Did Don Lemon Throw Blacks Under the Bus?

The CNN anchor has been applauded for announcing that he is gay, but some say he unfairly portrayed all blacks as homophobic.

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In our culture, there are rigid definitions of what makes a “real man,” a heavily Judeo-Christian-influenced standard of morality, and other areas within the black community that do lead to negative consequences for openly gay black men.

Still, we have to ask ourselves: Are these qualities exclusive to our race? Moreover, are they tantamount to the notion that blacks are collectively so much more homophobic than everyone else? I don’t believe either to be true. Homophobia is rooted in religious fundamentalism and misogyny — neither of which is exclusive to blacks.

The idea of “praying the gay away” is not a black thing. Just ask white evangelicals who turn to organizations like Exodus International and use prayer to expel same-sex attraction. As for black churches’ creating an unfriendly environment for gays, blacks can point to those ubiquitous eternal-bachelor choir directors or reference the Bishop Eddie Long sex scandal, but what about the scandals involving white church leaders such as the Rev. Ted Haggard, Bishop Jim Swilley and Paul Barnes?

That’s why, despite great respect for writer and commentator Keith Boykin, I can’t co-sign this erroneous claim he made in support of Lemon: “When it comes to homosexuality, the black church practically invented the policy of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’ “

I’m not defending black homophobia with an “Everyone else does it, too” excuse. I’m merely pointing out that homophobia is a collective American societal ill — otherwise, the It Gets Better Project would be directed only toward black teens. That’s why there is a danger in even indirectly promoting in the media the myth of the big black homophobe.

Many blacks have grown tired of being lumped into that monolithic narrative, and press for more nuance in this discussion. Religious blacks can be prone to gay intolerance, but so can many other religious people. The prejudices we have been conditioned to accept should be the issue, not arbitrary debates over who buys the bull more.

I’m grateful that Don Lemon has come out, and agree that he has a right to share his truth. But if we don’t choose our words wisely, we run the risk of turning off those who need to hear them most. Until we speak about homophobia with richer context, it won’t matter how many new faces we add to the debate. The direction of the conversation will remain, well, transparent.

Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard University-educated writer currently based in Los Angeles. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter.

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