I am sitting in the barbershop writing this blog. I love my barber and have been with him for five years. When he moves shop, I move with him, because finding a barber is like finding a mate or a church. You've got to click. And we do -- which is why what happened this morning caused me great personal conflict and grief.
Today my barber used the "f" word. It's not the "f" word you are thinking. He referred to someone as a "fag." I was taken aback and immediately interjected, admonishing him for using the word. He lashed out saying, "I'm not going to change who I am just so they can live like that." He continued emphatically, "The Bible is very clear about that." I challenged him, "The Bible is very clear about a lot of things like gluttony, lying, sloth and women being silent in church and covering their heads." He ignored my comment and was steadfast in his objections and disgust. My first instinct was to walk out in protest, accepting that I couldn't change his mind. I looked around the shop at the six men in our midst listening to the conversation. Dead silence. Silence is shocking in a barbershop. The barbershop is a place where chatter never stops. It is filled with banter about everything from current events and the latest gossip to urban fads, art and culture. Yet, in this moment, the shop was silent. Did they all agree with him, or were they just unwilling to voice an opinion? Herein lies our problem. In general, the black community is homophobic and prejudiced toward gay people. And for those of us who aren't, our silence makes us complicit in the hatred. Homosexuality remains a taboo subject, and our refusal to openly engage in such critical conversations is damaging to us. Our bias against those with sexual orientations different from our own causes shame and isolation among people who might otherwise emerge as leaders in our community. Our prejudice is weakening the spirit of our own people.
Homophobia, born of ignorance but a form of intolerance, is deeply engrained in the black community, and it leads to oppression. Oppression is oppression whether it is against a specific class, racial group or religious group. I don't understand how one can be staunchly against the oppression of one group and malign another in the same way because their views and preferences are different. I grew up in a religious household and am familiar with deeply rooted biases toward gay people, so I know the root causes of these attitudes. However, when I left home and my world expanded through education, international travel and volunteerism, I could no longer understand the rationale behind the things I had heard from the pulpit. I realized another person's sexual orientation had no direct impact on me. More importantly I recognized black people have issues much more vital to our sustainability and survival than a person's sexual orientation. The black community has an infant mortality rate more than twice that of whites. We are among those with the highest rates of cancer, HIV, poverty and illiteracy. Even more threatening to our survival is the challenge of black-on-black homicide among our young men. Yet we major in the minors and continue to socially isolate people because of their sexual orientations -- because they are a minority. The irony and hypocrisy are incredible.
Jesus said, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." The passage is often cited to encourage patience, compassion and tolerance for another's shortcomings. It resonates with people because it is a reality check reminding us that no one is perfect. Yet despite the preponderance of God fearers, churchgoers and Christians among us, we tend to forget these few powerful words when it comes to gay people. We need to move beyond these prejudices and completely accept same-gender-loving people as part of the community. What can it hurt? There is enough hatred in the world. For the first time last week, I heard a song by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, "Same Love," in which they eloquently call us out as a nation for our bigotry against gay people and issue a powerful call for action. They say, "A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are. And a certificate on paper isn't gonna solve it all. We have to change us."
I wholeheartedly agree. We have to change us. We have to change our hearts. The words of both Jesus and Macklemore should spur us to confront the hypocrisy of our homophobia. If you have hatred toward gay people, take a look in the mirror and see if perfection is staring back at you. We each have to look within, muster the courage to speak out and purge the hatred. We have to force these conversations. We owe it to our gay brothers and sisters, and we owe it to our community.