Monday, September 12, 2011

No Homo and the Evolution of Tolerance


Jonah Weiner, who serves as one of the hip hop/urban music ambassadors for Slate, has a solid point-of-entry piece on the "No Homo" craze in hip hop (and beyond, since the term has by-and-large crossed over into more of a pop cultural phenomenon). His point, essentially, is: yes, saying "no homo" is still homophobia; but it's a lot better than what used to be status quo in hip hop.

Both those things are true. But, just like when racial or religious or *any* sort of intolerance needs a firmer hand, or at least noting that we are only scratching the surface of a much more profoundly complex issue, I think that's called for here. Because honestly, we need to be further along, and I say that mostly from the spirit of being a fan and hip hop urban-culture enthusiast.

Coates at the Atlantic has run some harsher words over this before. And been much more pointed about the problem. It makes me briefly wonder if Jonah, and/or Slate as proxy, can only approach with a certain cavalier attitude because it's not *their* issue so much. Maybe The Root and Skip Gates need to be slamming the door on this a little harder. Because while i don't actually cry, I do think about shedding a tear or two -- i feel the emotional swelling (no homo) -- when considering the rampant homophobia and ultimately, hypocrisy of intolerance, when I think about all the rappers and artists and *Heroes* who have brazenly been hateful to a group of people. It's really no different than your daddy being a racist.

Jonah opens his piece with the both brilliant and obvious example of Kanye. Specifically mentioning his rant about homophobia, that came a little prior to his "george bush hates black people" comment. Which got a lot more pub. He notes the anti-homophobia rant for its unique anomalous nature; no one else has really come out of the closet in such a bold declarative way on the homophobia issues in hip hop (and hip hop serving in some sense as proxy to black culture here).

But the more direct attack and implication is to consider Kanye extending the George Bush comment in this way: "George Bush doesn't care about Black people, Black people don't care about homosexual people. (Homosexual people don't care about vaginas, but that part is neither here nor there.)" Such a line might have framed the tradition of (American?) intolerance in a more comprehensive light.

In any event, i wonder about proprietary issues when righting a wrong. Correcting an error. Obama challenging black folk is different than Bill Clinton. An old-wave feminist doing the same to women, is a similar formulation. Rappers and black people need to be more forceful and demanding in this zone. Because we are losing when we reject ourselves in this way.

Which segues to some of Jonah's extended premise in his piece. A sense of humor/jokes as indicator of progress, movement towards truth.

This makes sense in the realm of racial and sexual identity politics. Black people make black people do this and white people do that jokes. Men and women make men do this and women do that jokes. "No homo" is in fact often a funny addendum. If you can insulate yourself from the hateful part of it all, it's an amusing pithy little phrase. And certainly when used to access the even broader construct of masculinity, femininity etc., it can bring a smile. Of course, that shows the "no homo" isn't even actually about "homos" any more. But what we consider masculine and feminine. The Katy Perry "ur so gay, and you don't even like boys" sentiment. Kanye and many famous "tough rappers" are probably a little removed from knowing how to fix a car that broke down on the highway, chop down a tree and start a fire, fist-fighting, but know about the latest fashion-designers, getting pedicures, etc. No homo?

But as any dysfunctional comedian will tell you, the sense of humor, comic relief, is sourced by a sense of detachment. ironic distance. you/we couldn't make jokes about black people for a long time, because it was too raw and serious and immediate. The wounds were still open. Then they scar over, and it gets a little easier. And now, shoot, we almost can hardly tell it's there now with all the cosmetic surgery we've enlisted *cough*.

So that's progress. But again, point of entry. There's a narrative of tolerance here. Where are we progressing from? How did the story begin? Why was hip hop culture so invested in hating others in the first place? I sense this racial issue, like so many others, is a gateway to larger American or human issues. In this case my suspicion is that when we have been abused we want someone else to at some point experience the same pain/abuse. We want to be empowered by damaging someone the same way we felt damaged. If we stop and *pause* and think about it, such logic doesn't make sense; all of these abuses and wrongs are circumstantial. You can never inflict the same pain, only the particular pain for those particular people/circumstances. If you as a father abuse your son, he doesn't know the abuse you received from your father, his grandfather, any more intimately. He only knows the pain he's receiving from you. This is why the Golden Rule works practically, not only as a morally idealized notion of the universe. We can't transfer our rationalized selves, which is what the psychological scars from abuse are. There's the immediate pain (or joy), and then how we live with it and synthesize it into the new us that emerges from the experience.....

