Rolannd’s Dilemma: Loose Lips Sink Ships

In this “new normal” few of us understand how to handle the “gay issue” especially those of us who are heterosexual. Simply put… and truth be told we just don’t understand it. We don’t really understand the lifestyle, the relationships, the hows, the whys, who’s who, what’s what? and even worse our egos make it hard for us to admit…we just don’t really understand the culture, despite the fact that many of us have friends who are same sex couples whom we love dearly.  So, when it comes to language, education and intellect is no protection in today’s media minefield.

I have known Roland Martin for almost ten years now since he was editor of a Black newspaper in Chicago. While we have never been “running”  buddies we have been in each other’s company on many occasions when both us  were speaking at the NABJ in Las Vegas, The NAACP Image Awards in Hollywood, meetings in Detroit, Chicago, Washington, DC.  We have a very close mutual friend Danny Bakewell who is the former head of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA).  In such social settings (formal and informal) he has always been kind, careful in his speech, thoughtful, sensitive to those of different persuasions, and “on his toes” in terms of being a “self monitor”; aware of how and what he was saying might/could affect others.

However, while ignorance is no excuse, Sunday’s incident reminds me of a friend of my uncle Will had when I was a kid growing up in the delta of Mississippi in the 1950s. The friend’s real name was Percy (I think) but I had always heard members of my family refer to him as “Funny”, so when he came home with my uncle in 1955 and I walked in from school and saw him I gave him a big hug and said “hey Mr. Funny”, and there was a hushed silence in the room, followed by a big laugh by the “grown folks” present. Only later did my uncle Will explain to me that “Funny” was just something grown folks said to describe a certain kind of lifestyle, but that was not his friend’s real name. Go figure!  I thought it was his “nick name” since everybody down south seemed to have one. Mine was “Bubba”, and although my real name was John Milton Wesley, because I was known as my grandmother’s “son” and her name was Sarah Sanders, I was known as “Bubba Sanders”.

 Years later when I arrived up south in Baltimore I began hearing the term “gay”, and I thought it referred to folks who were always “happy”, gregarious, until it was explained to me that the term referred to people who preferred to pursue relationships, and social interactions with people of their same sex.  My initial verbal response was “wow!” followed by “okay”.  My reasoned reaction was, “we are all created equal”, and to each his own.

Still, I had never experienced the level of homophobia down south that is so obvious “up south.” The idea that someone would be discriminated against, or harmed because of their color was something I learned to live with here. I knew the language to survive in both environments when the issue was race. But the idea that what I faced because of my color as a child, and as an adult would be visited on someone because of their sexual preferences such as being  beaten, or denied services, such as housing only became clear to me when I became a Human Rights Investigator in Howard County (Maryland) in 1982.

So Roland Martin’s slip of the finger on Sunday as he watched the Super Bowl perhaps in the comfort of his home with friends and family carefully tweeting away (as he is known to do by those of us who know him, and are his twitter followers (of course I “Follow” him, he does not “Follow” me) is more an indication of ignorance than malice, arrogance than attitude, and latent intolerance, than ridicule.  Add to this the fact that as the power of the African American voice has diminished over time due to integration, the fragmenting of the African American family, church, vote and economic base, and has been a steady growth in the political and economic power of members of “gay” communities nationwide. Much of this growth has occurred right under the noses of African American and they are still unaware of it until they, or someone they know crosses “the line”.

People in Baltimore have to look no further back than when Paul Graziano at the time Baltimore’s new Housing Commissioner misspoke early in 2000 in a bar in Fells Point, or Isaiah Washington lost his role on Grey’s Anatomy for comments about a fellow actor.  

 The real wake-up call for Roland now will be the fact that while high profile “punditry” gives you immense popularity because of its reach, it robs you of a constituency because in an effort to be impartial you run the risk of becoming disconnected from the very folks you are purported to be representing by being selected/hired as a pundit.

Being in or out of the closet when gay is a choice, being Black, more often than not is obvious. So the only constituency who can come to his aid is Black owned media. Other heterosexual pundits, or media colleagues of both races have to walk a tightrope on this one less they reveal…”which side they are on”, and it’s the “wrong” side depending on where they are and who is listening.

On the other hand the GLAAD community should not be expected to be silent when such comments are made by someone who speaks to such a large audience, the teaching moment is too obvious, and the target is too soft and too rich.

 

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