I grew up in a homophobic house in a homophobic neighborhood in a homophobic community. I never knew the words “faggot” and “dyke” were violent slurs until I was in high school. For the first 15 years of my life, I genuinely believed these words were appropriate labels for homosexual people. Consequently, I’ve used both slurs countless times in my life. It took me nearly three decades to rid myself of the association between gay/lesbian people and dehumanizing homophobic slurs used to describe, and ultimately oppress them. Now, I cringe when I hear anyone use those words, as I did when I read the headline that Azealia Banks had called a Delta Airlines flight attendant a “fucking faggot.” After reading the story and watching the video, though, I was enraged.
I was enraged by the sensationalized and deliberately misleading headline. I was enraged that all the media outlets refused to address the entire problem. I was enraged at what I saw in that video passively mentioned at best.
What I saw on that video was a black woman being denied what belonged to her by a white man. What I recognized was the pathology of more than four centuries of oppression, degradation and policing. What I witnessed was a black woman with the same fiery spirit I have being violated. What I understood was that Azealia’s violent reaction and triggering words were induced by the violent racist actions of that flight attendant. What I experienced was absolute disgust at the word faggot hurled with poisonous intention and utter fury at the unmitigated gall of that flight attendant to hold another human being and her property hostage.
Watching that video, I recalled all the times a white person had instigated an altercation with me only to become the victim once I exploded. I went back to the time a white girl in my kindergarten class had opened candy I received as a reward for getting a perfect score on the spelling test. When I asked her why she’d done it, she replied, “Because I wanted to.” I proceeded to take the Cadbury eggs she’d been gifted as a reward and pound them all flat. She ran crying to the teacher who sent me to the principal without asking if or why I’d done it. I relived the time a white woman had carelessly scratched my car only to get dismissive and disrespectful when I confronted her, and have park security lie in a statement saying the woman had done nothing wrong. I’ve been Azealia on that plane a hundred times.
That bag belonged to her. That flight attendant had no right whatsoever to deny Banks her property. Whatever he saw between her and the other passenger whom she supposedly attacked, but who Banks said put his arm out preventing her from departing the plane (SURPRISE! I believe her.), the flight attendant had no authority to confiscate her belongings. The police should have been called to resolve that dispute. He stepped in with the arrogance and false entitlement patented by white men and decided that he had the duty to put her back in line.
To be as clear as possible, there is no ‘but’ about how I feel about the word “faggot.” It’s never condonable or excusable. To be more than clear, if I had been on that plane with Azealia Banks, the police would’ve been called on both of us. As a black woman, allowing that white man to disrespect another black woman like that would’ve represented a complete failure to protect who I am and see myself in my sisters. It would’ve meant being a coward. It would’ve meant accepting and preserving white supremacy.
This is not a case of the chicken and the egg. It’s very clear which wrong happened first. The rightful outrage over her use of the slur should have been preceded by outrage over a fucking flight attendant taking something from a passenger. So I’m more than a little disappointed by all the gay men, particularly gay black men, who’ve jumped on Twitter and IG to drag Banks for using this word, while making no mention of how the shit that proceeded was racist and unacceptable.
I mean I get it: Any gay man would be disgusted by hearing the slur he’s had thrown at him so many times used. I get that it’s triggering. I understand that she should’ve had her ass handed to her for that. What I cannot grasp is the gay men saying homophobic slurs are never acceptable as they let bitch, ho, and cunt drip from their lips like crumbs. What I refuse to even try to process is black gay men retweeting and copying comments from white gay men condemning Banks, when the very same white gay men have Twitter stalked and harassed Azealia in defense of the unabashedly and unapologetically racist and homophobic Iggy Azaela, long before this incident.
There is no instance where one can separate blackness from his other identities. So I expect my gay brothers to be hurt by her words, but I also expect them to understand wrong as she is, she’s still their sister. I expect them to remember that she’s been vocal and outspoken about the murder of black men like them even as she lambastes them for their misogyny and objectification of black women. I expect black gay men to check her and then check themselves. I expect black gay men to know that any temporary solidarity they feel with white gay men is artificial, as they’ll be reminded as soon they log into Tinder and see “no blacks” prominently displayed on their white brethren’s profiles.
Don’t allow your allegiances to be manipulated. Remember how the white LGBT community was infuriated by Eminem’s casual use of the word faggot, but was mum when audio of him saying nigger and degrading black women surfaced. Don’t forget how Marlo Hampton was called out by Andy Cohen for saying faggot, while he made millions from her calling all the other black women on RHOA bitches and sluts every episode. Think about how Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera have been reduced to extras in the Stonewall movie.
I know the homophobia that exists in our community. I know how black gay men are victimized and demonized by our own. I realize that hearing Azealia yell out that word brings back painful memories. I also know that incident was as much about the racist oppression of a black woman by a white man as it was about internalized homophobia. I realize that this was a teaching and learning moment for our community. And most of all, I know that even though y’all are pissed, y’all know that if this had been Iggy Azaela instead of Azaelia Banks, the big story would be her being held captive on a plane. Then again, I know y’all know that if it were Iggy on that plane, that flight attendant would never have even tried to keep her bags from her.