that we acknowledged its lurking presence, doesn’t need to be a Herculean task. We as a community managed to do some great inclusion work for trans, non-binary people and disabled folk. We worked really hard to get there and we continue to work on this year after year. We’re not new to this complicated, but necessary work.
One last time, for good luck: BiCon is racist. And it’s about time we stop making excuses.