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Jay-Z In the Range

Posted by Francie Latour  May 15, 2012 07:25 PM

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I can remember the day I decided to stop being a homophobe. It was the same day I realized I was one. I was in the 10th grade; it was 1986. The day before, in my high school locker room, I had sat in silence as classmates  gossiped about another girl being a lesbian. That night, at the dinner table at home, my father was reading a newspaper story about something called the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which had started that year. He put the paper down, looked at my brother and me and said, "If either of you ever come home and tell me you're gay, you will no longer be my children." Then he reached for the casserole.

I had never heard him say anything so absolute, with that much conviction. Not having had a boyfriend yet, I started to mentally check myself for traces of what was now forbidden. I thought: Body, are you gay? Arms, legs, hands, heart, brain and organs awakened by puberty: Do you feel anything you shouldn't be feeling? Because if you are or ever have, squash it.

I woke up the next day outraged, but still ignorant. I remember thinking, Watch me be gay, Dad. I'll show you. By late afternoon, as the "lesbo-girl" gossip churned and I said nothing, again, I had to face the fact that my silence and my father's threats were two points on a continuous line. That line rested on a fear of gay people. 

When it comes to homosexuality, everyone has an evolution story. (Alright, not everyone -- although I am holding out hope for you, Roland Martin.) President Obama's highly controversial evolution crested last week, when he voiced his support for same-sex marriage in a watershed moment for civil rights. Yesterday, in a watershed moment for hip-hop culture, it was Jay-Z's turn: In an interview with CNN, the globally influential rap icon and ardent Obama supporter backed the president's personal endorsement with his own, comparing opposition to gay marriage to racial discrimination and dismissing the political backlash and possible fallout from African-American voters.

"It's really not about votes, its about people," the rapper said. "So whether it costs him votes or not, I think its the right thing to do, as a human being."


With that statement, Jay-Z joined a string of high-profile black celebrities and public figures who have come out in favor of marriage equality this past week, from Jesse Jackson to Janet Jackson to Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker. But Jay-Z's declaration, and the evolution that must have led to it, stands apart. It's unlike Obama's and unlike that of my parents and unlike mine, because Jay-Z built his multi-million-dollar career on a music genre where gay-bashing is celebrated and routine. In the hyper-masculine, braggadocio-filled and often woman-hating world of rap music, no dis is complete without calling someone out as being gay. Jay-Z's own groundbreaking oeuvre is laced with anti-gay slurs, including on the 2001 album The Blueprint, where he infamously attacked fellow Brooklyn-born rapper Nas on the track "Takeover."  If Obama's announcement was like watching the last drop fall from a torturously dripping faucet, Jay-Z's announcement was a snap of cultural whiplash.

Maybe it's the softening effect of fatherhood, or the security that comes with his long reign as king of the rap world. Maybe it's the generational influence of superstar wife Beyoncé, who is 30 to his 42, or the strength of her gay fan base. Maybe it's all that time Hova's been spending with evolved friends like Gwenyth Paltrow and her hubby, Coldplay singer Chris Martin. But however he got there, there's a power and currency to Jay's stance on gay marriage that even the president of the United States can't claim. Like the truce the rapper declared in his fued with Nas, yesterday's low-key interview beneath the columns of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a giant American flag unfurled behind him, broadcast a message to the world and to black America: It's time to squash our beef with gay people and gay sexuality.

With no election to lose and no real incentive to take a public stand, his endorsement crystallized what it means, at this particular moment and in this particular time, to be on the right or wrong side of history. The minute he rejected the homophobia rampant in the music industry that crowned him king, he made even the most die-hard gay marriage opponents look like fossils. While NFL teams like the Denver Broncos squirm and balk in the face of the nationwide It Gets Better campaign for LGBT youth, Jay-Z is giving a new twist to his walk-on-water verse from "Diamonds From Sierra Leone:" This ain't no tall order, this is nothing to me/ Difficult takes a day, impossible takes a week.  

Shortly after the birth of Jay-Z's daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, reports that Jay-Z had sworn off using the derogatory B-word to refer to women went viral on the internet. The rumor turned out to be false, but we can at least hope the man most people call the greatest MC of all time won't be dropping anti-gay F-bombs in verse, and passing off hateful poison as so much hip-hop swagger.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Francie Latour writes about race, gender, ethnicity, and cultural identity. She’s written about everything from working-mom guilt to black Barbies as a contributor to The Boston Globe, where she worked for 11 years as an investigative reporter and features writer. More »

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