Hip hop's homophobia and black gay America's silence

By Jasmyne A. Cannick

Last month, rapper Busta Rhymes let the world know how he feels about gays. While in Miami, Busta was at a diner with his bodyguards when a fan came up to him from behind and tapped him on the shoulder to congratulate him for his recent "comeback." According to the New York Post, the diner was located next door to the popular gay club Twist, and the restaurant was "packed with transvestites, gay men and drag queens, which obviously made Busta a little edgy."

The paper went on to report that, "Before the guy could even mutter a word, Busta turned around and repeatedly screamed, 'Why the f--k you touchin' me, man? Get the f--k away from me.'" The Post also went on to say that Busta's bodyguards jumped into the situation by shoving the man away. Afterwards, Busta reportedly whispered to his bodyguards, 'I hate f--king faggots, man.'"

Busta's actions are reprehensible. No matter what his personal feelings about gay men are, as a celebrity you know that when you are in public fans of all kinds are likely going to approach you. But what I take particular issue with in Busta's altercation is that unless the fan said, "Hi I'm gay and I want to congratulate you on your comeback," how in the hell would Busta know if he was gay? Was Busta partaking in gay profiling?

This latest incident comes directly on the heels of the release of Busta's "Touch It" remix which continues to be in heavy rotation on urban radio stations across the country. Earlier this month, "Touch It," which is out on the Aftermath/Interscope label, was number 5 on the Billboard Hot Rap Tracks Chart. Featuring Lloyd Banks, DMX, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliot, Papoose, and Rah Digga, the song also features a line where rapper DMX says, "Fuck you faggot, I shot at you!"

Now let's get real about this.

When radio shock jock David Lenihan used the word "coon," a racial slur, instead of "coup" in a story about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her attributes for the post of NFL commissioner, the St. Louis shock jock was immediately fired.

Likewise, if a song done by a white artist featured lyrics calling for the shooting of niggers, it would have been headline news in a matter or minutes. Civil rights groups all over the country would have issued statements and press releases calling for the removal of the song from the rotation at radio stations and believe me, no matter how popular the song might have been, radio stations would have stopped playing it immediately, because no one wants to be a racist.

Because Busta and DMX are popular black rappers talking about gays, black America finds nothing wrong with that. After all, blacks overwhelmingly disapprove of gays anyway, right?

Wrong.

The exploitation of women and gays in today's hip hop culture has become increasingly accepted by our own silence.

Hip hop artists like Busta Rhymes and DMX vilify gays in their music while at the same time surrounding themselves with scantily clad women in their videos.

While it is true that in recent years a new level of consciousness around the use of women as props in videos and the language used to describe them has become a major focus for many black civil rights organizations and women's rights groups, no one comes to the defense of gays who are equally targeted by many hip hop artists, not even gays themselves.

Over the past decade the familiar dance music known as "house music" has all but been replaced by hip hop in gay nightclubs around the county. Many songs that are both misogynistic and homophobic are blasted from speakers in clubs that are frequented by same gender loving people. Young black gay men and lesbian women rush out to buy the latest albums from rappers who publicly degrade their lives.

After an extensive Internet search on gay groups protesting rap, I found that even the usual suspects have been quiet on the Busta Rhymes' incident and the DMX lyrics. This is probably just as well since these groups tend to carry no weight in black America and would probably further compound the issue by having white gays protest black rappers. No, this issue needs to be dealt with by blacks.

With our silence, we are condoning the actions of artists like Busta Rhymes and the lyrics of artists like DMX. We cannot protest white shock jocks on their use of racially insensitive language and then say nothing about the sexually offensive language used by black rappers. One type of oppression isn't worse than another. Black America has an ethical and social responsibility to call out its own.

Busta Rhymes and DMX are just the latest in a string of rappers and reggae artists, both black and white, that continue to perpetuate violence against gay men in their music. Each time the offense gets worse and is still never met with the type of outrage from blacks that would merit a change in a culture we helped to create.

Author and poet Audre Lorde once said, "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives."

Black gays play the most important role in their own liberation. We need to call out these hip hop artists and challenge them on their use of homophobic language. No one else is going to do it for us, so it's got to start with us.

Jasmyne Cannick is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition. She can be reached via her website at http://www.jasmynecannick.com.

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