CultureFilm / TVSex & Gender

kevin and ellen: listen to black queer people

January 8, 2019
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It is not lost on us how often the white community will lean towards protecting their race in spite of their marginalization across other groups. We watched 53% of white women vote their race over gender in the 2016 election, we saw Caitlyn Jenner vote race over her trans identity, and continue to see white “gays for Trump” signs at every rally despite his administration’s numerous attempts to destroy LGBTQ rights and protections. The white queer community has continuously prioritized their own privilege and power over the shared interests of Black and brown queer people, and the pattern seems to not be changing any time soon. Even when you think of the most important concerns in our community, the white queer community has repeatedly dropped the ball.

It should’ve come as no surprise to see Ellen, a white lesbian woman, absolve Kevin Hart, a Black cishet man, in a situation that had absolutely caused her no harm, nor granted her permission to speak on behalf of those offended. On Friday, when Ellen decided to grant Kevin Hart his first major interview since losing the Oscar-hosting job due to homophobic marks from his past, many of us were intrigued. So much time had passed since the fallout, most of us thought it was over with. So for Ellen, a member of white queer community to be the first to have this interview had many of us concerned about how this might turn out.

To the shock of none, the interview turned out to be more of what we have seen from Kevin Hart. A man with access and power feeling like he was wronged — still not fully accountable for his actions. And why should he be? Every time Hart has done something offensive publicly he has always bounced back and been forgiven. So for him to actually lose something likely struck a nerve, one the comedian had never experienced. But this isn’t as much about Hart as much as it is about who he used as his vessel to stay protected in the Hollywood elite.

That vessel being Ellen. Ellen is no stranger to how homophobia can destroy one’s career. When she publicly announced she was a lesbian back in 1997, her show was subsequently cancelled as viewership decreased, and she would be left without a job until landing her daytime talk show The Ellen Show. Her decision to absolve Kevin Hart silenced the voices of the Black queer community that his words will most directly impact. Furthermore, her choice of words like “trolls” and “haters” reduced our humanity in the Black community. We’re not trolls or haters: we’re the ones that experience  the actual violence from men with thoughts like the ones reflected in Kevin Hart’s homophobic tweets towards our community. Ellen is not alone in this. She is the continuation of a pattern from the white queer community that erased Black queer history, while putting their race above their marginalized identity.

From the beginning of the LGBTQ movement, alt-history has changed many of the facts to whitewash the truth. The Stonewall Riots, where it all began, continue to be told incorrectly primarily by white queer people, removing the major role Black queer people played. We have watched the legacies of Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, and Ms. Major be downplayed or erased on several occasions.

We saw this most recently in the movie version, which tanked due to backlash of this whitewashing, reducing the importance and experience of Black queer characters — with the brick being thrown by a white queer man despite many stories alluding to Marsha being that person. In 2018, a white queer publication ran a story stating, “It doesn’t matter who threw the first brick,” adding fuel to this ever-growing fire. To some, this may be harmless. But to a group of Black queer people who find their heroes in these icons, it’s another attempt to erase our truth, something that we are used to on both side of our oppression — being Black and being Queer.

Even when you think about the most important concerns in our community. While white queer people were fighting for marriage equality, Black queer people have been fighting to stay alive. The HIV epidemic started as a joint effort that has now fallen fully on the Black queer community. Violence against the transgender community is another area of concern for the Black queer community that often sees no assistance from the white queer community.

Racism doesn’t stop because we share a marginalization. There are countless reports of how white-owned gay bars have discriminated against Black patrons. Another side of this racism and discrimination has become wrapped in fetishization of Black queer people. When on apps like Grindr or Jack’d, we are often met with harsh requests based on the stereotype of endowment — often called BBC (big Black cock). Black bodies are looked upon as sexual playgrounds for white queer people who assert themselves in a way as to say they have agency over our bodies while often silent in our oppression.

As of yesterday, this situation with Ellen has only grown worse. Her show’s executive producer  has now begun blocking Black and brown queers who took issue with subsequent statements from Ellen’s brother, and her show’s EP Ed Glavin continuing to support Ellen’s right to “give forgiveness” — further silencing the community affected. Overall, there is a valuable lesson to be learned. For white queer people, your race will only get you but so far, for at the end of the day it is your marginalization that will be the deciding factor.

Ellen was cancelled once for homophobia. For her sake, I hope that lightning doesn’t strike twice.