‘C’mon man, I think gay people are too sensitive. If you can take a dick, you can take a joke.’— Tracy Morgan
Like any group of people, rappers are individuals. I don’t expect the hip hip world to have a homogenous view of homosexuals, no matter what mass media tries to tell us. In the same vein, I recognize that those rap artists who have spoken about gays and gay issues, whether in lyrics or in interviews, have been overwhelmingly negative and offensive. To be honest, it’s what we expect and there’s good reason for that expectation. Imagine my surprise, then, when I came across this Fat Joe interview:
Yes, you read that correctly. Fat Joe thinks that there is a gay mafia running hip hop. Oh yes, there are gay rappers and he’s probably worked with them. But more importantly, the gays are running the industry from the boardrooms. And he seemingly doesn’t have a problem with it. In fact, he wishes that the gays would stop all the whining and hiding and just BE GAY.
To his credit, Joe (can I call you Joe?) makes some good points. He probably has worked with a gay artist. I am also certain that there are gay athletes in professional football and basketball. And yes, believe it or not, people of color have gay family members. Man, this Joe cat really knows what he’s talking about. So maybe that gay mafia idea isn’t so crazy after all. And with “gay” running everything, and with it “being 2011”, why do people hide that they’re gay? Why won’t they just “be real”? Dammit gay people, “REP YOUR SET!”
It turns out, Mr. Joe, that 2011 isn’t a magical number pre-ordained by the Mayan calendar as the “Year of the Gay”, hiding is sometimes a survival tactic and the “reality” of being gay involves much more than simply repping a set.
And by reality, I mean death. Children are taking their own lives to escape the mental and emotional torment of people who have a much less favorable view of the gay. Once we get the number of children who not only take their lives, but attempt to take their lives, contemplate taking their lives, and are bullied for being gay at all to zero, then we can entertain notions of simply being gay. Until then, there simply is no such thing.
Now, lest we erroneously relegate the issue of bullying to the playground, let’s be clear that children aren’t the only victims. Everyday, adults torment one another about their sexuality. Even when the gays “rep their set” hard enough to spur world leaders into action, the bullies aren’t far behind.
The difference is that adults can better defend themselves through greater access to support systems, the legal process, the electoral process, etc.
The one thing those defenses will not stop: words. The words are something that the survivors in marginalized groups must learn to withstand and use. Because this is America. Free speech requires that, except in very rare and specific instances, all speech be regulated by self alone. No one’s words should be stopped by another.
Speaking of which, T.I. has been talking about gay people and free speech too. He thinks that the inability to use your words, even when those words are hurtful to gay people, is un-American. So when Tracy Morgan tells choice jokes like the one at the beginning of this post, chuckling is appropriate, but chastising is not.
While T.I. makes clear that he supports anyone’s sexual preference, he then connects, in his opinion, a current oversensitivity among gay people with a consequential and ironic offense of the First Amendment. “They’re like,‘If you have an opinion against us, we’re gonna shut you down.’ … That’s not American. If you’re gay you should have the right to be gay in peace, and if you’re against it you should have the right to be against it in peace.’
Here’s another rapper who makes what appears to be a decent point. And I agree with him, to a point. As vile as Rick Perry may be and as much as I loathe what he says, I do not belie his right to say it. As nasty as I think Tracy Morgan’s joke is, I’d never take the microphone from his hand.
In the same breath, however, I reserve the right to speak out against both. That’s right, T.I. The freedom of speech isn’t a one way street. It means that just as Perry and Santorum and rap lyrics are out there telling Americans that what I do in my own home is a “lifestyle” deserving of no respect, or worse, violence, I am going to be telling Americans the truth. That doesn’t mean I’m “oversensitive” or that I’m preventing someone from exercising their right of free speech. It means that words have consequences. When you open your mouth, especially when you’re a storyteller, people are going to react. They may applaud or they may protest. They may buy your album or they may not. But either way, that is their right. And you, Clifford (his mama named him Clifford, I’ma call him Clifford), may not chastise them for doing so.
So what do Andre 3000, Fat Joe and T.I. have in common? They’re storytellers who would rather that we not tell our story. Joe wants us to just “be”. T.I. wants us to “be” in “peace”. And if we dare refuse being, and act gay, Andre 3000 recommends violence for putting us back into our place.
Imagine for a moment if women had continued to “be”. If African-Americans continued to “be”. If Latinos continued to “be”. If disabled persons continued to “be”. Let’s be real. People who “are” are walked over in this country. Humanity is not offered, it’s fought for. The only thing that “being” does for marginalized people is keep them marginalized.
I don’t know about you, but I’m off to find something to do.