glbt, music, race

institutionalized homophobia & how it made me disappointed in Cee Lo

Today I saw a RT on Twitter from What Tami Said, my current favorite blogger for issues of equality. Here it is:

I clicked on the link with some skepticism – that tagline is not the most promising, and I was more than a little surprised, since The Root provides a lot of insightful and thoughtful commentary on culture and society from multiple black perspectives, and actively seeks to engage its non-black readers (like myself). But I figured since it was being RT’d by Tami, a blogger I have come to trust for her even-headedness and intelligence, I should give the article a shot.

Boy, am I glad I did.

After covering the more notable anti-gay meltdowns by black celebrities (Tyler, the Creator; Tracy Morgan; David Tyree), the article turns its focus away from these gentlemen to address the real problem:

The true enemy is institutionalized homophobia being upheld by a cherry-picking government. So while folks rage at Tyree and Morgan, they are harmless duds — yet they represent a very real problem.

I was so thrilled to see this turn, I nearly did a happy dance in my seat.

Last night Donna told me about comments Cee Lo made on Twitter (you can read about it here). I was so disappointed to learn this, because I’ve been a big fan of his lately. There is something about his energy and his demeanor that suggests he really understands the idea and identity of “otherness,” and I previously read this as his acknowledgement of the need to be careful and respectful. Of course, that’s part of the danger of celebrity: the general public begins to ascribe characteristics to you, both good and bad, that may or may not be true.

Cee Lo’s original comment was frustrating enough (for the homophobia alone; let’s not even get into how his comment smacks of immaturity and suggests that perhaps he’s not the artist I thought he was), but his response to the backlash was more frustrating for me:

…Cee Lo …claim[s] his statements were really “all in good fun,” and that he wasn’t aware of Swensson’s gender …when he called her gay.

“At the time I didn’t even know what gender the person was,” the former Goodie Mob rapper began. “I was being a little outspoken that night, a little outrageous. I always expect people to assume that everything I do is part of my character and sense of humor. I assumed that whoever it was would assume it was all in good fun.”

“I most certainly am not harboring any sort of negative feeling toward the gay community,” Cee Lo continued. “I don’t have an opinion on people with different religious, sexual or political preferences. I’m one of the most liberal artists that I think you will ever meet, and I pride myself on that. Two of the remaining members that I have on my team on The Voice are proud and outspokenly gay.” (from PopEater)

Hopefully you can unpack most of this for yourself (gender doesn’t actually matter when using “gay” as an insult; it’s not really funny to use sexual orientation as a joke; knowing gay people doesn’t mean you’re not a homophobe; using the word “preference” in context with “sexual” could suggest you think people choose, etc. etc.).The part that gets me, though is that Cee Lo really seems not to understand why using sexual identity as a joke is not funny. It seems those qualities of understanding and compassion I assigned to Cee Lo were not entirely fitting.

And that’s where we come back to The Root’s article. Remember they said:

The true enemy is institutionalized homophobia.

Cee Lo’s response to the reaction over his tweets shows that he is oblivious to just how entrenched homophobia is in our culture, and to just how much we might participate in it without realizing it. When a person feels entitled to make jokes about a characteristic they don’t share, it’s a problem. But when that same person then feels entitled to be defensive about it upon being called out for it, it’s an even bigger problem. Again, Cee Lo is not the enemy – but his behavior is a huge red flag that we have not come nearly as far as we think we have.

But you knew that, didn’t you?

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