Dear DaBaby, Black Culture Isn’t Homophobic. *You* Are.

After making homophobic statements at Rolling Loud, the rapper is trying to save face by claiming cultural differences. There’s just one tiny thing: that’s bullshit.

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Stacy Lee Kong

Jul 30 2021

11 mins read

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Content warning: this newsletter contains mentions of and references to homophobic comments and violence.


Even if you haven’t been listening to DaBaby’s feature on the remix of Dua Lipa’s “Levitating” for months now—or randomly saying “I pull up” under your breath for no good reason—you probably know that the rapper said some incredibly problematic things about gay men and people who have HIV/AIDS over the weekend, and that he’s facing a huge, very deserved backlash.

 

But did you also hear that he’s defending himself by saying homophobia is basically part of his culture? Because I think we need to talk more about that.

 

Sorry… what did DaBaby say on stage at Rolling Loud?

 

According to GQ, the rapper paused during his set at Rolling Loud Miami on Sunday to, uh, hype up the crowd, maybe? “If you didn't show up today with HIV/AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that'll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cell phone light in the air,” he said. “Ladies, if your pussy smells like water, put a cell phone light in the air. Fellas, if you ain’t suck a n-gga dick in the parking lot, put your cell phone lights in the air. Keep it fucking real.” (The fact that in-person music festivals are happening in Florida—which reported more than 17,000 new COVID cases on Thursday, the state’s fourth-highest single-day spike since the beginning of the pandemic—is a whole other conversation.)

 

On Monday, he decided to double down, posting a lengthy video response to his critics on Instagram Stories, where he claimed (among other things) that his gay fans weren’t offended by his statements because they have standards. “My gay fans, they take care of theyself, they ain’t going for that… They ain’t no junkies,” he said. “I said if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cellphone light up. You know what my gay fans did? Put that motherfucking light up. My gay fans ain’t going for that. They got class. They ain’t sucking no dick in no parking lot. Even my gay fans got standards.” I'm not sure how DaBaby could possibly know which audience members were gay and which were straight, but either way, this is a transparent attempt to pretend that he wasn’t vilifying gay people as much as he was vilifying public sex acts, even though that’s clearly not the part he had a problem with.

 

That was followed by a series of tweets that I think were meant to be interpreted as an apology, but actually barely flirted with the concept of remorse and instead implied that his feelings about gay people were somehow the product of Black culture.

DaBaby’s comments did not go over well

 

On Tuesday, Lipa posted a statement on her Instagram Story saying, “I’m surprised and horrified at DaBaby’s comments. I really don’t recognise this as the person I worked with. I know my fans know where my heart lies and that I stand 100% with the LGBTQ community. We need to come together to fight the stigma and ignorance around HIV/AIDS.”

Her team reportedly removed the song from several Apple Music playlists. Celebrities including Elton John, Madonna, Demi Lovato and potentially even Chris Brown have also taken to social media to denounce the rapper’s words. And, it looks like he’s losing professional opportunities; he’s no longer listed on the Parklife Festival lineup (though his reps say it’s unrelated to his statements) and online retailer Boohoo, who he had a clothing deal with, say they’ll no longer be working with him.

 

But again, DaBaby decided to make things worse for himself—and his severely underpaid PR person—by releasing a video for a song that references AIDS and ~coincidentally~ features imagery of him getting head. (Told ya he didn’t mind public sex.) He said it was filmed prior to Sunday’s performance, but it seems too specific to actually be a fluke. Worse, he included a faux apology at the end of the video that co-opts the language of social justice to again claim his homophobia is cultural, saying “don’t fight hate with hate. My apologies for being me the same way you want the freedom to be you.” In a rainbow colour palette, no less!

Ironic sidenote: the song is called “Giving What It’s Supposed to Gave,” which, as author Zeba Blay points out, “is literally Black LGBTQ vernacular.”

 

Yes, there’s homophobia in Black communities—just like in all communities

 

To be crystal clear, it’s deeply problematic to not only make homophobic statements, but also spread this kind of misinformation about HIV and AIDS. As we’ve known for decades now, people who have HIV are not dirty. It’s not a death sentence, and in fact can be very well managed with medication. And it’s not a gay man’s disease, either. These kinds of pronouncements directly contribute to the stigma around HIV, embolden homophobic and transphobic violence and threaten everyone, because they imply that as long as you’re not a gay man and avoid having anal sex, you’re safe, which is not true. (As of 2018, 1 in 8 people living with HIV in Canada don’t know they have it, and 34% of new HIV infections were among heterosexual people.)

 

But I’d also like to push back on the idea that DaBaby is saying homophobic things because of his Blackness. Obviously, homophobia exists in Black and other POC communities around the world, thanks in part to past colonization (many of the countries that continue to criminalize homosexuality do so by choosing to uphold colonial-era laws) and current cultural imperialism (in 2012, a liberal think tank released a study that found American evangelical missionaries were “opening offices in numerous [African] countries to promote attacks on homosexuality and abortion”). But implying that homophobia is an indelible part of Black culture is nonsensical. First of all, it ignores the existence of gay, bi and trans Black people, who play a huge role in shaping Black culture. And the implication that anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is an inherent trait among Black people, or that it’s more prevalent among Black people than white people, is both offensive and incorrect.

