It’s easy for white liberals to imagine homophobia as the fault of a cartoonish black character even though black people hardly wield the power that drives it
He lasted less time as an Oscars host than Anthony Scaramucci did as Trump’s White House director of communications. On Friday, Kevin Hart withdrew from his role as hype man of the mediocre awards show. He did so on Twitter, writing that he wanted to “sincerely apologize to the LGBT community for my insensitive words from my past”. This atonement came after he had refused just the night before to apologize for past homophobic jokes and tweets.
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I couldn’t care less about Kevin Hart or the Oscars. Hollywood doesn’t care about us, so why should we care about them? But this episode has given fuel to a dangerous trope: of the unenlightened black homophobe who must be corrected by wiser white liberals. And that’s what makes me angry.
As the literary and performance artist Jayy Dodd wrote on Twitter: “white folks love homophobic black ppl cuz it’s like A THING they can point to as BAD, when it’s affluent conservative & silent moderate white folks making LGBTQ™ life in this country so difficult.”
Dodd’s words hit home for me. In just the past week, the US has shamefully seen white liberal news journalists – even white gay journalists such as the New York Times’ Frank Bruni and Adam Nagourney – fail to hold George HW Bush accountable for his homophobic positions, policies and actions. Given that tens of thousands of gay men died of Aids during his presidency, Bush wielded far more homophobic power than Hart ever could, even if he had hosted as many Oscars as Billy Crystal.
While the homophobic Bush has been widely praised in media for his “grace”, noblesse oblige and “thousand points of light”, the criticism of his homophobia has been scant. At the same time, the pile on targeting a black comic has been hard.
Hart has willfully played the historic, mythological role of the black bogeyman ruining gay rights
Hart has willfully played the historic, mythological role of the black bogeyman ruining gay rights. And it is a myth. This tale really got going in 2008 when Dan Savage incorrectly blamed “black homophbia” for the passage of the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 – even though the measure passed by more than the number of Black voters in California. I saw this myth spread when I was reporting on same-sex marriage equality moving through the New York senate in 2011, as many people loudly worried it might not pass because of people of color, even though just about every legislator of color but one (Rubén Díaz Sr) supported marriage equality while the white legislators were split.
When white liberals started to think that gay rights were cool, they imagined themselves as more enlightened on the subject than people with darker skin … even though anti-gay laws in African were imported by European colonizers. Even though most major US federal gay rights wins happened under a Black president. Even though a majority of US Muslims are for gay marriage rights while a majority of white evangelicals are against them.
It is easy for white liberals to imagine homophobia as the fault of a cartoonish black character in their mind even though black people hardly wield the social, financial and legal power which drives homophobia in the world.
It’s difficult for liberals to reckon with how LGBT people could never be as harmed by the likes of Hart as they have been by Bush’s inaction on Aids, by Bill Clinton’s anti-gay marriage (the Defense of Marriage Act) and military (“Don’t ask, don’t tell”) policies , by George W Bush’s warmongering, and by the majority of white people who elected the current homophobe in the oval office.
When Ellen DeGeneres hosted the Oscars in 2016, gay rights groups were more vocal about what her lesbian visibility meant than they were when she had homophobic George W Bush on her show a year later. Gay people were no better or worse off in life when DeGeneres hosted than they would have been if Hart had hosted. Because, ultimately, it doesn’t matter who hosts the Oscars because the Oscars don’t matter.
There are more important frames for battling homophobia and fighting for justice than a glorified Hollywood sales pitch.
Steven W Thrasher, a former Guardian writer-at-large, was recently appointed the inaugural Daniel H Renberg chair of media coverage of sexual and gender minorities at Northwestern University. Twitter: @thrasherxy