Is defining someone’s actions as a result of them being a product of their environment a cop out, or does it serve as a valid explanation for various types of beliefs, attitudes and behaviors? Do we actually know what we mean when we use this term, or are we just recycling something we heard someone say? More than likely the latter of the two is true, and you’ll see why as we use this month’s Front Page to unwrap the answers to these questions as we explore whether or not the homophobic black man is an environmental product.
We don’t need to waste time defining homophobia. Its in the music we listen to, in the news we watch, the policies enacted by the government, and in the stupid shit we hear our “friends” and family say. It’s Kevin Hart’s 2011 tweet, Jay-Z’s “‘Cause faggots hate when you gettin’ money like athletes” (who said we hate that?) bar on “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love), Tim Hardaway’s 2007 “I am homophobic” declaration, and the not too soon forgotten Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell culture of the United States Armed Forces. Shit’s everywhere, and it has been for quite some time.
History serves a consummate reminder of how long, far and low homophobia can go. The ancient Romans passed laws ordering the execution of homosexuals in 529 BC, the first sodomy law was passed in colonial America in 1610, and homosexuality was linked to adverse mental health issues in 1857. The United States military implemented policies to reject gay draftees in 1942, and restitution payments for SGL survivors of the holocaust were withheld in 1945. U.S. republicans viewed gays working within the confines of the federal government as a threat to national security during the 1940’s, and in 1951 homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. It was later redefined as a sexual deviation in 1968. In case you felt a tinge of sadness after learning about the destruction of Notre Dame-don’t. The Roman Catholic church described homosexuality as an objective disorder in the not so distant past of 1986, so its safe to say that the objectively disordered clown came back to bite. And lastly, y’all’s first black president, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, which prevented “non traditional” marriages on a federal level. So yeah, history does a great job recounting just how kind they have been towards us.
A closer view of the environments that foster homophobic beliefs reveals that they share a similar origin: religion. We’ve had this discussion before, so there’s no need to rehash what we already know. What’s understood doesn’t need explaining. Such, we’ll move on to something that’s not so understood, and that’s the alleged love affair black men have with homophobia and the environments that spawn it. We can’t hold the entirety of the church (black, or otherwise) as being one hundred percent accountable for the black man’s homophobia, because most of these homophobic n*ggas ain’t been to church since Christ was on Calvary. They’re at the bodega, in barbershops, still living at home with their mothers, juggling multiple seemingly unaware girlfriends, somewhere between jobs, and secretly sliding into some of our DMs. You know the type. He’s probably your cousin. Needless to say, they’re almost everywhere but in church.
Of course we say all of this in jest, but it doesn’t change the fact that many heterosexual black men are systematically bred to be homophobic. Hell, many of us were systematically bred to be homophobic. It comes along with the social environments many of us were raised in, the environments where we learned-as we were taught- to get in where we fit in. Black views of homosexuality find their root in the assumption that to be black and gay is to be weak. Because this view is so prominent within our communal environments, it's not hard to understand how some of our brothers marry themselves to the ideal. But is their marriage to homophobia their circumstance or their choice?
Using the environment and the attitudes and beliefs that exist within said environment as an excuse to not do better is a cop out. Becoming someone other than the person your environment predicates you to be is as simple as making the choice to do so. If the average adult makes at least 3,500 decisions a day, surely one of those decisions can be to NOT be a dick head. Of course not having the right guidance can take any of us down the wrong path, but again, decisions. We can’t help the environments we were raised in, but dammit, we can always DECIDE to be better.
The decision to do otherwise (or to do nothing-because doing nothing is still a decision) marries us to the thing we’ve decided to, or not, to do. This is where we find the answer to whether or not heterosexual Black men are married to homophobia. Are they? Monolithically? No. Diminutively? Certainly. We do our best to avoid lumping people into groups because it’s not fair. Plus we can’t stand when people do it to us, so there’s that. Black men aren’t any more homophobic than any other group of men. They may be louder with their homophobia, but their talent at being loud and wrong do not make them the winners of the “who’s more homophobic” award of excellence.
The love affair Black men have with homophobia is rooted in confirmation bias, which occurs every time we use the slightest little thing to confirm a bias we already have against a specific group of people. It’s assuming that Black gays who exclusively date white men are “black, okay?” gays with deeply rooted self hate issues, the presumption that we all live in Atlanta, or that Beyonce has secretly deputized us to carry out some sort of “agenda”. See how silly that sounds? Well, that last part might be true, but whatever. Just as its assumed that we are relegated to the confines of doing certain things and acting in certain ways, we in turn assume the same of our heterosexual brothers. All we need is to hear one “faggot” from someone dressed like an extra who escaped from Fabolous’ Young’n video and *boom: Black men are the most homophobic men on Earth. We’ve gotta be more careful about thinking this way.
Black men are diminutively homophobic at best. The black homophobe is generally found among those who walk along avenues of limited individuality, amidst crowds who are collectively divorced from exhibiting any natural form of self expression, and often find themselves engulfed by their own insecurity. Individuality will always be that thing that sets us apart from them. It’s not something we’re born with, but something we develop.
