Check it! I keep the trade in the clutch
And I never gave a fuck, so I do what I want
Spitting all up in your ear, put your hand in my butt
Cause my shit come tighter than a drag when she tucked
If I were to make an 80s style montage of my life, rap music would accompany it. You may wonder how I, as a queer-identified man, could stomach rap music. The long and short of it is that rappers articulated some of the anger, frustration and estrangement I felt in a way that I could relate to. It wasn’t particularly easy for me to negotiate my “queerness” within Hip-Hop culture. Similarly, manoeuvring my “queerness” within a Christian context proved equally difficult. We all rely to a large extent on community culture for our self-definition and direction. And growing up as a Christian diasporic queer Black Caribbean kid, Curaçaoan culture, as well as Dutch and Hip-Hop culture, offered frameworks of understanding that were often counter-intuitive.
I grew up in an environment in which the differential and interdependent histories of Curaçao and the Netherlands mingled with developing cultural, political and social scenarios. I hung out with a bunch of kids of different ethnic backgrounds and we were creating a hydra culture in the Netherlands of the late 80s and early 90s. Our scenarios were quite distinct from the US scenarios from which Hip Hop culture emerged and yet the US scenarios spoke not only to me, but also to other youths of colour growing up in the Netherlands. We were all dealing with racism, urban decay, second-class citizenship, financial strife. As a teenager who didn’t really fit in anywhere I had to, on the one hand, navigate the culture of my community, which was distinct from the hydra culture that was mine, our shared experiences, religion, Hip-Hop and on the other hand I had to deal with racism, my status as an “immigrant,” second-class citizenship, growing up in a low-income family, my precarious relationship with Dutch culture—while dealing with these queer feelings.
One of the few pleasures I enjoyed was listening to Villa 65 (presented by the inimitable Aldith Hunkar) on the radio and I listened to it religiously. Hip-Hop music—despite its homophobic and misogynistic lyrics—helped me deal with the racial alienation I felt. It articulated beautifully, brutally, imaginatively, powerfully the complexities of dealing with the fact of blackness.
The statement “Hip-Hop and homosexuality don’t mix” which the radio station FunX recently explored is threadbare, to say the least. Are queers accepted in Hip-Hop? Is Hip-Hop homophobic? Yes, and no. Hip-Hop is not inherently more homophobic than other parts of society.
In Gangsta Culture–Sexism, Misogyny: Who Will Take the Rap? bell hooks writes, “[T]he sexist, misogynist, patriarchal ways of thinking and behaving that are glorified in gangsta rap are a reflection of the prevailing values in our society, values created and sustained by white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” Rappers “give voice to the brutal raw anger and rage against women that it is taboo for “civilized” adult men to speak.”
As a queer-identified man who doesn’t conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity, I encounter the same male posturing that’s supposedly endemic to Hip-Hop culture outside of Hip-Hop circles. It’s still commonplace for young men to call each other faggot, sissy, pussy, homo. The almost Pavlovian association of Hip-Hop with homophobia is in itself very much class-inflected and racialized.
Writing about homophobia in sports David J. Leonard notes in Protecting the (White Male) Gaze: Homophobia of Sports Talk Radio Goes Unchallenged, that “a hyper focus on the homophobic utterances of black [athletes] provide[s] a comforting narrative that reaffirmed white civility (as tolerant and accepting) and black pathology.” Sean Daly, music critic for the Tampa Bay Times, wrote in 2008 about Katy Perry’s single “Ur So Gay” that, “[T]he boyfriend-skewering Ur So Gay isn’t homophobic, but it does pummel straight guys who can’t handle her edge.” Daly’s phlegmatic assessment is quite telling. Hip-Hop is attacked because it transgresses, unlike Katy Perry, against White bourgeois sensibilities.
In 2007 academics at the University of Amsterdam conducted a study on homophobia in the Netherlands entitled Als ze maar van me afblijven (As Long As They Don’t Touch Me). One striking outcome is that many perpetrators of anti-gay violence claim they have nothing against homosexuality: “I have nothing against homosexuality, but…” This attitude leads to bizarre contradictions. One of the offenders interviewed, a soldier, indicated that he’s proud to live in a tolerant country and he wanted to fight in Afghanistan to defend (note) Dutch gay rights. Bizarrely enough, he was discharged from the army, after getting arrested for beating up a gay man.
