The Roots of Black Homophobia

Black folks are no more or less homophobic than the rest of the country, notwithstanding boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s bigoted rants. But like every other ethnic group, we're a complex lot. Parsing our biases takes nuance and understanding.


Part of Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s tough-guy act is as expected of boxers as it is of rappers, but his recent racist rant against his Filipino opponent, in which he repeatedly called him a faggot, has the clichéd homophobia we also expect of extreme hip-hop.

It is part of something bigger and more involved than we tend to see discussed in our time. This era particularizes itself because we get more information and rumors about almost anyone than we need -- or want. Consider rapper Cam'ron's cold sweat as he insists that even though he "digs pink," what he has to say contains "no homo." The subject of black homophobia is as intriguing as some find it disappointing.

Homosexual activists and those sympathetic to their cause were publicly disturbed when black voters in California voted against same-sex marriage with Proposition 8. Were they opposed to "the new civil rights movement"? Did they not realize that male and female homosexuals had become the "new black people"?

Nope; it is much more complicated than that. Negroes exemplify the modern age in their contradictions as thoroughly as any other ethnic group; how the members of this group get information is not one-dimensional and does not have easily predicted results.

In "the quarter of the Negroes," as Langston Hughes called it, information and opinion come along the way they always do in America: from the top to the bottom. Sometimes they vehemently rise from the absolute bottom to dominate the top. We can easily see what the wing nuts have done to the Republican Party, which now lamely dances to their tune.

Among Negroes, information and opinion come from three central forces: the literate, semiliterate and functionally illiterate. The last are formed among those at the bottom or those who dropped out of public school and now depend on the shortcomings of the oral part of a culture.

Black men who come from communities where far too many young males begin entering the penal system in their teens see things much differently from men of any color who do not. Those reared in communities where it is not at all common for young males to be incarcerated have only recently become aware of what actually can happen behind bars. Without The Shawshank Redemption or HBO's Oz, others with no penal experience and no backlog of gossip about the sexual horrors imposed behind bars might still be fully clueless.

On the other hand, lower-class black people who have been exposed to the penal system are fairly sure that they have all the clues. In most cases, they're not privy to statistics illustrating that sexual predators are usually heterosexual, not homosexual. But they know people whom the penal system did not protect from sexual assault. And more often than not, those experiences inform their prejudices.

Contrary to paranoid superstition, black men who were sexually molested in institutions very rarely become homosexuals. Even so, many are thought to have been "turned out" by the raw and brutal experience, almost as if rape has magical properties that can transform someone who isn't sexually attracted to men into one who is.

That is how it tends to go among all people. Intensely negative and unforgettable experience -- personal, witnessed, or heard about and believed -- is thought to be a threatening norm.