Friday, June 22, 2007

Why Isaiah Washington is just the tip of the iceberg

Isaiah Washington is livid over being fired from Grey's Anatomy for calling a cast member a "faggot". He has said he apologized enough and now he's even saying that they fired the wrong guy. Sadly he just doesn't get it. However this is not suprising it speaks to a bigger issue - homophobia in the black community.

This struck me the other day when I realized that I had seen the musical The Color Purple, had read the brilliant book and seen the movie. It got me thinking about all the documentaries, television shows and books I have read about the black experience in America. Does the African American community do the same for gay people? I think not. I know who Emmet Till is - does the majority of black americans know who Harvey Milk is? I don't think so.

Homophobia is deeply ingrained in the Black Community. Black men are taught that they have to be real men and not "punks". Being gay is not only against the religious beliefs but also the societal norms of the community. This causes the most flamboyant gay black men to exist in a "don't ask, don't tell" aspect of their community. The gay black men who can "pass" are often on the down low - pretending to be straight but having gay sex. This has ramifications for the entire community.

Exploring the "down low" issue shows how homophobic the African American community really is. The gay men in this situation are treated as evil men doing wrong to black women. What is not brought up is the reason these men are on the "down low" in the first place. It's because of the oppression they are facing from their own community to not be able to live their true life. Pointing their fingers at the men in this scenario and treating the women as victims are not taking acceptance for their own actions. It is the communities homophobia that is causing this to happen - its time to stop the blame and start taking responsilbity for the situation society has created for them.

You would think when you are a minority who is oppressed you would be more sympathetic towards others in the situation. However this is clearly not the case. I have often heard black public figures trying to distance themselves from comparing racism to homophobia. They don't want to compare the struggles because of their own bias.

You often see gay jokes in shows created by the black community. Lots of the gospel musicals have gay comic relief, skits on shows like In Living Color with feminine gay characters and most of the black comedians do some sort of gay schtick. Since gay people are oppressed in the community I think this should be compared to white "minstrel shows" of the past. Bring out the gays for a little humor.

The simple fact of the matter is that in the black community it is perfectly acceptable to be homophobic. Just look at the comments when former NBA player John Amechi came out of the closet. Player Tim Hardaway said "Well, you know I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people." That he felt it was ok to say this in public and on the radio shows how deeply ingrained the homophobia is in his daily life and interactions.

This is not to say all African Americans are homophobic. When Coretta Scott King passed away I was visibly upset by the loss. She spoke out against homophobia despite pressure from her community and some members of her family. She was for civil rights of all people, no matter who they are. A true beacon of light and a great woman. Too bad more African American people can't live by her example.

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