It’s been a trying December for black LGBT+ people like myself. This month, following backlash against past homophobic tweets and standup performances lamenting the possibility of having a gay son, Kevin Hart stepped down from his gig hosting the 91st Academy Awards.
As Hart is someone who has based sections of his comic performance on degrading gay people, and makes little apology for it, I have zero sympathy for him and feel indifferent to his resignation.
I’m unmoved by the controversy itself, because I’ve already had the pleasure of discovering that many black household names in comedy like Hart, Bernie Mac and Eddie Murphy have long sacrificed the dignity of gay people like me for the sake of a cheap two-liner.
This past week, because of Hart’s decision to quit, I’ve witnessed what seems to be a tug-of-war between liberal white gay media and straight black people. Unsurprisingly, many straight black people have rushed to defend the comedian, denouncing the exposure as an “agenda” to “tear down successful black men”. Nick Cannon in particular has highlighted white hypocrisy in selecting black victims for trials by archive, through unearthing past homophobic tweets by the white comedians Sarah Silverman, Chelsea Handler and Amy Schumer.
The problem isn’t that this is necessarily untrue. White liberal gay media definitely does have a selective practice of ctrl+F-ing the social media profiles of black public figures at crucial points in their career. Often the tweets were made pre-fame at a young age, as in the cases of Stormzy, Andre Gray and Mason Holgate, Holgate being a particularly convenient controversy as it distracted from his accusations that he was racially abused by another footballer.
The problem for black gay people is that we are left to question what it will take for straight black people to denounce and correct homophobia, with no ifs, buts or “whataboutery”. Of course, liberal white gay media has a transparent focus. As writer Steven Thrasher has argued, in a month where media focus should have (and hasn’t) rested on George HW Bush’s homophobic inaction during the Aids crisis which led to a genocide by neglect of American gay men, focusing on Hart illustrates how black men are easier to publicly condemn.
But even if this does perpetuate mythological stereotypes of the “ignorant, especially homophobic black male”, it is not the stereotype slaying black LGBT+ children like Giovanni Melton in their own homes, it’s people. Staying alert to racial bias and scapegoating is important, but so is holding those who ridicule, abuse and kill black LGBT+ people accountable.
The white gay response to Nick Cannon highlighting hypocrisy has been equally frustrating. When Cannon uncovered these tweets, a number of white gay comics instantly rushed to defend Silverman, Handler and Schumer. Rather than engaging with an important point – how white optics can construct black men as especially homophobic – they’ve revealed their blindness to race by gracefully providing these white women with “allyship” redemption narratives.
Each of these white comedians have cashed in on the economy of racist and homophobic jokes to prop up their performances. Silverman has been “booed off stage for ridiculing Martin Luther King”, Handler dismissed accusations of racism by saying “I’m not racist. I date a lot of black people,” and Amy “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual” Schumer’s offences are endless. So even if white LGBT+ people now embrace them as “allies”, none have, to my mind, taken any real, concrete action towards becoming “allies” to people of colour. As a black gay person, you’re therefore reminded that in white LGBT+ minds, defending straight white people takes precedence over racial issues.
When white people attempt to tackle “black” homophobia it frequently misses the mark. I’ve been frustrated by Peter Tatchell this past week, as, following the release of Jamaican reggae artist Buju Banton from prison, a conversation which should have focused on Florida’s mass incarceration of black men for drug-related offences was instead hijacked to focus on a homophobic song Banton released when he was 15.
After Tatchell referred to him as a “one-time ‘kill the gays’ singer”, many West Indian people, West Indian LGBT+ people included, were quick to point out that Banton had already moved past “murder music”, and his discography is already filled with the “uplifting and empowering” songs Tatchell has demanded he produce.
But while this has frustrated me, I’ve also been irked at those who have undermined the cultural impact of music which has encouraged and normalised discrimination against West Indian LGBT+ people. Once again, those who sit at the nexus of race and sexuality – West Indian LGBT+ people in this case – weren’t consulted by either camp.
When engaging with LGBT+ issues, it’s vital to make sure that they are not framed through solely white perspectives. In popular culture, when white gay men say that straight people shouldn’t sing the word “faggot” in “Fairytale of New York” because “you wouldn’t sing the N-word”, it’s clear they haven’t consulted with black people – who will tell you they hear white people scream the word with added emphasis whenever Kanye West comes on in the club.
Even in international policy, when Denmark announced it was withholding aid from Tanzania due to anti-gay comments pedalled by a senior politicians, I thought of those Tanzanian LGBT+ people, who would not only suffer the economic consequences alongside straight Tanzanians, but would also be scapegoated. As black LGBT+ people our identities often feel fragmented – this is intensified when we witness conversations on race and LGBT+ rights where we are a glaring omission. But people should listen to us, consider us, platform us. We have a lot to say, and we can probably say it better.