By now, most people have heard about what happened to actor-singer Jussie Smollett, who is Black, gay, and a featured actor on the Fox TV network drama series, “Empire.” For anyone who hasn’t: In Chicago on January 29 at 2 a.m., as he was walking home from a sandwich shop, Smollett says he was accosted by two white men who called him the n-word as well as a slur meaning homosexual, beat him, poured something liquid on him, and tied a rope or clothesline around his neck arranged to resemble a noose.
As soon as the news got out, Black Hollywood rushed to his support, tweeting encouragement and calling for his alleged attackers to be brought to justice. But where were the non-celebrity Black folks? Silence. Crickets.
The Black community has always been a little ambivalent about LGBTQ people. The Black Christian church, where a majority of the congregants are Baptist, has gradually accepted Black LGBTQ. For instance, Black Protestants’ support of same sex marriage rose from 23% to 38% between 2003 and 2014. But on any Sunday, especially in fundamentalist churches, one can still hear that LGBTQ sexual orientation is a “sin” and an “abomination,” the work of the devil.
I’m most concerned about the “woke” Black folks who identify with Africa politically and culturally. Unfortunately, there are some who are spreading the misinformation that LGBTQ is an invention of white evil scientists who created Black LGBTQ people to destroy the Black community from within, and emasculate Black males. They claim that LGBTQ people were never tolerated in the mother continent of Africa.
Not so. “The idea that homosexuality is ‘Western’ is based on another import – Christianity,” wrote Bisi Alimi, a gay Nigerian man, in the September 9, 2015 edition of The Guardian. “True African culture celebrates diversity and promotes acceptance.”
Alimi wrote that homosexuality existed in the Yoruba and Hausa cultures in Nigeria. In Uganda, he wrote, there was even an openly gay king of the Buganda Kingdom, King Mwanga II. Homosexuality wasn’t an issue, Alimi wrote, until the Christian colonizers invaded African countries, and imposed their conservative views on the African people.
Many of today’s African leaders are outdoing each other in who can out-homophobe whom. Former and current heads of Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Uganda have signed anti-LGBTQ legislation, and hate crimes in those and other African countries have increased. Similar to the political situation in the U.S., Alimi wrote, “. . . populist homophobia has kept many politicians in power. Across Africa, if you hate gay people, you get votes.”
Which is what the U.S. un-president has done. It’s no accident that the two men who Smollett says attacked him, yelled “You’re in MAGA (Make America Great Again) country!”
Black “woke” people in the U.S. should know better than to write off more than one million Black people who are LGBTQ. We shouldn’t be mirroring the homophobia and racism of whites, or of suspect “leaders” in African countries. We are all in the struggle for justice and freedom together, and to win that struggle, we’re going to need every Black man, woman and child working together to bring about that victory. Sexual orientation has nothing to do with that.
Smollett is Black AND gay, and he shouldn’t have to choose between the two. He’s both, and he has advocated for, and championed, both. Stop being silent, “woke” Black people. Show Smollett some love, and stand with him against racial AND homophobic hate.