Rapper T.I. doesn't always exercise the best judgment. Shocking, I know. Though that's usually his issue, this time that flaw affects others. A reasonable point that he tried to make about the way many of us react to controversial comedy was lost over the flawed premise with which he chose to introduce it.
In an interview with Vibe, the Atlanta rapper, inspired by the backlash that comedian Tracy Morgan received following bigoted comments during a Nashville, Tenn., comedy set, recently discussed gay people and the public's sensitivity to anti-gay sentiment.
He recalled a joke Morgan made that went, "C'mon, man, I think gay people are too sensitive. If you can take a dick, you can take a joke." The joke may offend, but there is an underlying truth there, even if it's inconvenient to hear. Unfortunately, T.I. lost all hope for wide consideration of his opinion when he kept talking.
Saying he found that quip funny and "kind of true," he added that gays are "like, 'If you have an opinion against us, we're gonna shut you down' … That's not American. If you're gay you should have the right to be gay in peace, and if you're against it you should have the right to be against it in peace."
Not only does this statement suggest that the recently paroled rapper has a shaky grasp of U.S. civics, but he confused the concept of entertainers having the creative freedom to push the envelope with some bizarre request for public figures to be allowed to be hateful without repercussions.
Comics go to the edge, but sometimes they jump over it headfirst. Like the 30 Rock star's declaration that if his son was gay, "he better come home and talk to him like a man and not [he mimicked an effeminate, high-pitched voice], or he would pull out a knife and stab that little nigga to death." It was this joke, not the one T.I. referenced in Vibe, that got the comedian in hot water with gay-rights groups.
It's delusional to think that Morgan would be able to say what he said without criticism, and ridiculous not to see why gays and straights alike were offended by those words. For the record, if you want to express your opinions "in peace," you don't offer them before a crowd.
Trying to hide behind "free speech" is cowardly and suggests a false sense of entitlement — not to mention hypocrisy. T.I.'s First Amendment advocacy didn't seem to apply to personal matters; he was quick to shut down questions about his wife and his jail time in that same interview as well as during a recent appearance on The Wendy Williams Show.
In an attempt to quell criticism over his comments to Vibe, T.I. called TMZ to clarify his thoughts. He explained: "It's about people who take themselves too seriously, any group. It's not just about gays. I think that African-American groups sometimes take things a tad too seriously, too … If you use the n-word like Don Imus [he meant Imus' "nappy-headed hos" reference] and say something that's completely derogatory and disrespectful, that's understandable."
While it's regrettable that Tip missed how Morgan's comments embody the very derogatory and disrespectful sentiments that he finds out of bounds, at least he's finally making a little sense. He's also not alone. Similar sentiments have been increasingly echoed throughout the year.
Joan Rivers actually defended Morgan's right to make "jokes" about killing his son if he were gay. While I don't agree with that stance, I do understand one of her points: "For God's sake, let's go back 20 years ago. You couldn't have All in the Family on now."
Fellow comedy legend Eddie Murphy shared that latter view in his Rolling Stone cover story, published in November. When told that these days, a young Eddie Murphy wouldn't use "faggot" in his comedy shows the way he used to (something he has since apologized for), Murphy said, "Nowadays, comics say something that's offensive and they have got to apologize to everybody. How do you even write an act and go into a club when everybody has their cameras, it's on YouTube, [and] if you say something offensive, you've got to apologize to everyone? How do you come up with anything?"
I'm sure many comics are asking themselves the same question. This year Russell Brand was bashed for joking about 2012 Olympics and the Paralympic Games, Chelsea Handler saw protests after she cracked that Serbia is a disappointment and Gilbert Gottfried got fired after making fun of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. Even the popular Web series Awkward Black Girl was targeted for using the phrase "tranny bitch in heels" in its latest episode.
That same episode featured the term "white nigga" and jabs about the hair of cancer patients, but I suppose those demos have to get their own reps to file formal complaints.
The only way Morgan and the rest of these entertainers will avoid any future bad press is if they craft politically correct shticks. But as Whoopi Goldberg told her co-panelists on The View in defense of Gottfried: "I think that one of the things that people always forget is that comics have never been appropriate … that's the whole idea."
You don't want to give any group the power to oppress another, yet at the same time, there's something problematic when we seem to be reaching the point where no one can say anything perceived as negative about another group. In response to his own "mean-spirited" jokes at the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais shared his thoughts on the role of comics with CNN's Piers Morgan: "We use comedy as a sword, a shield, as a medicine, as a getting to know you."
Now, if you're constantly watching your words in order to avoid offending, where does that leave us? T.I.'s example wasn't the best, but there is a growing resistance to any form of comedic ridicule, and that does raise a question: Have we become too obsessed with maintaining political correctness and, as a result, developed hypersensitivity? The way things are going, it won't be long before another comic offers us an opportunity to have that conversation.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.