I've sprawled out into deeper waters, and want to stay swimming safely in this smaller pool.... so, no homo. i guess, much like with women, we just need a "homo" rapper who through the sheer force of his will makes all the jokes and lines premised on intolerance, obsolete.

The Changing Face of Hip Hop Homophobia [Slate]


  1. Re: Homosexual people don't care about vaginas-->I'm like 99% sure that homosexual women do indeed care about vaginas, and its surrounding areas. I don't think the term homosexual refers only to those of the male gender.

    But regardless, interesting post.

  2. fair point. i think this "no homo" issue, the premise of the article and this post, is specifically in the male homosexuality realm, so in some sense it's a semantic quibble. but even that would then dovetail with the pointing to the larger broader issues. there seems to be less of a complex about lesbians in hip hop. but yet hip hop in general is a man's world ....

    yeah, further mulling would be good/is needed ....

  3. Erudite8/07/2009

    TAN, is it just me or does the pic of Camron look like Martin Luther King Jr dressed up like the Energizer bunny?

    No, seriously.

  4. "But as any dysfunctional comedian will tell you, the sense of humor, comic relief, is sourced by a sense of detachment. ironic distance. you/we couldn't make jokes about black people for a long time, because it was too raw and serious and immediate. The wounds were still open. Then they scar over, and it gets a little easier. And now, shoot, we almost can hardly tell it's there now with all the cosmetic surgery we've enlisted *cough*." ... In terms of where we are going in the larger arc of these overlapping political/social movements (civil rights, feminism, gay rights) in this country, using the humor process as one (really good, I think) particular lens... I think maybe, I don't know, there is a disturbing trend of like: let's justify offensive humor by saying it's part of the healing/getting over this issue thing when really a lot of the deeper work hasn't been done. I think humor about serious things is awesome and useful/cathartic/truthy . . . but, it's like, you know uh Ashton Kuchner's 'Don Imus' joke or a million other examples of white people using racialized humor & justifying it by saying it's funny because we're beyond that/you know that *I'm* not racist... when in fact white people are still socialized as racists, on a deeper psychological level -- plus on a deeper economic level, the issues with poverty, education, law enforcement/criminal justice -- oh oops! -- never got solved. I mean, it's like in the Richey case or the Voting rights case -- they showed that the majority of the supreme court believes that we are in a post-racial era... and it may *feel* like that... but we all know that employment discrimination (in the ranks of firefighters) and access to the vote are still just feels like we're over them because of all the sturm and drang (?) about multi-culturalism and diversity and so forth...because people feel exhausted by the frenzy and emotion that these movements have brought up, they feel like we're in some post- resting place. So, I don't know what to do about that, but it seems like the same thing with gay jokes...

    Also, have you seen those PSAs on TV that are encouraging young people to realize that when they say something is "gay" they are making an offensive comment about homosexuals ... gay doesn't mean stupid, or whatever? It's such an interesting thing because, I feel like, gay actually does mean stupid, just as being a pussy means being weak or cowardly -- the implications are offensive, at the same time, the language has grown out of its original context, and I often find when I see something that is stupid in a particularly earnest or fussy way I can't think of any other word besides "gay" to describe it accurately -- or "pussy" -- you can modify yourself to say "weakling" or "coward" but it doesn't have the same impact. ? I started out with something to say but now just ?s...

  5. & re: homophobia toward lesbians . . . in hip hop or whatever else, it is a totally different thing, a more slippery/exoticizing/erasing kind of discrimination, best understood, I think, more under the rubric of patriarchy/sexism than of heterosexism . . .

  6. also "no homo" is funny because it involves being reflective/reflexive about language and multiple implications of a word/phrase _on the fly_ ... it is like a drinking game ... but better. Every time I say "Neruda has a big cannon" do a shot/say "no homo" . . . that's why it would be a shame to lose it/why it's so fun. Are there any other linguistic games like that, that you can think of? Last comment, I swear.

