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Popping culture: Brother Ali examines bigotry in HuffPo

In a recent posting on The Huffington Post, emcee Brother Ali tackles a topic that has been gaining momentum in both queer and mainstream press: homophobia (and, by extension, hatred) in hip hop.

The piece, titled "The Intersection of Homophobia and Hip Hop: Where Tyler Met Frank," is an honest confession of Ali’s former ignorance in the usage of the term “faggot” in his lyrics, as well as in his private life. In the opening paragraphs, Ali discusses his own usage of the term:

In fact, on my debut album, Shadows On The Sun, I displayed a
few cringe-worthy slur moments of my own. I tossed it around with the
reckless abandon of a young man lacking the empathetic sensitivity that
only manifests through life-altering interactions and experiences. By my
2009 album, Us, I had evolved into manhood and dwelled on the
cusp of self-actualization. This shift in perception allowed me to
freely address through lyrics the hypocrisy of a supposedly free society
that forces some men and women to keep certain dimensions of their
lives imprisoned — including their sexuality. 


Ali goes on to describe a situation in which a fan overhears (and subsequently contacts him about it) him trying to educate a colleague about the colleague’s own homophobia. This is where the piece gets interesting. Ali admits his fault in using “faggot” and more so, acknowledges the fact that even though he is now apologizing for it, his words and music will always be out there.

My use of the f-word more than a decade ago in the song "Dorian" off Shadows On The Sun
continued to echo in a space in which I no longer dwelled. That word
and that mind-set would continue to be perpetuated through me, a man who
had grown to understand more, but whose actions had left an indelible
print that could not be erased.[…]My world was pretty small and bleak when I wrote that album.
Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the world, read James
Baldwin and develop deep friendships with musicians whom I love and
respect and who are openly gay.

In short, the world gave me another chance. But those words are there forever.

Ali goes on to discuss how denigration is used as a way to prove manhood in hip hop and in culture in general. Men are faggots because they don’t stand up to culturally or socially appropriate measures of masculinity or heterosexuality. Not because they are gay. And therein lies the explanation around the usage of “faggot” and “gay” by pop culture in general. The argument that when someone says, “That’s gay,” they don’t mean “that’s homosexual in character,” they mean “that’s dumb/stupid/forgettable/ridiculous.” Like when Tyler the Creator reportedly used the term faggot more than 200 times on his album Goblin. I have never made any effort to listen to Tyler’s music. Why? Because I read in the gay press that he used the term all the time. He didn’t lose a fan. He just didn’t gain one.

However, I was (and am) willing to give Tyler the benefit of the doubt, because of his very vocal support for his friend Frank Ocean, who recently came out. Ali, however, is there to remind his readers not to let him off that easy.

When addressing the criticism in an interview with NME, Tyler absolves himself of any responsibility by claiming that he’s not aiming the word at gay people in particular, but just using it as a synonym of weakness and stupidity. “I’m not homophobic. I just think ‘f****t’ hits and hurts people. It hits. And ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that s–t. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic."

Congratulations, Tyler. You still are homophobic. You may be friends with Frank and defend him and applaud him in the press, but your lyrics and your statement are still homophobic. Because you “don’t think about that shit” is not an excuse. It just makes you intellectually lazy.

It reminds me of that scene in Louis CK’s show Louie where he and his friends ask their lone gay comedian buddy about the use of the term faggot. No one wants to stop anyone from expressing their opinions and their ideas. Even when we don’t agree with them. Just know what those words mean.

So yeah. Tyler, you didn’t lose a fan, you just lost the opportunity to gain one.

But Ali? You most certainly gained a fan. A vocal one.

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