"If you don't have something nice to say... then say nothing." This is an old adage we teach young children. Why? Because as adults we know that words matter, and if we've learned anything at all from the recent spate of anti-gay bullying incidents, it's that words can cause much deeper suffering than we ever imagined.
So when a celebrity, pundit, or politician uses his or her soap box and access to thousands, if not millions, of people irresponsibly, it rightfully causes havoc -- which is exactly why Roland Martin is on the hot seat right now.
While the Super Bowl commercials were in full swing on Sunday, Martin, a CNN and TV One commentator, tweeted to his 94,000 Twitter followers that "If a dude at your super bowl party is hyped about David Beckham's H&M underwear ad, slap the 'ish out of him!"
Really, Roland!?! Oh, but it gets better. He also tweeted, "Ain't no real bruhs going to H&M to buy some damn David Beckham underwear!"
Real bruhs? What exactly is a "real bruh?" Was Martin not so subtly implying that a fashion-forward man who cares about what he wears is not a "real" man? That would be quite hypocritical, never mind bad for business, coming from the man who has parlayed his love of wearing silky pink ascots into a side hustle selling them.
So what did he mean, exactly? Since his tweets caused quite the stir, Martin has found himself among the likes of Don Imus, Tracy Morgan, and a host of others, issuing a half-hearted apology with one foot in his mouth, after the damage has already been caused. He stated in his apology that he was not implying anything about anyone's sexuality but insisted that he was talking about soccer. This misinterpretation of his words would be easy to understand if in fact any of his derogatory tweets actually mentioned the word "soccer" -- but they did not.
There's no mistaking the tone of Martin's tweets, which have enraged the gay community. They clearly suggest that "dudes" who are attracted to images of David Beckham in his underwear are gay, and that being gay is an offense punishable by a beat down.
Perhaps Martin truly believes that you can haze-the-gay-away. After all, he does support his wife"s pray-the-gay-away therapy, and came to the defense of Tracy Morgan who "joked" about killing his son if he found out he was gay.
His beliefs aside, Martin's tweets are not simply a poor choice of words. They are reckless! They perpetuate stereotypes of masculinity in general and black masculinity in particular, which are degrading to anyone that doesn't conform, especially gay people. Moreover, Martin's not-so-subtle attacks on gay men that he shares with his largely black fan base, puts black gay and non-gender-conforming men directly in the line of fire of the "real bruhs" that would follow his advice and do them harm.
The black gay and transgender community already suffers high rates of violence and hate crimes. Late last year for example, Robert Champion, a young black gay drum major from Florida A&M University was hazed to death by his bandmates, some likely "real bruhs." The District of Columbia and other major cities have seen an overall spike in attacks again black gay and transgender people. Flippant tweets like Martin's, whether intentional or not, ultimately give license to these perpetrators and all but validate their acts.
These crises and others affecting the black gay and transgender community are no laughing matter. According to a report entitled "Jumping Beyond the Broom" released by the FIRE (Fighting Injustice to Reach Equality) initiative at the Center for American Progress:
Black gay and transgender Americans in particular experience stark social, economic, and health disparities compared to the general population and their straight black and white gay counterparts. According to the data we currently have, families headed by black same-sex couples are more likely to raise their children in poverty, black lesbians are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, and black gay and transgender youth are more likely to end up homeless and living on the streets.
Martin, a champion of the black community and their issues, should be working to address these, not demonize those who are vulnerable. Instead he propagates a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy" within the black community and suggests that anyone who falls outside of acceptable "blackness" should be ostracized at best, and physically assaulted at worse.
President Barack Obama best addressed such slanderous ideas of blackness in his 2004 Democratic National Convention speech where he called on the black community to eradicate the notion that black youth carrying books are somehow "acting white." Martin, who's currently pursuing a master's degree himself, would surely find this notion of "acting white" equally troubling. Yet he has no qualms in applying such irrational logic to his disdain of gays, a double standard that taints the black community.
Martin's megaphone is huge, reaching millions each week, and he has a responsibility to be a lot more thoughtful about what he says and where he says it.
Many are stating that Martin shouldn't have been suspended from CNN yesterday. Some have even gone so far as to call his suspension a "digital lynching". Instead I think of it is an extremely important teachable moment. Long gone are the days where racist and sexist jokes would be laughed off and homophobic ones are no different -- we don't live our lives like the characters of Mad Men anymore and there is a reason for that. When hateful comments go undisciplined it allows people to think it's OK to discriminate as long as their hatred is followed by a punch line.
The struggle for equality and the safety of LGBT people in this country is no laughing matter!
Nonetheless, his actions have opened up the opportunity for much-needed dialogue on the trappings of stereotypes of black masculinity and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell Policy" on gay and transgender people within the black community that both desperately need to be addressed.
If there is nothing else that we have learned from the tragic suicide of Carl Hoover Walker the 11-year-old African American boy who was incessantly harassed about his perceived sexuality, and ultimately took his own life, is that sticks and stones aren't the only things that hurt. Words wound deeply, and they do indeed matter.