 

Attitudes toward LGBTQ+ people have shifted over time for all races. If you’ve heard of the Great Migration, you know six million African Americans relocated from the rural south to cities in America’s Northeast, Midwest and West between 1916 and 1970, where they built rich cultural spaces that have helped shape wider Black, and frankly popular, culture ever since—but what you might not know is that queer Black artists, many of them gay or bisexual women who defied gender roles, were integral to that process, particularly in Harlem, Chicago and New Orleans. Ma Rainey now has mainstream name recognition, but other popular artists were even more explicit about their sexuality; Gladys Bentley favoured suits and top hats and openly sang about her desire for women, while Bessie Smith had a song about “only those parties where women can go,” a reference to her own bisexuality. Around the same time, drag balls caught on in cities with working-class Black communities, and prominent publications like Ebony and Jet not only covered drag balls, they praised them.

 

Black people aren't inherently more homophobic than any other group of people

 

This is not to say that Black communities at that time were some kind of inclusive utopia, only that they could be more accepting of LGBTQ+ people than white society. In fact, the shift toward homophobia can actually be attributed to white society, at least indirectly. During the civil rights movement, Black political leaders strategically adopted respectability politics as a way to gain civil and political rights and, as a 2019 issue of Queens Politicus argued, “during the 1960s, attitudes were decidedly anti-gay, meaning any attempt by Black people to present themselves as respectable under the white-dominated system would generate or perpetuate negative attitudes toward LGBTQ people.”

 

Now, support for LGBTQ+ rights are at an all-time high according to the results of last year’s Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, and aside from religiously unaffiliated people of all races, Black Protestants and Hispanic Catholics are the groups that report the highest levels of support for laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination in jobs, public accommodations and housing.


None of that lets us off the hook, of course. Colonizers and white supremacists may have influenced our attitudes toward gender and sexuality, but racialized people still enthusiastically use homophobia to assert masculinity, enforce a social pecking order and signal respectability. This is an ongoing problem in hip hop for sure, which is why it's no surprise that DaBaby has the support of other prominent rappers like T.I., who says LGBTQ+ people are “bullying” the rapper by criticizing his homophobia, and Boosie Badazz, who went on his own homophobic rant when defending DaBaby on Wednesday. Boosie disturbingly veered into threats toward Lil Nas X, who recently released another very gay music video for "Industry Baby"—and as Danielle Kwateng speculates in Teen Vogue, that might have something to do with the timing of this entire news cycle. “Queer culture in music is no new phenomenon, but it is still a largely taboo and misunderstood in hip hop," she writes. "In a genre that was often based in ‘streetwise hypermasculinity,’ men that are openly gay are frequently seen as an unwelcome anomaly… In an evolving world that looks to understand different lived experiences, hip hop’s homophobia problem is becoming more and more obtuse, leaving many artists clinging to homophobia as a means to posture their masculinity—yet not understanding that one does not equal the other.”

 

It’s important that older rappers shut this down

But that still doesn't mean homophobia is baked into Black culture. And to be honest, I'm not even sure DaBaby believes it is, or if this is just a rhetorical strategy he's employing to defend himself. But regardless, he's saying it—and even worse, I'm not seeing a lot of pushback in mainstream media or even from prominent Black celebrities, which unfortunately amounts to tacit agreement.


That's why it was so heartening to see Roots cofounder Questlove thoughtfully criticize DaBaby. On Wednesday, Quest published a post on Instagram that said he’s not trying to “be all performative smurf & create a social flogging or start some click bait headlines… But right is right & his actions are wrong. Somebody Gotta say it Homophobia/Transphobia/Xenophobia/Misogyny/Racism—this should go w/o saying is morally wrong… black people already have a code about publicly criticizing so I’ll admit i was slow to do this because I mean he don’t know me from Adam. So this will prolly get marked as ‘old hater’ territory. But man…..that shit was not cool at all.”

 

I have totally felt a similar unspoken pressure not to criticize other racialized people, but being marginalized and oppressed doesn’t mean you can’t turn around and do the same shit to other people—and I think we have a responsibility not to let it go when that happens, any more than we would when white people do the same thing to us. But also, when a 50-year-old Black man and music industry icon makes a statement like this, it doesn't just send the message that homophobia is wrong, it undermines stereotypes about age, Blackness, manhood and rap, and that's definitely a good thing.

 

Because intentional or not, DaBaby's implication is that Blackness is bound up in hatred. Worse, based on his logic, just because something is present in a culture, that means it’s fundamental, valuable, and worth preserving—and honestly, that's bullshit.

 

OOO Alert

 

I’m taking a lil summer vacation next week, so there won’t be a newsletter on Friday. However, I will still be sharing TikToks/celebrity gossip/opinions on IG, so def give @_fridaythings a follow if you haven’t already!

 

And Did You Hear About…

 

Bitch mag’s argument that, while we’re rethinking how we talked about stars like Britney Spears in the early 2000s, we should also spare a thought for Amy Winehouse.

 

This really fascinating—and timely—look at why the world’s best gymnasts are so young, and the toll specializing so early takes on their physical, and mental, health.

 

The worst job posting ever.

 

The Cut’s perfect breakdown of Burberry’s new ad featuring Adam Driver as a… centaur?

 

The true crime long read that I’ve been thinking about for days.

 

Bonus: This very accurate—but not so flattering—personality test. (Also, part two.)

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