Something Rachel said in a comment on the last post about Lucas Dawson reminded me of something I’d indeed to post about. I was all set to criticize Kanye West’s recent statements about grappling with his fear of gay people, before I read Rachel’s comment. In an recent interview West opened up on struggling with his own homophobia.
“I’m still trying to get over my own homophobia,” West says in King magazine, which names him its Man of the Year in the upcoming issue. “I still wouldn’t feel comfortable at a gay bar. I wouldn’t go to a gay parade. I don’t know if I’m in favor of gay marriage or not.”
West goes on: “People said to me, ‘Were you scared of speaking out against George Bush?’ No. The bravest thing I did this year was speaking out against homophobia. That’s a scarier topic, because if you bring it up, people think you must be gay. But you don’t have to be gay to not gay-bash. We’re a very close-minded people.”
West recalls freestyling with another rapper in front of a gay person years ago “and we started rhyming about beating up gays right in front of him. .. People always say, ‘Kanye’s conscious, Kanye’s conscious’ – well, my conscience kicked in, and it said, ‘Yo, that was kinda wack.’ ”
He adds: “Things have been clicking ever since. I found out my cousin was gay years ago, and even just dealing with my interior decorator, having to travel with him, I’ve had to deal with issues. There was a point I wouldn’t even get in the car with him ’cause I didn’t want people to see me with a gay person. I didn’t want it to hurt my career.”
I’ll admit to a sigh of exasperation upon reading it, because it sounded a bit like West was backtracking a bit on his earlier statements about gay-bashing. Or maybe it was because I kind of wished he’d gone further. But then Rachel’s comment reminded me that my perspective might need expanding here.
I have yet to see the data on it, but I think the Hip Hop generation of African Americans is much less religious/Christian than their Baby Boomer parents. They may be more religious than their White peers, but I’m convince a change has come or is coming.
Sure there some reticence on gay issues reflected in Kanye’s most recent statements, and it’s similar to the kind of reticence that noticed in Cheryl Swoope’s coming out. To me, it takes some of the punch out of they’re otherwise bold statements. But then have to remind myself of the social and cultural context in which those statements are made, because the people making them exist in worlds that I either not a part of anymore or never was part of. Taken in context, socially and culturally, such statements take a notable degree of courage.
In Kanye’s case, in a world where homophobia is apparently so deeply ingrained that anti-gay violence is a subject of entertainment, if not a form of entertainment in and of itself, speaking out against that violence it a step already puts him light years of ahead of the Willie Wilsons of the world.
As he noted in his later remarks, he knew that just being seen with a gay person would call his “manhood” into question among his peers (and his fans). Nevermind actually taking the somewhat radical stand (and that it is a radical and risky stand to take is pretty telling) that, you know, maybe it’s not a good idea to beat up gay people just for being gay. So, in the context of the hip-hop culture he exists in and makes his living in, I have to give him his “props” for speaking up and continuing to speak up so honestly.
That’s the other thing that impressed me about West’s most recent comments; his continued willingness to speak honestly about his own evolution on gay & lesbian issues; even something as simple as “it’s not cool to beat people up for being gay.” I don’t know an awful lot about hip-hop and rap — certainly not enough to speak with much authority about either — but it strikes me that in a social and musical culture that puts a high value on a certain degree of “hardness” and machismo in men, West’s honesty in talking about struggling with his own homophobia — and even being willing to struggle with it and question it — is impressive.
What’s more impressive and probably more important to remember is that West’s honesty and evolution didn’t originate in a vacuum. It had a catalyst, and that was discovering that a cousin of his was gay. I don’t know if Kanye’s cousin actually came out to him or if West merely “found out,” but it underscores something that I think bears repeating and remembering where black gays and lesbians are concerned. Letting our loved ones in our families and communities know who we are can change them, and it’s probably our greatest tool in changing our families and our communities.
When I first read West’s most recent comments, I initially felt like he (and we) still had a long way to go. But thinking about it in context, it becomes clearer that we may be a long way from home yet, and we may be taking the long way there in terms of acceptance in our own families and communities, but maybe we’ve come further than I thought.