Homophobia should be defined, for a better understanding, in terms of negative affect (i.e., disgust, discomfort, and fear) and negative behaviour toward homosexuals (avoidance and aggression), instead of negative attitudes about homosexuality. The affective and behavioural components of homophobia are often obscured. Recent support issued by rappers should therefore be contextualized: having nothing against homosexuality doesn’t necessarily make you non-homophobic.
Through “coming out” hitherto pathologized and non-normative sexual behaviours have become “accepted.” However, men who fuck men are still pathologized; for instance, we are not allowed to donate blood. Even though, there are plenty of “out” queers in the Netherlands, homophobia is still very much a part of the fabric of society. We should not take “being out” as a measure of liberation. “Being out” doesn’t mean you will be seen.
In No Way of Seeing: Mainstreaming and Selling the Gaze of Homo-Thug Hip-Hop Robin R. Means Coleman and Jasmine Cobb discuss the matter of the “will-to-see” that attends the politics of the visibility/marketability. Focusing on Caushun, an out Black queer rapper, they write,
“Caushun has to-date not experienced the mainstream success he hopes for and may ultimately experience failure because his music, and more importantly his music videos, will offer mainstream audiences no way of seeing.”
Being Black and queer and loving Hip-Hop is not an anomaly. Jeffrey Q. McCune Jr. notes in “Out” in the Club: The Down Low, Hip-Hop, and the Architexture of Black Masculinity, that “black queer participation and enjoyment in hip-hop is congruent with black life where hip-hop often operates as the nexus between the black and the queer.” Yet, despite having since long been part of the Hip-Hop community, Black queer women and men have trouble being seen; there’s no way of seeing us because of the dominant (racialized) heterosexist and masculinist gaze.
Popular conceptions of black (male) sexuality have been shaped—from within and from without—by colonial racism and capitalism—both of which have relied on racialized ideologies of gender, sexuality, and class. Colonial racism (and its afterlife) and capitalism held White supremacy in place through the “erotics of empire” whose focus was on controlling the physicality of the Black sexual body.
In “F**k tha Police [State]”: Rap, Warfare, and the Leviathan Joy James calls attention to the dangerous eroticism associated with hyper-masculine blackness through the sexual erotics of the body marked as black. Joy James notes, “The hardcore black male remains the most demonized and desired in libidinal excess: The man most love to hate or—for some black women—the one most hate to love.” The “thug” identity, which in Hip-Hop is defined by its violent, hyper-masculine and homophobic rhetoric, has proven extremely marketable—even (or perhaps, especially) to White gay men. Many gay porn paysites, Thug Hunter [NSFW] especially, trade on the “thug” image.
Capitalism and popular culture is structured on White desire for Black bodies and Black culture. White appropriation of Black culture has often taken the form of a flirtation with blackness because it’s oppositional and cool. However, there’s a thin line between appropriation and appreciation. Raymond van het Groenewoud’s “gospel inspired” song “Liefde voor muziek” (Love of Music) crosses that line. Even though, the song is about his “love for (Black) music” he refers to a Black congregation as “a bunch of boisterous black monkeys”—a line he later changed to “a bunch of boisterous black fellow creatures.”
The marketability of Black culture allows, as Jason Rodriquez remarks, White folks to “acquire the characteristics of blackness associated with being cool” without the burden. Holland in Da Hood, a programme about “wannabe Gangsta-rappers from the polder” trying to make it in a US “hood,” is another prime example of this dynamic; the show is strangely (?) evocative of Thug Hunter. In the interview listed below, the young White wannabe rappers were not grilled about the misogyny and homophobia in Hip-Hop.
Hel Gebreamlak unpacks the dynamic that shapes this politics of visibility (or “outness,” that is: who is seen in what light) beautifully in Race + Hip-Hop + LGBT Equality: On Macklemore’s White Straight Privilege . In the article Gebreamlak explains why Macklemore is praised for “Same Love” while Black queer Hip-Hop artists like Deep Dickollective, Yo! Majesty, and Me’Shell NdegéOcello (or many others) get ignored. The same dynamic explains why shows that centre the lives of openly gay Black men struggle to get mainstream support.
Honest depictions of Black male sexuality are hardly seen and the healthy ways that Black men can—and do—relate to each other are rarely discussed—especially in the Netherlands. Simplistic statements that pit Black “macho” men against “weak, sissy” Black men don’t further the discussion, at all. What will help us further is asking why we aren’t seeing Black men loving Black men in mainstream media. And to the Black brothers in the Hip-Hop scene I pose this question—and here I echo Joan Morgan: why is disrespecting me one of the few things that make you feel like men?