Myths About Homophobia and the Black Community

Why are so many liberals "concerned for" Jason Collins?

One of the things I hate most about the Internet is the comments section under any posts that address some marker of identity, be it gender, race or sexuality. The Real America lives in those comment spaces, finding a safe haven for things they are socialized not to say aloud. On the Internet, the Real America is protected by the cloak of anonymity. I’ve stopped scrolling to below the articles I read online, careful not to fall into the abyss of the comments section.

But last week, a lot of trolling came from within the articles themselves. There was lots to be said of Jason Collins’ decision to come out, though beyond the usual intolerance, there was a specific type of trolling that terrorized the pages of the Internet: misguided concern.

Suddenly, everyone wanted to talk about how homophobic black people are. All of us.

I’m not sure what’s more troubling, the belief that black people are all homophobic, or the belief that we’re all the same.

Many articles effortlessly painted the black community with one broad homophobic brush. Right here on the Philly Post, Gail Shister wrote: “What makes the NBA unique is that almost 80 percent of the players are black, and black men are notorious homophobes when it comes to one of their own.”

I won’t presume to know whether Shister pulled this information from the black men she hangs out with on a regular basis, but I’d like to see her contextualize her concern with some numbers.

On Grantland, Charles P. Pierce also discussed Collins’ coming out, and found a nuanced way to bring the Civil Rights Movement into it:

Homophobia in the black community—indeed, even among the leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s—was some of the most virulent and stubborn of all, and there are still some who resent the equation of the gay rights movement with their struggle.

Again, it appears that the notion that blacks are somehow more homophobic (and how exactly does one measure the degree to which one is homophobic?) than other groups appears to go unchecked, even in the historical context. Bayard Rustin, an openly gay man, was the activist at the forefront of the Civil Rights Movement, and organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. But that’s neither here nor there, I suppose.

This is not to say, of course, that homophobia does not exist among black people; it does, just as it does among individuals of other races. But this specific kind of trolling—the kind in which seemingly well-intentioned liberals expose their own biases and mischaracterize them as facts—I won’t scroll past.

In an effort to debunk the myth around homophobia in the black community, NPR’s Gene Demby looked at the data and found that blacks were less likely than whites by one point—a statistically insignificant number—to support same-sex marriage.

When CNN’s Don Lemon came out in 2011, he said that being gay is “about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You’re taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away.”

I don’t know Lemon’s personal experiences, nor do I know how closely he’s affiliated with a faith community. But his comments seemingly ignore the presence of the sexist and homophobic white evangelical set and reveal the frequent conflation of the black church with the larger black community. I can point to a lot of church-going black folk who are gay, and others who find the notion of praying away someone’s sexuality positively ridiculous. I’m sure you can, too.