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Remember last year when all the white gay people were mad at black people because Prop 8 passed in California? Well, it wasn’t a fluke. We’re still their whipping boys (er, bois?). Last week, my internet boyfriend AC (again, the only man I’d ever seriously consider marrying), sent me a link of the above video, where Current TV contributor, Bryan Safi learns us about the phrase “No Homo.” Most of the commenters loved this piece and deemed it “genius.” Me? Not so much.
Now, I get it. Yes, “No homo” is obnoxious, even for those of us who embrace and critique hip hop’s contradictions, its problems. It’s also one of more ironic phrases in recent memory, articulating one’s anxiety over homosexuality while simultaneously acknowledging that what one has said and/or done is, well, “gay.” Yes, rappers (still) employing the phrase need to be called out and on some level made fun of–as part of a larger critique, of course. But I don’t appreciate Safi’s approach, his (ab)use of black masculinity which, for me, is not only yet another example of the tension between queer black folks and queer white folks, but also an indicator of the ways the latter group often refuses to acknowledge the underlying racism employed to further their cause(s).
First, Safi tells his audience that “hip hop has coined a brand new homophobic phrase” for those uncomfortable gay moments between straight male friends. Indeed, many of the commenters admit to having never heard the term before. But for anyone not rocking out too hard to Black Eyed Peas and actually paying attention, this phrase is hardly novel nomenclature. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s beyond stale; it’s older than “bling.” So what Safi implicitly suggests by calling the phrase “brand new” and what his audience confesses by saying that they’d never heard the term before is that black music, though omnipresent, is tangential to their lives. Had Safi bothered to research the topic deeply, he might have discovered the term’s history, and that it’s something that black people have been discussing for quite some time. Instead, Safi assumes that because he heard it for the first time as he and his “best homies were beasting” on the dance floor that the slang was fresh, never considering that the adage that just because one sees/hears/thinks something for the first time doesn’t mean that it’s the first time that it’s been seen/heard/thought might be true. Instead one is left with the impression that hip hop is literally background music on the fringe of Safi’s life unless and until he finds it worthy of assisting in an epiphany or articulating a point.
Second, Safi doesn’t bother noting anything different about the cadre of rappers who often employ the term. Those he mentions, Cam’ron, Lil Wayne, and Kanye all assert masculinities that though homophobic aren’t as uncomplicatedly “hard” as their counterparts. In fact, their utterance of “no homo” despite wearing pink, for example, obscures the fact that there is a history of black men who often decorate–long nails, hair, bright colors, referring to themselves as “pretty”–and describe themselves in terms deemed “feminine,” that prevailing notions of masculinity do not traditionally tolerate. (Hence the subtly “white” term “metrosexual.”) However, because the hip hop sphere is such a homosocial environment, the disclaimer seems necessary. This isn’t a defense of the phrase or a dismissal of the trepidation these men obviously feel regarding their appearance and how that informs others’ assumption about their sexual orientation. However, I do think it’s important to note how reductive this piece makes the term; that in order to employ the phrase the way he wants to, Kafi has to both simplify and evacuate the term of some of its history.
Third, Kafi’s appropriation of the appointed accoutrement of “urban blackness” is thoroughly played and not funny. His recycling makes him look like a doofus, and I found it boringly unsophisticated–seriously. The way in which the “tenets” of blackness got employed and caricatured: the slang, the clothing, the “fist bump” were thoroughly unnecessary. “Genius” is a term used promiscuously.
Finally–and this is the larger, more important point–what I don’t appreciate about the piece, though I agree with its central point, is the way in which homophobia continues to be cast as a problem that black people have. Clearly, black men have anxieties about sexuality, so much so that they’d create slang to distance themselves from homosexuality. But what is “bromance” but a euphemistic, more acceptable (read: white) synonym for “no homo”? Why is Safi not concerned with making fun of that nomenclature? (I went to a very large Big Ten school. I have witnessed white men doing very gay things only to blame the alcohol.)
The reluctance by Safi and others to recognize the implicit claims they make about race in their work, their refusal to understand the ways in which race and sexual orientation intersect do nothing but exacerbate the aforementioned tension between GLBTQ, etc. white folks and GLBTQ, etc. PoC. That Safi doesn’t see that the gay best friend looks a lot like the best black friend, or that gayngels and magical Negroes have similar powers indicates an overall disinterest in the ways in which blackness is deployed in popular culture, unless it can be used as a prop, a scapegoat to make a point about the homophobia white men experience when all they want to do is two-step in the club. Black people should only provide the music. Who cares if “no homo” is easy to rhyme?