It’s not easy for me as a black person to dismiss another black man’s achievements. It’s why, when superstar Kevin Hart announced that he was going to host the 2019 Academy Awards, I had mixed feelings.
I appreciate Hart’s ambition and success as a black creative within an industry that has yet to fully embrace us. And I was so glad that a person of color got a shot at emceeing Hollywood’s biggest night, given the diversity of this year’s potential nominations — I cringed at the thought of a white comedian making flat jokes about films like Black Panther, BlackKklansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.
But as a gay man, I was painfully aware of Hart’s history of homophobic jokes. In a 2011 tweet, Hart suggested he would tell his son, “stop that’s gay,” if he caught him playing with a dollhouse and would respond by breaking the toy over the child’s head. In one tweet, Hart described a photo of actor Damien Dante Wayans as looking “like a gay billboard for AIDS.” In Hart’s 2010 standup film, Seriously Funny, the comedian said, “As a heterosexual male, if I can prevent my son from being gay, I will.”
This is the subconscious hurdle of what being a double minority sometimes look like: practicing the art of compassion and compromise even when one of your communities causes pain to the other. In order to survive, I’m forced to be more tolerant of those privileged within both of my communities — even when they often harbor misplaced animosity toward me. In other words, it’s harder to dismiss homophobic black people in a world where white supremacy oppresses us.
It’s one reason why, despite his shortcomings in the past, I was ready to celebrate Hart’s achievement. But when one of his old homophobic tweets resurfaced, Hart leaned into not apologizing for them. “We feed on internet trolls and we reward them,” he said in a video on Instagram following the backlash. “I’m not going to do it, man. I’m going to be me. I’m going to stand my ground.”
It was disappointing to see Hart walk away from one of the biggest opportunities of his career simply because he didn’t want to publicly affirm that he had evolved past those hurtful comments, as he once claimed he had.
The stereotype of the homophobic black community
Following Hart’s decision to exit, my social media newsfeed was divided. Most of my straight black followers were annoyed with how the situation played out, blaming the LGBTQ community for being “too sensitive” and “bringing another black man down.” Saturday Night Live star Michael Che used his segment to call out the hypocrisy of the Oscars in his segment by reminding viewers that the Academy nominated Mel Gibson last year despite his history of making homophobic and anti-Semitic remarks. Nick Cannon made it a point to repost homophobic tweets previously made by white comedians such as Amy Schumer, Sarah Silverman, and Chelsea Handler.
On the other end of the spectrum, I witnessed a sea of white gay men such as comedian Billy Eichner celebrate the occasion with calls for one of their own within the community to host the show. (Eichner later tweeted that he would always fight for the LGBTQ community but that he accepted Hart’s apology.) This left me feeling torn over the fact that racial bias was deflecting from the actual impact of Hart’s actions.
Even more frustrating is that the situation further reinforced the stereotype of black homophobia — a myth that suggests black people are more inherently homophobic given their cultural exchanges in hip-hop and religion. It’s a trope that’s particularly harmful for double minorities like me.
Such stigma was perpetuated by people like white gay activist and writer Dan Savage, who, back in 2008, blamed the black community’s lackluster support of same-sex marriage in the passing of Proposition 8. And while there were a high number of blacks who supported this particular anti-LGBTQ policy, let’s keep in mind the majority of white people who routinely vote for Republican candidates, the party known for championing homophobic legislation across the board, compared to the black community. Savage would have been better off pointing the finger within his own circle before coming for black voters.
When it comes to the issue of race, straight black men like Kevin Hart are both culprits and targets. Even though homophobia is just as prominent across other racial groups, societal stereotypes of black hypermasculinity often magnify the disparity of LGBTQ people within the black community.
Hart’s homophobia, like that of men from other races, is a byproduct of toxic masculinity and unfair expectations of gender performance. However, such stigma toward LGBTQ people is often viewed as harsher when done by communities of color because they’re already being marginalized.
The LGBTQ community must reckon with its own racism
These complexities also reveal fractures on the basis of sexuality and racial bias. Socially, the LGBTQ community is often framed as a monolith that centers on cisgender white gay men. Racism still cuts deep within these LGBTQ identities because white privilege pervades all sectors of gender, class, and sexual orientation.
This is evident in the exclusion of people of color within the LGBTQ organizations that are supposed to represent us all: The leading national LGBTQ publications, such as the Advocate, Out, and Attitude, faced backlash after the hashtag #GayMediaSoWhite called them out for their lack of diversity.
Earlier this year, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an organization devoted to improving the lives of the LGBTQ community, saw their director, Mary Beth Maxwell, resign after it was revealed she had used the n-word on numerous occasions around staff. This was on top of the organization’s issues with hiring diverse staff over the years.
For decades, the LGBTQ community has been dominated in media, leadership, and visibility by white gay men who have not worked hard enough to fairly share power. Similar critiques about white privilege power dynamics have shown up in other notable causes, such as the feminist movement and progressive activism altogether.
Which is why it’s so frustrating to see the chorus of white critics like Eichner, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tyler Oakley coming for Hart, especially when it feels like a double standard is employed for white people who make homophobic comments. Human Rights Campaign (HRC) president Chad Griffin was quick to call out the comedian for his previous antics. But he wasn’t as quick to address the fact that he endorsed white Republican legislator Justin Kirk in the 2016 Illinois Senate race over his opponent of color, Tammy Duckworth, who co-sponsored many more pro-LGBTQ bills than her opponent.
Griffin defended the decision by stating in a column for the Independent Journal Review that “HRC has always aimed to make LGBT equality a bipartisan issue. So when members of Congress vote the right way and stand up for equality — regardless of party — we must stand with them.” HRC would later regret the decision when, for the first time in their 38-year history, they had to reverse an endorsement following racist remarks Kirk made on the campaign trail about Duckworth’s Asian ethnicity.
Pop culture narratives of LGBTQ people of color contribute to the problem
Depictions of LGBTQ people in popular culture also promote misleading narratives of how homophobia is dealt with in black and white communities. While white homophobia is often resolved in films or television shows that tell “coming out” stories, homophobia is often depicted as a relentless force in the lives of black LGBTQ people. For example, in recent films such as Love Simon, Alex Strangelove, and Call Me by Your Name, white lead characters overcome homophobia through love and compassion.
But other LGBTQ films such as Pariah, Blackbird, and Moonlight depict black characters as encountering homophobic parents who are more violent, cruel, and unforgiving. It is these disparities that I believe misplaced fear and resentment stems from: Black straight people have been conditioned to view homophobia solely as a white person’s oppression.
Now, those on both sides need to commit to amplifying individuals who are directly impacted by these offenses. For example, rather than black straight people trying to define what is or is not homophobic in regard to Hart’s behavior, they should allow LGBTQ people in our own community to take the lead in such conversations. When it comes to critiquing homophobia within communities of color, white LGBTQ individuals should take a back seat and allow diverse opinions from the community to weigh in.
The reason there can’t be true accountability for individuals like Kevin Hart is because the privileged individuals mostly addressing him aren’t the ones directly impacted — the black LGBTQ community.
Translation: Know your lane, and let those more equipped to navigate certain routes take the driver’s seat.
Ernest Owens is the editor of Philadelphia magazine’s G Philly and CEO of Ernest Media Empire LLC. The award-winning journalist has written for CNN, NBC News, USA Today, MTV News, and several other major publications. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and at ErnestOwens.com.