CHICAGO DEFENDER (Newspaper) ISSN 0745-7014
2400 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60616, USA
Bus./Editorial (312) 225-2400 Circ. (312) 225-2400
Saturday, June 14, 1997
MY GAY PROBLEM, YOUR BLACK PROBLEM
African American men's fear and misconceptions
contribute to their homophobia
by Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Ph.D.
The circus-like hype surrounding ABC/Disney's Ellen show has finally passed, but the problem of homophobia hasn't. It's still deeply entrenched in many Americans. And that includes many African Americans, especially African-American men.
I still can't forget the scene I saw in a movie during the mid-1970s for two reasons. One, it was the first time that I had ever seen two men passionately kiss on the screen. Two, was the reaction from the mostly Black audience. It went wild. People screamed, jeered, and hooted-at the screen. It took several minutes for the crowd to quiet down and ushers to restore order.
As I left the theater I listened to the young men talk. Their contempt and disgust for these two men spilled out into the street and parking lot. They called them "faggots," "punks," and "sissies."
A year or so later I was at a local political meeting. Afterwards, while talking with a friend, a young Black man came up to us. My friend winked at me and whispered "he's queer," and quickly walked away. I stood there alone with him, and after a moment of awkward silence we started talking.
I mentioned that I was a jogger. His eyes immediately lit up and he said he was too. He quickly suggested that maybe we could go jogging together. I didn't know anything about this man, or what he was, and I suspect my friend didn't either, but I still froze in naked panic.
I thought about the young men who ridiculed the gays at the theater. At the time I thought that their antics were downright silly and in poor taste. I now realize that I was no different from them. I had the same horror of, and prejudice against, gays as they had.
But why did they threaten me? Why did they stir deep and violent passions in so many of us? Why did I feel such intense dislike for gay Black men? Did they threaten and challenge my fragile masculinity at the basest and most ambiguous level? They did.
And this realization forced me to do some deep soul searching into my own homophobic fears. For even though I hated what I saw, I had no rational explanation for these fears.
From cradle to grave, much of America has drilled into Black men the thought that they are less than men. This made many Black men believe and accept the gender propaganda that the only real men in American society were white men.
In a vain attempt to recapture their denied masculinity, many Black men mirrored America's traditional fear and hatred of homosexuality. They swallowed whole the phony and perverse John Wayne definition of manhood, believing that real men talked and acted tough, shed no tears, and never showed their emotions.
These were the prized strengths of manhood. When men broke the prescribed male code of conduct and showed their feelings they were harangued as weaklings, and their manhood questioned. Many Black men who bought this malarkey did not heap the same scum on women who were lesbians.
White and Black gay women did not pose the same threat as gay men. They were women in a patriarchal society and that meant that they were fair game to be demeaned and marginalized by many men.
Many Blacks in an attempt to distance themselves from gays and avoid confronting their own biases dismissed homosexuality as "Their thing." Translated: Homosexuality was a perverse contrivance of white males and females that reflected the decadence of white America.
Also many Blacks listened to countless numbers of Black ministers shout and condemn to fire and brimstone any man who dared think about, yearn for, or engage in the "godless and unnatural act" of having a sexual relationship with another man.
If they had any doubts about it, they fell back on the Good Book. They could, as generations of Bible-toting white preachers did, flip to the oft-cited line in Leviticus that sternly calls men being with men, "the abomination."
For many African Americans, Black gay men became their bogeymen and they waged open warfare against them. Black gay men became the pariahs among pariahs, and wherever possible every attempt was made to drum them out of Black life.
Some of these efforts have been especially pathetic. Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin, a known gay, and the major mover and shaker being the 1963 March on Washington, was all but banned by March leaders from speaking or having any visible public role at the March. A popular Black nationalist magazine of that day frequently referred to him as "the little fairy." No Black leader publicly challenged this homophobia.
In Soul on Ice, published in 1969, then Black radical Eldridge Cleaver viciously mugged James Baldwin for his homosexuality and delared homosexuality the ultimate "racial death wish." No Black leader publicly challenged Cleaver on this point, and his outrageous theories on sexuality were praised by an entire generation of radical "wannabes."
A decade later Black gay film-maker, Marlon Riggs, hoped that the hostile public attitudes of many Blacks toward gays had lessened enough to at least permit a civil discussion about masculinity and homophobia.
In a purposely ambiguous and veiled concession to the anti-gay mood, Riggs stole a bit of the rhetoric of Black militants and proclaimed that "Black men
loving Black men is the revolutionary act of our times." It didn't work. Riggs found that anti-gay bigotry was just as entrenched as ever among many Blacks.
Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson is the author of The Assassination of the Black Male Image, Beyond O.J.: Race, Sex, and Class Lessions For America, and Black Fatherhood: The Guide to Male Parenting. Reponses may be sent e-mail to Earl Ofari Hutchingson Telephone: 213-298-0266
Last updated: 28 June 1997 by Chuck Tarver