“America the brave still fears what we don’t know”

Every time I watch the music video to the song “Same Love” by Macklemore I am always overwhelmed with intense emotion. The song, powerful in its message regarding gay rights and societal implications, has so many layers of interpretation by itself. However, it is the video that makes this song so powerful in my opinion.

For a long time I could not understand why the video itself took such an emotional toll on me. Sure it deals with difficult human rights issues and blatantly shines attention back to the atrocities of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s. After long thought it struck me that this is the first time in my twenty-two years that I have seen a gay couple depicted in such a loving, raw, and emotional way. For once the various stereotypes on how gay men act, dress, and talk were off the table. The result was liberating in many ways.

Something else that struck me about this video was the decision to tell the story of an interracial couple. Previously when thinking about homosexuality, issues of race rarely came into play. Reading Gay New York really highlighted that significant gap in my knowledge. Granted the book examine gay culture predominantly before World War II, however it is hard to imagine such a significant factor such as race, which is ingrained in everyday culture, not also playing a significant role in gay culture today.

In the mid twentieth century race was a prevailing factor for gay men in terms of access. For instance, African American men living in New York City had extremely limited access to bathhouses, as most refused service until the 1960s. [2] Additionally many gay social events like drag balls also highlighted the difference in opinion between those with dark skin and those with light. Speaking to his exasperation of the results at a drag ball an African American participant noted, “they are always arranged for the white girls to win. They never had no Negro judges.” [3]

Race clearly played a role in regards to gay culture in the mid twentieth century, but does it still today? A recent article entitled “Why is it so hard to be black and gay?” highlighted some of the questions I myself had after reading Gay New York. The article quotes CNN anchor Don Lemon who publicly announced his homosexuality in 2011 saying, “[Gay is] about the worst thing you can be in Black culture.” [4]

Given the racial issues still prevalent in society today I find it intriguing that the song “Same Love” chose to tackle the emotionally charged issues of homosexuality and race in their video. Currently I am thinking critically about many of the themes raised by this video. Was the decision to portray the gay couple as interracial a conscious decision? Why tackle so many issues at once? And perhaps most thought provokingly, how does the issue of race fit into the culture of homosexuality today?

[1] Video:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQngzapK5dM

 

[2] Chauncey, George, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (New York: Basic Books, 1994).

 

[3] Ibid

 

[4] DiversityInc, “Why is it so hard to be Black and Gay?”

http://www.diversityinc.com/diversity-and-inclusion/why-is-it-so-hard-to-be-black-and-gay/

 

[5] Image: “Artistic, Bright, Color, Colored, Colorful Colors”

http://pixabay.com/en/artistic-bright-color-colored-2063/

21 thoughts on ““America the brave still fears what we don’t know”

  1. Thanks for posting this, Michelle. What I liked about the “Same Love” video is that it depicted a person from birth to death and some of the things he would have gone through as a gay person along the way. When he was a teenager at a school dance, and was looking around at other couples dancing, I thought of relatively recent controversies in some schools in the U.S. that wouldn’t allow teenagers to bring their same-sex significant other to prom. When he was older and came out to his parents, I thought of how that can still be a very difficult thing to do, and how some parents disown their children when they find out they are gay. When he was elderly and in the hospital, I thought of how gay couples have been fighting to be able to get married and have all the same legal rights as a straight couple. Hate and prejudice have always existed and perhaps always will, but maybe the laws of our land don’t have to perpetuate that hate. Maybe they can reflect love instead!

  2. Your post brings up some interesting points about the intersection of race and gay culture, Michelle. Admittedly, when I think of a gay couple the first image that pops into my head is two white men. While we have become used to seeing such couples on tv these days (ie Modern Family), I think we see non-white or interracial gay couples far less often. The article you posted talks about intolerance within the African American community toward LGBT people, but I wonder if there is also a certain level of discomfort among outside groups in viewing non-white gay couples.

  3. Good point Michelle, I hadn’t thought much on the interracial side of things until reading Gay New York either. Thinking on it now, I remember the group of music majors I used to hang out with in college. Looking in CRG terms, it was a pretty diverse group, but putting the groups together brought up some unexpected tension. My friend once told me, “white gays have it so easy.” Whether or not that’s true, he came from a family and neighborhood network that couldn’t accept him when he came out. And at least from my observation, he was sometimes treated differently in our own group of friends because he was African American. Of course this is just one situation, but it adds a little more evidence to what you addressed with Don Lemon.