  7. JCTA: re. humor as lens: you acknowledge it's good, but then question it?

    I think laughing, laughter, humor is ostensibly not treating something seriously. So yeah, anyone in search of earnest analysis will be unsatisfied, like a snark-blog vs. a think-blog, or whathaveyou. but we do need the balance. and more, if there's snark/humor on a subject it suggests a certain level of healing.

    it's a sign of progress to have people making bad offensive jokes, more than no jokes at all/silence. the beauty of humor is "funny is funny", the intellectualizing is beside the point. people laugh or don't. kramer didn't have people guffawing, he had awkward laughter mixed with gasps and silence and people leaving. but to get to that point is progress. and paves the way for more, as people improve on jokes.

    ... and then i think the thing you get to later is it enters the mainstream in a way, where anyone can wield it. this is like Bruno vs. "no homo" vs. "queer eye for straight guy" ...i think the criticism for hip hop/"no homo" is it's so remedial comparative to how everyone else is accessing the issue of homosexuality.

  8. i agree w/ the patriarchy/sexism thing. the make version of power, or somesuch...

  9. Yeah, I fully agree with you about humor... Esp. in that it gets stuff out there. And there is a "purity" about it, for lack of a better term (something akin to sex and sports -- i.e. sex is hard to just _ or don't, more or less...sports is sports? iDunno)...

    ...what I'm saying is that there is this uh thread where people say it is OK to make jokes that are offensive because we're so "over that"/or because the speaker exempts himself from the dominant power structure i.e. everyone knows I dont mean it that way, so... And *that* is really interesting in light of/related to what I see as the larger movement toward "reclaiming" the straight white male right to power that's happening politically/judicially/culturally right now ala recent supreme court decisions, to site one example. SO yeah, you're right, but ... I don't know just as funny is funny and it resists intellectualizing... it is also so important/fun for some of us to analyze..b/c of that "purity" or whatever (as in sex and sports as well)...

    re: Kramer -- so the goal is to get to the point where racism/sexism/homophobia just aren't funny anymore?

  10. Nice pic and article

  11. Anonymous8/10/2009

    "let's justify offensive humor by saying it's part of the healing/getting over this issue thing when really a lot of the deeper work hasn't been done."
    but at the same token you, who seem reasonably intelligent, can't think up a better term for unsophisticated or innocuous than 'gay'?
    If you can play drinking games that mention Neruda, i think you can try harder.

  12. Hilton Als piece on Michael Jackson in the New York Review of Books blows open these intertwined threads of race and sexuality... folks should check it out.

  13. i just can't take this hip hop tour guide for white liberals bullshit. i'd rather slate not try cover hip hop at all.

  14. GG: really? i don't believe you. or at least, i don't believe any respectable negro would be so quick to remove absolutely all hip hop coverage from a mainstream media outlet the likes of Slate.

  15. I feel where GG is coming from, I think. It's not so much that he doesn't want mainstream to not cover hip-hop at all, but rather he doesn't want hiphop articles that read like a translation guide for pretentious white liberals. If the choice is that type of tone or no hip-hop coverage at all, even the latter would be preferable. I tend to agree. Something about the whole exercise just seems condescending.

  16. This isn't just something I find with liberals though, I'm not singling them out. I've felt this way recently writing about black culture for audiences of white conservatives too. I wish I could articulate it better, but I think it's similar to what Dave Chappelle said he was going through with his show after a while, that discomfort he felt.

  17. Right. But condescending and pretentious is soo subjective. I mentioned it; i certainly think it's a viable question/dilemma/thing to discuss ... but ruling on such a pretense, in the direction of intolerance and exclusion and ignorance, in such a broad absolutist way (even as hyperbolic comedic tension for a joke)... i mean, really, it'd be another version of "No Homo". anytime i did a mainstream *white* post/article/whatever i could go "No Slate-o" ...


  18. Jonah Weiner . hip-hop expert.

    F O H


Related Posts with Thumbnails