On a typical football Sunday, you would probably find me parked in front of my living room television watching the New York Giants while posting and following tweets about the game along the way.
Twitter is a great venue for sports fans to brag on their favorite teams and mock their opponents. Sometimes it's playful and fun. Other times, as with the recent death threats directed against San Francisco 49ers player Kyle Williams, it can go too far.
Last Sunday, while I was celebrating the Giants at a Super Bowl party, CNN's Roland Martin was stirring up some controversy online. During the game, Martin tweeted: "If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!"
When I first read Martin's tweet, it raised two important issues: one about violence and the other about homophobia. First, to the violence. To "smack" someone without their consent is clearly a violent act. However, as someone who has followed Martin's daily -- and sometimes annoying -- Twitter banter, it seems inconceivable that he was literally encouraging his followers to smack male Beckham fans in their midst. Instead, the violence he encouraged was clearly a joke. But that's exactly the problem.
Gays and lesbians have served as the butt of insensitive and offensive jokes for generations. To suggest smacking a "dude" simply because of his attraction to or appreciation for a male sports star is clearly homophobic, which is the second important issue raised by Martin's tweet. Even if the violence he encouraged wasn't to be taken seriously, the homophobia at its root seemed to be.
I've known Roland Martin since 1995, and when I spoke to him Wednesday night by telephone he insisted his controversial tweets were not meant to be homophobic and expressed his willingness to meet with officials from GLAAD. Martin said he was merely singling out Beckham because he plays soccer, a sport he says he has repeatedly ridiculed on Twitter in the past.
As you might expect from any medium that limits your posts to 140 characters, Twitter is not the best place for subtlety and nuance. Most Twitter followers don't research your history of previous posts before they respond to your remarks. Thus, I did not find Martin's soccer explanation plausible when I first read it online, but he seemed to hold onto it sincerely when we spoke on the phone.
I have no way of knowing what Martin was really thinking when he posted his tweet about Beckham and another one about a Super Bowl fan in a pink suit, but the effect of his remarks was real to many people. Even if we take Martin at his word that he posted completely innocent tweets, it's easy to understand how the gay community could interpret them differently and be offended by them, especially given his own past statements.
It was Martin, after all, who seemed to defend comedian Tracy Morgan last year after the NBC 30 Rock star was criticized for a homophobic comedy routine performed in Tennessee. And it was Martin who defended Miss California, Carrie Prejean, after she expressed her disapproval of same sex marriage during the 2009 Miss USA pageant.
And as far back as 2006, Martin posted a comment on his web site suggesting that homosexuality was a choice that gays could simply resist. "My wife, an ordained Baptist minister for 20 years, has counseled many men and women to walk away from the gay lifestyle," he wrote. In the same article, he compared gays and lesbians to "a woman who is an alcoholic, the child who continues to be disobedient to his parents [or] the young lady who is hell-bent on stealing." Martin ended his piece with a final statement of purpose: "That isn't being homophobic. It's being a Christian. And no one should have to apologize for that."
Martin is entitled to his opinion, and I don't think he should be fired from his job simply because of what he believes. But given those beliefs, why wouldn't gays and lesbians assume Martin's tweet about smacking a male fan of a shirtless David Beckham was meant to be an insult to gay men?
No doubt the black LGBT community's sensitivity was also heightened this week by the release of a gay bashing video showing 20-year-old Brandon White, a black gay man in Atlanta whose attackers literally "smacked the 'ish' out of him" while calling him a "faggot." If politicians, pastors, and pundits are engaged in public homophobia, why should we be surprised when teenagers carry out those same ideas with their fists and feet?
Some have accused the gay community of being "hypersensitive" or "overreacting" to Martin's tweets, but that's exactly the language used by conservatives to dismiss complaints from African Americans when we object to coded racial rhetoric about "food stamps" and "blah people" from the lips of Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. We can't expect others to understand our sensitivities if we don't understand theirs.
At this point, it's counterproductive to continue the fruitless exercise of determining what Roland Martin really meant or what was in his heart. This is an issue that's bigger than Martin's temporarily suspended career at CNN. It's about the way we communicate with one other and where we go from here.
While conservatives seek to divide us, we have to figure out ways to stop attacking one another and start listening to each other and working together against our real adversaries. The gay community is not the enemy of black America and the black community is not the enemy of gay America.
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