Sometimes cultural suppression doesn’t look like you might think it does. Commonly when thinking about cultural suppression, we think of people being beaten or having restricted access. Signs like “White Only” comes to mind. But culture suppression can also look like this: recently someone asked a group I was in not to talk about “(and bootblack)” culture. That was all. Just a request not to talk about an issue that faces my subculture of bootblacks across the country and possibly the world. A simple and respectfully made request.
I refused. In the late 1980's people in the gay and leather communities knew Silence equals Death. How could we forget that?
I refused. And I always will. Here's why:
I am a bootblack. That is part of why my website is www.slaveheartBOOTBLACK.com. Bootblacks and our history, our struggles and our successes are a part of my life now and always will be. It is a subculture within the Leather and Kink subcultures and it is mine! I will talk about my culture openly and I will not be silenced.
So let me explain “(and Bootblack) culture” and why it is a rallying cry for bootblacks like myself and allies and supporters and fans of bootblacks.. In Laura Antoniou's book “The Killer Wore Leather”, a fun parody of leather title contests, every time the contest titles were mentioned it was “Mr. and Ms. Global Leather (and bootblack)”. This is a commentary of how bootblacks have often been overlooked, not included or even shunned within leather communities and contests and culture. Bamm-bamm, International Mr. Bootblack 2015, asked Laura if he could print shirts with (and Bootblack) to help raise awareness of this secondhand citizen culture and she said yes. Since then, Bamm-bamm and many other bootblacks have used “(and bootblacks)” to help raise awareness and start a conversation within our communities that needs to happen. A conversation that can and already has started to create social change within our communities, to be more inclusive and respectful to those of us who care for the leather we all love to wear. It has become a rallying cry for social change within our culture.
I am blessed enough to live in Colorado, a place that in my travels so far, is the most supportive and inclusive of bootblacks within our larger leather community. Yet, even here, (and bootblack) culture exists. At our largest kink event this year, when they presented the staff and thanked them for all they did, the director who set up Bootblack Alley and set our schedules was announced and thanked only for his other duties and responsibilities and all of his hard work to organise us bootblacks was left unmentioned.
Last year at a different event, even though the contact bootblack suggested more stands be set up, the organizers decided no and that event had over 4 bootblacks who did not get to practice their art that event. Not because there was a lack of interests, but because of a lack of space offered to us.
Now the Colorado contest coordinator and the Leather Colorado Foundation are amazing! Watching the support and care and promoting I have seen them do this year for our Colorado Bootblack 2016, Random, has been inspiring and sometimes I am envious of it. But just because one organization within our community is a shining example of what we all can be does not mean the fight is over or that (and bootblack) discussions need to stop.
(and bootblack) has become the banner that bootblacks stand under, as we march forth to take our rightful place next to other Leather Titleholders with pride. (and bootblack) is our way of reclaiming our identities. Just like The Ethical Slut reclaims the word “slut” to help empower nonmonogamous people who enjoy what they do (and who they do), so to does (and bootblack) empower us. It allows us to have the courage to hand a note up to the stage when a very tired director almost forgets to thank the bootblacks when giving event thank yous, not out of malice or disrespect but simply out of exhaustion and a missing page of script, which they acknowledged they lost when they got up there.
I accept that for some of you within our local community talking and hearing about (and bootblack) culture is uncomfortable for you. But asking us not to discuss it is like asking a gay man to discuss his sexuality without using the term ”gay” or asking a black person to speak about their culture and not use the word “brother”. It is awkward, uncomfortable, and disrespectful. As a bootblack, (and bootblack) is part of who and what we are. It is a part of our history and our culture. It is a part of our pride and a calling out both of the larger Leather community and of ourselves. Because yes, we bootblacks are also responsible for our place in our larger community and I am proud of all bootblacks who are working to step up and help us be seen. It is a very important part of who and what we are. So no, I am not ever going to refrain from talking about it. For the past five years, I have lived with this culture of hiding bootblacks instead of embracing us and I still live with it. Our battle for inclusion isn't done. And I will not allow anyone to make us silent no matter how much they think the culture isn't true here. It is true in too many places and the word needs to continue to spread. Until such time as all of the leather community has changed “(and bootblack)” to “and bootblack!”, you will hear our battle cry. And after it has changed, you will still hear it as we joyfully sing out “and bootblack!” In our victory of being fully included throughout both the nation and the world for who and what we are.
We are bootblacks and we will not be silenced!
Dedicated Service and Excellence Always