OPINION: Dispelling the Big Black Homophobia Myth

Homophobia in the black community isn’t any more problematic than in other groups in America – it’s just exploited differently.

Wanda Sykes at the 50th anniversary of the LGBT civil rights movement in Philly.

Wanda Sykes at the 50th anniversary of the LGBT civil rights movement in Philly.

It’s horrible when people, especially professors, tell you how to think. It’s even worse when they try to explain why.

“I can only imagine how difficult it was for you to come out, given how the black community is known for culturally being more homophobic than everyone else,” my white professor at Penn told me after a lecture. “For some reason, they just seem to be less accepting.”

This is bullshit – but if I were him, I would have probably drunk the Kool-Aid too given how society has depicted the situation.

As an openly black gay man who was born in Chicago, raised in Houston, and now living in Philly, I would like to dispel the big black elephant that tends to creep within conversations about race and acceptance in LGBTQ social circles.

No, the black community isn’t more grotesquely homophobic than every other racial group in America – culture has just selectively exploited the problem.

People love to reference homophobic rap lyrics and black comedians known for making gay-bashing jokes. They even talk about the role of the black church in disproportionately condemning homosexuality in a community that has seen more gun violence and economic disparity than other populations.

The rationale for this myth seems justifiable with the existence of “DL” (down-low) men, the persistence of HIV/AIDS, and the lack of visible out LGBTQ celebrities and public figures.

However, this problem isn’t rooted in heightened doses of genetic homophobia — but society’s disproportional expectations of racial masculinity through pillars of class and privilege.

For example, growing up in a single-parent household in the South, I was bullied quite a bit. When I got my fancy Penn degree, the homophobia still existed, but the acceptance deflected some of it. My sexual orientation didn’t change, but my financial situation and education level did.

In other words, privilege – whether racial or socioeconomic – changes things.

For one, when we assume that white communities across the country are all in for LGBTQ equality, we’re letting our enjoyment of Modern Family get the best of us. Let’s not forget that the late Matthew Sheppard was white, that Westboro Baptist Church comes from a predominately white community, and that it was three white Philly millennials who assaulted a gay couple in Center City.

Homophobia is alive and well in all of our racial groups equally – but the manufactured fragility of black masculinity creates the disillusion. Since the beginning of mainstream media and culture, black male bodies have been exploited and mass-produced as hyper-masculine figures of sexuality, athleticism, and aggression. We see this in horrible films such as Mandingo, in the constant gangsta roles given to black actors who can do more elevated work, and in adult entertainment when they are called “homo thugs” with “BBC” (big black cock).

Yes, I just went there. But it’s time to get real about how these stereotypes are formed.

A culture that has propagated a hyper-masculine expectation for one race and not many others at the same level is how we arrived at this place in time. For example, an Asian man can dress his hair in various lengths and cuts without his sexual orientation being called into question. If I were to dye my hair tomorrow, I would be told I was being “too gay.”

Such recent examples in culture are shown in how straight black NFL star Odell Beckham, Jr., is constantly considered “suspect” for the blonde dye in his hair and his casual squad dancing with his homeboy, while straight white actor Tatum Channing can be celebrated for lip-syncing Beyoncé in cross-dress.

There are countless double standards pitting various communities of color against the mainstream bias of how they perform their sexual orientation and gender expression. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing those intersections, we’d rather just use individual communities as scapegoats to the problem rather than address it directly.

So perhaps we can now. Stop pushing this myth and start exploring the reasons why you initially thought it. Let’s start having more mature conversations about cross-cultural exchanges when it comes to LGBTQ visibility and acceptance.

No one racial community has perfected LGBTQ acceptance. For every imagined Will & Grace white social scene you think exists, there is also a bigoted network of staunch white conservatives hoping to abolish our constitutional rights to love and be employed. For every black church using its pulpit to condemn the gay men in their choir, there are black politicians like Pennsylvania state Senator Anthony Williams and President Barack Obama who push for equality for all LGBTQ citizens.

Getting into a pissing match about which community is more homophobic than the other is regressive. Getting to bottom of how we can combat stereotypes and stigmas that heighten the tension is how can better ensure a better community for us all.