I was appalled when I read excerpts from Vibe's interview with rapper T.I.: he said that the gay community is too sensitive to jokes made at their expense. T.I. starts with a disclaimer, saying that he's OK with any sexual "preference," but goes on to say, "If you're against [being gay], you should also have the right to be against it in peace." Most obnoxious was when T.I. condoned Tracy Morgan's venomous diatribe against gays, which took place earlier this year.
His idea is that anti-gay sentiments are acceptable, and that it's ridiculous for the gay community to backlash against this expression of free speech. It's true that the First Amendment protects all kinds of free speech, including anti-gay speech. But the fact that anti-gay speech is legal does not make it any more acceptable. Free speech can allow free ignorance, unfortunately, and the two often go hand-in-hand.
It's clear from his language that T.I. simply does not relate to gays. If we conclude that gays are overly sensitive to these jokes, then clearly the African-American community is overly sensitive about racism. Imagine the backlash if a public figure made a joke about killing a person because they were black. Would this have any comic value at all, or would it simply be tasteless? How would this be any different from Tracy Morgan's remarks that he would stab his son if he were gay?
Hate-based humor, through its message of inferiority, discourages free thought and free expression. It discourages everyone from living their lives openly and honestly. This problem is particularly pronounced in the black community where, more often than not, gays and lesbians won't come out because they feel that their community will outright reject them. I've seen this personally, time and time again, when black gay acquaintances of mine resist friending me on Facebook, for fear that they'll be associated with my openness.
Of course, Tracy Morgan has since apologized and attempted to mend his relationship with the gay community. T.I. has attempted to clarify his statements, as well. There's certainly no good excuse for these incidents. But it's also important that we learn not to be personally offended by every ridiculous comedian or politician. We should view their insensitivity as a reflection of their personal insecurities. After all, if people were to align their self-esteem with the vitriol laden opinions of others, then every last person on Earth would have a terrible opinion of themselves. Waiting around to be fully accepted by others is futile.
Are gays too sensitive to jokes? I suspect not; gays are no more sensitive than any other peer group. Gays, like everyone else, want to be accepted for who they are, rather than pigeonholed for a small aspect of their identity. We are all sensitive, in one way or another, and it's normal to wish that certain things be off-limits. It's somewhat of an ethical dilemma, requiring us to weigh two opposing forces: a desire to enjoy one's self and the desire to maintain a positive self-view. But since the language we use establishes meaning based on both the speaker's intention and the listeners' interpretation, we should be mindful of both sides of the equation.
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