Like the final grasp of a presumed dead villain from a bad horror movie, talk of the "Down-Low Black Man" (one who maintains relationships with women but secretly has sex with men on the side) once again reared its ugly head on yesterday's episode of The View after years of relative silence in the public eye. Recently, authors, publishers, and television producers have had their fill with the DL phenomenon after lining their pockets with the millions of dollars in book sales, ratings, and media attention that it provided since its entry into the pop-culture lexicon in 2003, leaving heterosexual black men and women with an underlying and permanent layer of distrust in their relationships and demonizing black gay men in the process.
During a discussion regarding the FDA ban on blood donation by gay men, and a controversial article comparing the ban to statistics on HIV/AIDS in the black community, Sherri "flat-earth" Shepherd, who is somewhat sadly one of the few prominent voices of black women in the media, "educated" her fellow panelists on the reason for HIV rates in the black community, stating that "DL Black Men" are to blame for the skyrocketing HIV rates. Never one to shy away from a gay issue that he's not qualified to speak about (see his cable appearances after 2008's erroneously reported "black voters passed Proposition 8" fiasco), comedian D.L. Hughley eagerly backed up her statements.
Please, don't mind that this isn't entirely true. Don't mind that the incarceration rates among African-American males combined with poverty levels and the lack of proper access to condoms in prison create a dangerous cocktail that leads to issues with HIV/AIDS infection among black women and blacks in general. No, don't think about that, just blame it on those evil, sneaky black gay men who apparently live to infect poor, defenseless black women, presumably twirling their mustaches dastardly in the process. In fact, perhaps it's easier to compartmentalize it in that way, since robbing black women of their sexual agency and demonizing the sexuality of black men regardless of their orientation has been one of the primary outcomes of the down low conversation.
The situation on The View was made doubly infuriating and uncomfortable because, like most conversations involving black gay sexuality, there was a complete absence of any black gay voices. The only gay voice on the panel was Advocate On-Air host Thomas Roberts, who briefly mentioned his struggles with coming out at 27 and having dated women before, but when pressed about his sexual activities before he came out, assured the panelists and the audience at home that he remained faithful to his girlfriends, and, hey, he's "not a black man on the Down Low." His words, folks, not mine. Since apparently only black men are on the down-low, we should probably come up with some other term for whatever it was that Ted Haggard, Jim McGreevey, and all of the other upstanding married white men caught with their pants down and a comely young fellow not too far away were doing. Any suggestions?
The three-and-a-half minutes on The View were the source of enough misinformation and stereotyping to damage the conversation regarding blacks, gays, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS for a while to come. The fact that Hughley and Shepherd are seen as authorities on this issue is infuriating, and the fact that a mental lightweight like Elizabeth Hasselbeck can ask the only interesting question ("Why is it so hard to come out in the black community?") is frankly kind of terrifying. Here's a thought for the producers and anyone else who chooses to engage in the conversation: How about including the voices of black gays for once? Who knows, perhaps we may even have a little more insight into the pressures of coming out in the black community and the factors that lead men into this kind of behavior. While I'm well aware that including black gays in a conversation that concerns our sexuality and behavior patterns is a fairly radical concept, I can pretty much assure we could lend a bit more to the conversation than two mediocre comedians and a reality TV star.
And I promise that we won't bite.