Homophobia, like bigotry and sexism, is rooted in insecurity, ignorance and religious dogma. I know this because I was once unrepentantly homophobic.
Homophobia is entrenched within my racial community, the black community, and our collective discomfort with homosexuality is manifesting itself in our reaction to Jason Collins’ stunning announcement.
Many black people are outraged that Collins, who is black, is being analogized to Jackie Robinson, the black man who broke baseball’s color barrier. My email inbox and Twitter feed are filled with black people (and some white people) objecting to the last line of my Tuesday column. I stated that the NBA’s handling of Collins could be as important as baseball’s handling of Robinson in 1947.
It’s an accurate, reasonable analogy. Critics of the analogy offer three objections: 1. Robinson was a Hall of Fame player and Collins is a nondescript journeyman; 2. Robinson could not conceal his race the way Collins concealed his sexuality; 3. Robinson’s journey in 1947 was far more difficult, isolating, hostile and dangerous than what Collins will find in 2013.
The difference in their performance is a total non-issue. The analogy has nothing to do with their level of play. Point No. 2 really is a just an off-shoot of point No. 3. Collins’ path is allegedly easier because he can conceal who he is. Point No. 3 is the smoking gun. It reveals the inconsistent logic that exposes our homophobia.
Let’s ask these same black people complaining about the Robinson analogy if they also complain when a writer, broadcaster, pundit, activist, political leader compare any modern-day injustice to slavery or Jim Crow segregation.
Black people do not write me angry emails or clog my Twitter feed with objections when I use former NCAA head Walter Byers’ words to assert that modern-day, NCAA-sanctioned shamateurism is akin to plantation slavery. In fact, they do just the opposite. They sing my praises to the rooftops. They understand and respect the analogy despite the fact that no NCAA athlete is whipped in chains.
When I’ve pointed to Michelle Alexander’s brilliant book, “The New Jim Crow,” to make the point that mass incarceration is akin to slavery and segregation, black people don’t email me telling me how easy it would be for black men to conceal and/or avoid drug trafficking and drug use and avoid incarceration.
See, we like analogies to slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and old-school discrimination when they make a point we are comfortable with. We don’t nitpick those analogies because there’s a difference in hardships or a way to avoid them.
At the root of the Collins-Robinson objection is insecurity, ignorance and religious dogma — the exact same ingredients found in bigotry!
We (black people) think homosexuals are beneath us. We think linking their fight for equality to ours diminishes us. It’s insecurity, the building of self-esteem by the denigration of others. It’s the mindset that fuels white bigotry. Bigots fear that granting us equality diminishes their superiority.
This thinking is harmful to our salvation. More freedom is freedom’s best friend. More fairness is fairness’ best friend.
When black people were fighting for civil rights, getting beaten with batons, attacked by dogs, sprayed with fire hoses, bombed at churches, lynched for making eye contact with white women, who were our staunchest non-black allies? Who died with us?
Why? Because they recognized their freedom and equality were tied to our freedom and equality.
We need to embrace gay people the same way Jews embraced us in the 1960s. Jewish people didn’t adopt our culture and sensibilities. They didn’t agree with everything we did and believed, but they supported our quest for equality with more than words. They gave their lives. They weren’t on television or radio claiming we were in open rebellion to the will of God.
It is unwise for black people to diminish the importance of the battles Jason Collins, gay athletes and gay people confront. It makes us look small, hypocritical and unsophisticated.
Research has shown that gay youths are far more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youth. That is a direct reflection of how hostile this society is toward homosexuals. Gay youths do not have strong and diverse role models within our popular culture. That is what was so important about Jackie Robinson. He gave black kids an important role model. He birthed the generation of young black men and women who had the self-confidence to demand equality. Jason Collins and the gay athletes who follow behind him will do the same for gay kids and save lives.
The ability and desire to conceal your identity is not an indication that life is easier. The psychological toll of Collins’ concealment is immense. As a black man born in the late 1960s, I’ve never felt an inner moment of shame about my race. I suspect that is not the case for gay men of my generation when it comes to their sexuality.
More important for black people, Collins and other gay athletes may inspire more black men to come out of the closet and avoid using unsuspecting women as beards. This is a crisis in the black community that is accentuated by mass incarceration.
When it comes to homosexuality, we are the community that doth protest too much. Down-low living is an epidemic among black males. It is at the forefront of the distrust and lack of respect between black men and black women. There are scores of black women across America who have felt the pain and confusion.
For the black people criticizing Collins on religious grounds, remember the Bible’s strongest tenet is that the truth will set you free. Our community in particular and our society as a whole will benefit from gay men being set free to live truthful lives.
Jackie Robinson’s journey enriched our entire society. Jason Collins can do the same. Admitting that does not diminish Robinson or black people. Denying it does.