  4. I wonder if the choice to have an interracial culture was an opportunity to connect the Civil Rights Movement to the current struggles for the LBQT community. As we’ve discussed in class, as a society, we tend to see the quest for equality as something that has been achieved and something that exists in the past. Using the footage from Civil Rights Movement, Macklemore shows that the full realization of equal rights has not been accomplished. Possibly, it’s a reminder for those of us who always say we would have been out marching in protest during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that we still have a chance to fight for social equality today.

    1. I was thinking that he wanted to connect LGBT right and The Civil Rights movement in his song and video. A part of me also thinks he wanted to make his message relate to more people by adding in an interracial couple in the video.

  5. Hoping this doesn’t hijack your extremely well-written and informative article, Michelle! We mentioned Macklemore at the beginning of the semester in a similar context, but if I recall correctly, we also discussed his straight white male privilege at length. Now that we’ve gotten deeper into CRG, I’m curious to know what people think. He is clearly speaking out from a position of power here, and he tackles a lot of very tough issues. Would his point have been better served if he’d brought on a gay or lesbian rapper?

    1. Drew, you bring up an excellent point. I actually thought a lot about the conversation we had at the beginning of the semester when posting this week. While I do agree with your point about Macklemore’s power of privilege, however the fact is this video brings mainstream attention to the issues of race and sexuality. I wonder if a gay or lesbian rapper would have been able to call as much attention on such a widespread scale and also be taken seriously in society today.

    2. I was thinking about this too, Drew. Macklemore does have a position of power and some of his music is critical of the rap genre. I think that is what people take issue with: that he criticizes the emphasis on excessive consumption evident in other rap songs, yet comes at the issue from a different background and a different level of privilege than the rappers he refers to. Other artists such as Lorde with “Royals” and Lilly Allen with “Hard Out Here” also target one type of consumer in one genre from an outsider’s perspective. This article explains these issues in more depth: http://noisey.vice.com/blog/lily-allen-hard-out-here-ayesha-a-siddiqi).

      To me, what sets this song apart from his other music is that he criticizes the American public at large for its intolerance, extending his lyrics beyond the rap genre. The video definitely reinforces this message. Macklemore uses his position of power to give voice to a population that does not have much representation in the rap/hip hop genre.

  6. Does it matter who calls attention to a certain social issue so long as it get brought to light? It’s an interesting question, one that I’m not sure I fully understand or have an answer. I think your comment Michelle about if a gay or lesbian rapper would have been able to call attention to the song on such a widespread scale is interesting to think about. Does the fact that a gay or lesbian performer did not share this song mean that the song failed to succeed in its goal? I don’t know.

    1. I agree with what you are suggesting Kahla. While Macklemore might not be able to give the same emotion and understanding to the song as a gay or lesbian rapper would, the important thing is that he is attempting to spread the message. Mary Lambert, who is lesbian, wrote and sang the chorus, so its not like Macklemore is claiming all the credit for the message. I cannot adequately assess whether a gay or lesbian rapper would have been as well received, since I do not know much about the genre and its audience, but I think its possible to say that Macklemore’s contribution is valuable because it tries to get heterosexual listeners to follow his example and join the cause for marriage equality.

      1. Mary Lambert has released “She Keeps Me Warm” which is a full version of the chorus in “Same Love” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NhqH-r7Xj0E&feature=kp) In a NYT article she talks about how she was reluctant to make it but felt that she need to (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/13/arts/music/mary-lambert-breaks-out-on-her-own.html) The article points out how Lambert is a rarity in the music world by being openly gay and having a major record contract. After these songs and the discussion that has occurred I wonder how much the music scene will change or not in the next 5 or 10 years.

      2. Thank you for the NYT article, Caitlin. I did not consider that Mary Lambert might dislike becoming popular from Macklemore’s song rather than her own work. I hope she will become popular for her own music and themes rather than by association.

  7. In my Race Gender Class and Culture class in undergrad, one of the issues we spoke about was racism within the gay community and it drew attention to your very observation Michelle, that you rarely see interracial gay couples. Some things we thought about was that it is both difficult to be gay in this society and a black (or non-white) man or woman as well thus could it be that gay white men and women chose not to have relationships with non-whites to lesson the hardships of living in mainstream society. This also bring up the issue of whether or not there is a sort of social hierarchy found in groups that are oppressed. For example, does an Asian gay male have a lower social status than a Black gay male; and a Black gay male lower than a White gay male? It is already difficult in general to be in an interracial relationship in this society. Could it be that we see less interracial couples because white males do not want to add on more to their struggle for acceptance? I think this could certainly be the case. Michelle you asked ‘Was the decision to portray the gay couple as interracial a conscious decision?,’ I think it was a conscious decision to break down the conceptions that there are only homogeneous gay couples in our society- I’m sure many people were shocked to see an interracial couple portrayed- and to also show that the gay struggle exists among multiple groups. The gay struggle is all of our struggle, and as Emily Hopkins said “we still have a chance to fight for social equality today.”

