The trailblazing Emmy- and Tony-winning actor writes about living as a gay Black man in America, and why this election is so damn important.

Billy Porter: America Is Not ‘Better Than This.’ But It Can Be.

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” —James Baldwin

We are better than this!” I hate it when people say that as if what’s going on in America at present is something new.

So let me be clear right up front: America is not now, nor have we ever been, better than this. We have tried and, for suspended moments in time, we have succeeded. But make no mistake: This moment we are in is pure and purposeful chaos. We are a country founded on the plunder and genocide of a people who were already occupying this land, and a country built on the backs of a people stolen from their homeland, shackled on ships, and brought here to be enslaved. For 250 years! Think about that for just one moment. Take that number in for real. I finally have: a quarter-millennium.

During my youth, I didn’t spend a lot of time learning Black history. I know that’s not a good look and I’m embarrassed by it, but now I understand why I never took the time to burrow into my horrific ancestral past. I couldn’t have handled the unadulterated truth earlier than now. My mind, my body had always internalized the generational trauma that was passed down cellularly, and to name that grief too soon would have destroyed me. I had to focus on the present to survive. I’m a Black gay man living in this mess of America every day of my life. My rights and humanity have been up for legislation from the moment I could comprehend thought. And while ’tis true that American slavery was abolished in 1865, in 2020 many of us remain enslaved.

I don’t even know where to begin. I’m sick of talkin’ about it. I’m all cried out. I’m done being scared. I’m over being terrified. I’m simply filled with rage—a kind of rage that causes me to involuntarily tremble from the inside of my soul. This rage keeps me in a broken place where there is no peace. Ain’t never been no peace for me: a Black, gay man living in America. Rejection and oppression from the other side, and then turn around and get the same thing from my own. I’ve always found it strange how historically oppressed people very often turn around and inflict the same kind of pain onto another group of humans. I don’t get it.