Getting at the Root of Black Homophobic Speech
Washington, DC – I’ve received an overwhelming response to my recent piece about The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation’s (GLAAD) demand for CNN to fire Roland Martin due to what they perceived as homophobic tweets. Most people agreed with my position, but, for those who questioned my view that GLAAD is not in a position to complain about alleged injustice from Blacks, a quick look at the root of Black homophobia should provide context.
Since my initial column, CNN announced the “indefinite suspension” of one of the strongest Black voices on the network and Martin has agreed to meet with The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD). GLAAD probably thinks that it has achieved a good. I disagree.
While I do not condone in anyway what Martin tweeted, I remain firm in my belief that without any attempt to understand the Black male experience in this country these kinds of attacks on Black men who “behave badly” do more harm than good. We should never let bigotry or hate go unchecked, but we certainly shouldn’t react in a more hostile way to the behavior of Black men as if our transgressions are somehow worse than any others, as GLAAD has done in this instance and in many more before.
White gay America is fond of treating homophobia in the Black community as if it is a more virulent strain of homophobia than in other communities. This is why you never hear criticism of “homophobic” jokes by comedians like Joan Rivers or Lisa Lampanelli even though Tracy Morgan was forced to apologize numerous times for a joke that was deliberately misrepresented in the media. Presumably, the paternalistic relationship that heterosexual White women have with White gay men is not worthy of the same withering attacks as Black “homophobia.”
Contrary to the prevailing wisdom in America, Black people – Black men specifically -are not more homophobic than other groups of people. But Black men’s male insecurity – a more accurate term for what we are really discussing – does have a root cause: White supremacy’s emasculation of Black men and its twisted construction of Black masculinity as inherently violent, predatory, disposable and dangerous.
Black men, from the very first moment they were brought to this country, were criminalized and stigmatized. Black virility was prized because it could ensure that there would be more slaves, but it was also something to be feared. Black men watched their fathers, sons, uncles, cousins and friends castrated, whipped, raped and beaten, and “drawn and quartered,” often to “break” Black men and bend them to the will of White people.
But no one wants to talk about that. No one even pays lip service to this fact because White people are tired of talking about racism. But they never seem to have a problem lambasting the behavior of Black men that’s a direct result of this racist oppression.
Roland Martin is a Black man who talks the way some Black men talk. His tweets about the David Beckham underwear ad are not simply homophobic, they are an example of the insecurity that many Black men feel about whether or not they can be “real bruhs” as defined by a racist, patriarchal society that has delighted in emasculating them.
Black men often put a premium on patriarchal notions of what it is to be a man because that is how we have been conditioned. So it is patently false to suggest – as the disproportionate attack on Black men by predominantly White gay organizations does – that Black people are naturally more homophobic than other groups.
Without an understanding of the deep hurt that Black men have around issues of masculinity and their role as a man, you can’t hope to eliminate anti-homosexual sentiment in Black men. There has been no national project to address the psychic damage that White supremacy has done to Black men. But there is always some predominantly White institution waiting, ready to pounce on a Black man for behaving badly.
The truth, which a lot of Black people think but don’t say out of fear of punishment, is that GLAAD and other White gay organizations aren’t concerned with the life of Black men, homosexual or heterosexual. But they are perfectly comfortable co-opting the language, tactics, and icons of the Black American civil rights community. They claim their agenda is the new civil rights movement and say flagrantly untrue and insulting things like “gay is the new Black,” which essentially re-inscribes the false notion of Black inferiority. And they are unconcerned, even dismissive of, the resentment that Black people feel at having their movement hijacked. Nor do they bother to consider the affect such behavior has on their ability to address homophobia and male insecurity in the Black community.
This is what I meant when I said in my last column that I was insulted by the actions of GLAAD and said that the organization is not “in the position to complain about alleged injustice from Blacks.” GLAAD and other White gay organizations need to take a long look at their own actions and at the White privilege they use to castigate Black men for being somehow the worst homophobes in the United States.
Cleo Manago is founder and CEO of the Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), the nation’s oldest and largest community-based movement devoted to promoting healthy self-concept and behavior among same gender loving (SGL), gay-identifying and bisexual African-descended males.