    1. It does seem like their way of connecting the Civil Rights Movement with LGBTQ struggles in a very conscious way. I think it also helps to combine the histories. We sometimes think of these histories as very separate, but dating norms regarding race and sexuality were playing off of one another at the same time. I think you raised some good points, Araya. It reminded me of an episode of Will & Grace that I was watching where they were competing over who was more victimized. Will was gay but Grace was Jewish and a woman. Membership to oppressed groups can overlap, creating a hierarchy within each group.

  8. Gay men and women are being treated different because they aren’t seen as people, they are seen as Gay–with a capital G. This video did a brilliant job of shattering this mentality. The actors are treated as people, not a stereotype or a joke. I think that’s the key. When I think about the images I’m bombarded with regarding gay people within the media, it’s not a joke. It’s harmful. By treating them as Gay we dehumanize them and that eventually leads to crimes against them. I feel like society silently permits the abuse of gays by denying them rights non-gay people take for granted. Is there a term for this with Gay Rights issues? What would we call it? This topic really made me see the parallels between our treatment of gay people and rape culture–where society gives permission for crimes to occur because it blames the victim and stays silent to the criminal.

    1. I don’t know any terms for that double standard in or out of the gay community, but your comment and the video made me think of an example of one of these double standards. The Christian right in America, Russia, and probably some other countries largely believes that homosexuality can be “cured.” This makes no sense to me, especially after going to an evangelical undergraduate institution.

      I do not want to get into a theological discussion of whether gay behavior is sinful or not, but I can say that many people who believe it is then respond in ways that make little to no sense in any Christian tradition I’m aware of. Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume Sally MacHappy is a Christian traditionalist, and believes homosexuality is sinful because of this. This should place it under the same category as any other sin: something which a person cannot remove from their life, which is why they need God to forgive them in a way that they can never earn. Sally does not believe that these sins can be “cured.” She believes that the temptation to commit them will be with a person for life. If Sally comes from a Wesleyan or Methodist background, she might believe that a person can attain “virtual perfection,” meaning that they never knowingly succumb to any temptation. That’s still not the same as assuming that the temptation can go away forever though.

      So if Sally thinks that homosexuality is a sin which can be cured, then she suddenly has a logical disconnect. She is singling out one sin and treating it differently from the rest. Her rationale for how to approach it has less to do with Christian orthodoxy, and more to do with the Enlightenment, which took many behaviors that Christianity labeled as “sins” and relabeled them as “diseases which can be cured.” Now, combining Christian orthodoxy with the Enlightenment is not illogical if done carefully–as many have done–but doing it for this one specific instance makes no sense. It is a double standard. It allows Sally to assume that gays are being really defiant, because they’re refusing the three-step guide to changing something which the Holy Spirit (God Almighty) Himself hasn’t bothered to change yet. Now Sally can ignore her own problems in light of the obviously bigger one her neighbor has.

  9. Michelle, here’s a quote from the article you posted: “[T]he Baptist Church has remained a pillar in African-American community life, determining not only religious but also social norms. Renouncing homosexuality has been a cornerstone of the preaching of many Black ministers, leading to the renouncement of gay life by Blacks.”

    I’m struck by the role that religious institutions play in regard to shaping opinions about homosexuality. Growing up, I attended a Unitarian-Universalist church (with a disproportionately white congregation) and the minister was a lesbian. I haven’t attended in years, but to this day, the church’s roadside sign displays a gay pride flag and serves as an LGBT safe zone. I think part of the issue is that community centers such as churches need to take a stand against homophobia. As a white person who hasn’t attended church in a while, it could be problematic for me to make this suggestion, especially after citing the Baptish church, but I’m really tired of religion being used as grounds for intolerance.

    1. As someone who’s pretty religious and traditionalist in my views, I’m tired of the same thing; see my comment above. I have seen changes in the evangelical community on this issue. Exodus International, the biggest “ex-gay ministry” in America, recently renounced their work and apologized for what they did. Some young evangelicals do not believe that homosexuality is sinful, and many who do believe it is take a much softer line than previous generations. They won’t oppose gay marriage on a political level for instance (though they might oppose their denomination approving it), and they don’t see gays as different from anyone else.

      1. Rick, thanks for sharing. I hope I didn’t come off as painting all religious denominations and organizations as homophobic. Certainly wasn’t my intention if so.

  10. If you are interested in knowing more about race and sexuality, my favorite movie of all time, Paris is Burning, investigates African American gay culture in the 1980s. There are so many interesting issues raised in that movie! I have it if you are interested!

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