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Homophobia in Black Culture: Is The Problem Really So Prevalent?

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Homophobia in black communities is almost paradoxical in nature. On one hand, homophobia in black communities exists because homophobia is in almost every group and it’s nigh on impossible to work no matter the racial identities of said faction. But in the same vein it’s not ‘homophobia in black communities’ in terms of it being black communities’ faults. In fact, to call it a problem might be incorrect because it’s anecdotal, not statistical. It’s based on stereotypes and assumptions rather than facts and figures and so while it’s definitely there, homophobia in black cultures could very well be a sometimes viewed, rarely understood occurrence rather than a regular, widespread reality.

It’s best to segment homophobia in black culture in terms of geographical placement. Because geography matters as much as the racial identities of the alleged perpetrators themselves. Look at the homophobia from the countries of Africa and the problem is a serious one, just based on the laws, regulations and negative attitudes of the people and the governments. From the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill in Uganda that advocates the murder of LGBT identified people to the ‘corrective’ rapes committed against the women of Nigeria and plenty of other countries, you can understand why people rightfully say that the continent of Africa has a homophobia problem. But then you look at South Africa, with the country’s gay marriage laws (surprisingly, it’s legal there) and awful history of racism and the situation changes.

And then you move on to The Americas, where the black and Hispanic citizens of South America are surrounded by a bastion of queer right support. Argentina was the tenth country in the world to legalise gay marriage, Brazil with the largest Catholic population in the world made gay marriage legal just last year and Chile’s new president, Michelle Bachelet, is reportedly a supporter of same-gender matrimony too. In North America, meanwhile, the largely black countries of the Caribbean are only a few pips shy of Africa’s harshness with Jamaica being a prime example as it has regularly been reported on that gay men and women have been run out of their homes, stoned and beaten on account of a not so acceptable identity.

The U.S.A, whilst being part of North America, posses an altogether different set of problems because the black identities from populations all around the world meet in America with black people of African, Caribbean and South American heritage merging with America’s recent majority support for queer rights and gay marriage. So why does this happen in America but less so in Africa and other predominantly black locations? Like many issues pertaining to race, the answer is quite succinctly, ‘white people’.

The problem with pointing the finger at black communities and wrongly accusing them of ethnicity wide homophobia is that the homophobia that’s witnessed isn’t necessarily their fault. Unfortunately for the the countries mentioned (the majority of the countries in Africa, Jamaica etc.) not only were they squeezed by the harsh and controlling forearms of the British Empire, they also had the pleasure of being stuck with their sodomy laws and egregious views on homosexuality too. Many of these homophobic ideals stuck, just on account of having little else to compare it to. If your white racist leaders (which the British Empire were, sorry to break it to you hardcore anglophiles) were to tell you that ‘gay is bad’ then you don’t have a choice but to believe them because going against the homophobic grain could find yourself met with beatings or murder or lifelong servitude and slavery, which the locations had only just managed to escape from not long before.

Thanks to the British Empire’s long reach and the inability of the predominantly black inhabited countries to fight back, there was nothing to say or do and understandably, the freedom and independence of those countries was largely a more pressing concern than the unfortunate treatment of queer people. However, having said that, there is still a larger question of why in this day and age it’s still believed that a) it’s the fault of black communities and b) why people are busy fighting over themselves over the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of it all rather than just doing something about it. It’s also important to point out that the predominantly white (and widely racist) culture of Russia makes it an equally as hostile place to be queer as the African countries, clearly showing that homophobia does not care for the racial identity of the people that it so poisonously permeates.

So believed is it, that black people have become the scapegoat and the go to community to blame in the case of gay rights when something doesn’t go the LGBT community’s way. For example, when Proposition 8, the Californian amendment that would ban gay marriage (after previously making it legal) passed, poorly reported on statistics meant that it became widely believed that black people were to blame. It was easy to believe for some, who were already high off of the intoxicating stereotypical fumes that black people don’t like gay people (despite plenty of people being both black and gay – but more on that later) and as this article by Ta-Nehisi Coates explains, the statistics weren’t even right. Just 7 percent of votes for Prop 8 were filed by black voters and only 58 percent of the black people who voted, voted in favour of Prop 8 (granted any majority figure is awful, but the year was 2008, when support for gay marriage was inarguably less prevalent). That still led plenty to point some more appendages at black church attendance, suggesting that the homophobia in the black community is the fault of their religious leanings (they attend church more than any other ethnic group in the USA), despite, y’know, church-going black people voting in favour of Prop 8 less than any other church-going ethnic group.

While these perceptions of homophobia in black culture have been dismantled, critically, there’s one other place that hasn’t been looked at at all; those who are both black and gay. That is to say, where are they? Let’s not get the message mixed up here, I mean this in terms of representation because people have very real and valid reasons not to come out so we can never begrudge them that, but because of racism (again – it’s a recurring trend) there are few famous out people of colour (Wanda Sykes and Michael Sam are two of the most famous names) fictional black and gay characters just aren’t being shown.

According to a Gallup poll from May, 2014, 55% of Americans support gay marriage. But that figure didn’t get there by equal representation, it came there carried in the hands of traditionally attractive white people, of people who were stepping on the backs of black queers. People don’t think that black and gay people exist, which is exactly why people say things like ‘homophobia is black people’s fault’ with actual black and gay people themselves failing to recognise that you are capable of being both (with some black people actually saying that this is a reason why their sexuality wasn’t realised until later on in life).

If you don’t know that they’re there then how can you prove anything otherwise? If the only portrayals of blackness in relation to queerness are seen in terms of homophobic experiences (e.g Glee’s black Latina Santana Lopez and her disapproving Hispanic grandmother) then how can the myth be dispelled? And furthermore, how do we move on from perpetrating the myth at all?

These are very tricky questions to be answered and they are not ones that can be answered while racist notions continue to make them believable, because as rarely cited statistics shows, blackness in homophobia isn’t prevalent at all; each culture is just as homophobic as one another.

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With almost a decade of experience as a journalist, it's the need for equality that drives my writing. With my articles I'd like to help dismantle ignorant thinking one word at a time, or, at the very least, make my readers smile. I also like: cute animals, a good cup of tea and debating which character on Orange is the New Black I'd most like to be BFFs with.

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