It's our personality. It's the way we emote and is what makes us different from one another. Such, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that individuality can be limited in certain circles, especially when you express an interest in something and are met with the “nigga, that’s gay” response. This is where environmental impact can be felt as someone may be inclined to not speak against homophobic behavior if they’re in an environment where such behavior runs rampant. Woe be tied to the person brave enough to go against the grain, as he’s sure to be excluded, dragged, and even assumed to be (*gasp) gay should he speak against whatever homophobic remark he hears. Individuality is demonstrated when we choose not to conform, and is limited each and every time we make the decision to follow the lead of those around us.
Self expression can be viewed in a similar light to individuality, with the only difference being that self expression is the way you put your thoughts and actions into motion. Individuality is what you do, whereas self-expression is how you do it. It’s how we share ourselves with others. The homophobic black man’s self expression vibrates at near primal levels. And this isn’t simply because he’s homophobic, its because his existence is driven by negativity and fear. Any one of us who has ever encountered him knows this all too well.
Remember that one time (not at band camp, but maybe) when you were told to “man up”, or were chastised for crying? Remember what it was like trying to portray being tougher than you really were or wanted to be? Can you recall not being able to show emotion for fear of being labeled a punk? All of these are ways in which we self express, and many environments mandate that we bottle these emotions instead of allowing them to flow. That’s the shit we’re talking about, and it goes back to what we said earlier, about us being bred to be just as homophobic as them. We heard this trash from our friends and family alike, and because we now identify as SGL, their confirmation bias has probably reaffirmed their belief that us demonstrating these emotions is what “lead” us to making this “choice”.
Our homophobic brothers were steered towards this same trap, however they didn’t make it out the way that many of us did. This is why they still consider showing emotion, or any form of expression that’s not drenched in masculinity as weak, These are the same men who might have actually enjoyed taking a home economics course, or anything else that would have made them “gay”. Maybe the reason that so many of them are so angry (which is also an emotion, so the joke’s on them) and afraid is because they weren’t allowed to cry and explore the world through the same movement that so many of us were.
Insecurity is something we’ve all dealt with. So let’s not pretend. It shows every time we put someone down, shy away from compliments, react with an explosive temperament, and in not being able to show empathy. The homophobe fits this bill to a tea (no shade) and will often put us down by calling us soft, sissy or fag, and won’t take a compliment from another man without uttering “No Homo”. His homophobic temperament might come as a byproduct of him not wanting to be associated with one of us, because that would be gay, and we all know that nothing goes less together than gay and black. His anger could be a type of deflection- as the louder his opposition to us is, the less likely he’ll be seen as a member of our collective. His lack of empathy illustrates his belief that his manly, man, man problems are way more important than our simple requests for equality and visibility.
We are all products of our environment but it doesn’t mean we’re constrained to acting like it. Despite popular belief, you can both take the boy out of Compton and the Compton out of the boy. Anyone who tells you otherwise is proof that a lie doesn’t care who tells it. Homophobia, much like its opposition, has existed since the first peen met its first male mouth. The interesting thing about homophobia is that it effects us as much as it effects our heterosexual brothers. It doesn’t care who it impacts or how. Many of us grew up in homophobic environments and made it out without retaining the shame, fear, and self-hatred it was intended to cause.
Those who didn’t make it out are, as they will continue to be, relegated to living within shame alongside fear and self-hatred. Although its targeted against us, homophobia consumes our heterosexual brothers as well- so we’re both stuck. It limits heterosexual individuality by forcing men to be more aggressive than they actually are, pins them under the expectations of others and inhibits them from breaking the mold of their comfort zones. Homophobia mutes self-expression by preventing the actor from engaging in anything that might be perceived as gay. It creates a space for them to be influenced by ideas that others have created for them and keeps them from creating and living by ideas that actually fit them. Homophobia also breeds insecurity, which is illustrated every time they they make an anti-gay joke or use a slur when they feel their masculinity is on the line.
With regards to whether or not the homophobic black man is married to his prejudice, it depends on which one of them you ask. Those without the capacity to compassionately evolve will remain married to it, but those who aren’t might be tempted enough by the mistress of acceptance to divorce themselves from it. Circumstances occur as conditions of time and space, so one could argue that homophobia is the resulting circumstance of someone who was raised (time) in an environment (space) where the ideal is as accepted as it is prevalent. If we accept this to be fact, we can’t deny that our homophobic brothers have choices to make when it comes to their homophobia. They can choose to be dicks, or decent human beings. It all depends on how they want to live their lives.
Blaming the environment someone grew up in doesn’t mean that we should give them carte blanche to be trash, because they’re making a choice to be the way they are. Those who want to do and be more, strive to do so, and they don’t make any excuses about it. Remember this the next time you try to educate a homophobe, because chances are if he wanted to know and do better, he would. He’s not a product of his environment as many would like to think. What he is, is a self made victim of his own circumstance, and he chooses to be that, and that alone.