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By Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Darnell L. Moore, & Kenyon Farrow
Over and over again as racially-conscious, Black feminist lesbian and gay people, we find ourselves being told to be silent when misogyny and homophobia rears its head in order to be accepted as Black by the larger community. The most recent debacle from Roland Martin’s homophobic tweets during the Super Bowl is one of too many examples:
If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl
Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from team #whipdatass
Martin’s comments were reprehensible in any environment, but most especially during the super-macho (and super-hetero) Super Bowl. Using Suzanne Pharr’s analysis that “Homophobia [is] a weapon of sexism,” it’s also apparent that Martin’s issue with Beckham’s bikini briefs, the unmanly sport of soccer, or the fan’s “pink suit,” relies heavily on sexism to reinforce heterosexist definitions of manhood.
We can’t afford to take homophobia lightly.
For so many LGBTQ people, many of whom are Black, this is life and death. When a noted journalist like Martin uses humor to condone violence against men who appear to be gay, it is insensitive, careless, and extremely irresponsible.
Some have even argued that Martin’s fate is a result of the response of misguided people who have given too much power to words. According to Raynard Jackson, writing in response to this debacle for The Washington Post, “words have no intrinsic meaning other than meanings that are internalized by each individual.”
Words are merely words, right? No! They actually shape the climate in which someone’s “ass” may literally be beat and murdered altogether. The next day after Martin’s tweets, a video surfaced of Brandon White, a black gay man who was jumped by multiple men in Atlanta for wearing skinny jeans. Much like Martin’s tweets, this video shows that someone’s choice of clothing, which others may view as contrary to their gender and abnormal, is a reason to be subject to assault. Our thoughts and the words that we use are reflected through actions. As a result, we need not use words that produce harm, but words that seek to ameliorate violence.
So, where are the “words” of condemnation emanating from the Black progressive establishment regarding Martin’s tweets or the numerous physical attacks on Black LGBT people that happen daily?
The deafening silence from Non-LGBTQ Black Civil Rights organizations and public intellectuals taking a stand against homophobia is unacceptable. It’s as if racism is the main/real issue worthy of being addressed, with sexism/misogyny in a very distant second place, and homophobia a practically non-existent third place on our Black civil rights platform. Why do these organizations and “leaders” continue to act as if they are not accountable to Black people who are LGBTQ? Aren’t we Black, too?
Similarly, why does GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) act is if they are not accountable to LGBTQ people who are Black? As Robert Jones, Jr., author of the Son of Baldwin blog stated, “I think Roland Martin deserved censure and suspension, just like Don Imus deserved being terminated. But where is GLAAD when [white gay writers like] Andrew Sullivan and Dan Savage make their racist statements? I sense a double standard and it REEKS of racism.”
GLAAD’s swift action to demand that CNN fire Martin gives us pause. Interestingly enough, GLAAD didn’t also demand TVOne, a Black-owned network, where Martin hosts a weekly show, to fire him. Clearly, based on GLAAD’s actions, they’re not very concerned about the impact of Martin’s homophobia on Black networks (if they even know the networks exist). In response to Martin’s comments, GLAAD’s website reiterates, “Our goal is to ensure better coverage that works toward ending anti-LGBT violence.”
If that is GLAAD’s goal, then why aren’t they also holding other outlets where Roland Martin has a platform accountable? Furthermore, Martin recently met with GLAAD; but none of the Black queer people who first called Martin out over Twitter was invited by GLAAD to join in such a meeting. Why is Martin only accountable to GLAAD?
Cleo Manago, CEO and founder of the Black Men’s Xchange (BMX), had this to say about GLAAD’s demand that Martin be fired from CNN: “…we are still in the process of recovering from many challenges that have resulted from being Black in America. Still, lily-White organizations like GLAAD are not in the position to complain about alleged injustice from Blacks. They clearly are not culturally competent enough to accurately interpret the voices of Black people.”
While Manago might be correct to interrogate GLAAD’s “cultural competency,” he too misses a valuable point.
The fact is: it was Black queer men and women, and not some “lily-white organization,” who were the first to call attention to Martin’s heterosexist words. GLAAD’s response, and CNN’s subsequent move to suspend Martin, followed the swift rebuke of Twitter personalities @kenyonfarrow, @Anti_Intellect, @TheFireNextTime.
The fact is: it was Black brothers and sisters who called out a Black brother. Period.
Given the facts, let’s assume that the Black men and women who rightly pointed out Martin’s violent words were indeed “culturally competent enough” to interpret Roland’s words as sexist and homophobic (because they were), where will Manago and others now point their fingers?
The claim that somehow we should ignore heterosexist remarks, particularly those spewed by other Black folk, because of the force of racism, is dangerously limited. There are no battles (i.e. calling out and resisting racism OR calling out and resisting homophobia) to choose in this regard. There is but one battle and that is our sustained resistance to oppression when and wherever it rears its head.
The idea that we should forego calling Martin out for his heterosexism because he is Black is just as myopic as thinking that we should not call out GLAAD for the lack of response to racism within and without the queer community. Both are wrong and require our resistance.
We, as individuals and organizations in the Black community, should embrace a vision of our community that doesn’t try to sacrifice any of us for the so-called progress of the majority, whether about gender/sexuality, economic status, or other complexities of Black life. Then we might begin to make some headway with addressing the ways that multiple forms of oppression impact so many of us.
No one is free while others are oppressed.
Darnell L. Moore is a 2011-12 Visiting Scholar in the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University. He lives and writes in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. You can follow him on twitter @moore_darnell .
Kenyon Farrow is a writer and activist living in NYC. He blogs at kenyonfarrow.com.