No Homo: Queer Representation in Hip Hop and the Black Community

As American culture pushes away from an era where self-love was akin to suicide for those who were honest about their sexuality, a movement born in tolerance and acceptance hit music’s most notorious bad boys. Hip hop artists like Taylor Bennett and Frank Ocean became pioneers in a new age of openly LGBTQ+ rappers and singers, while those same artists addressed issues regarding body image among black men, sparking mixed reactions from fans of the genre.

Some believe the negative reactions to this movement are a product of deeply rooted self-hate that has plagued the black community since the start of the slave trade. But artists like Taylor Bennett seem hopeful for better days for LGBTQ+ people of color.

“I see the power that hip hop can have right now on the world, not just in the African American community,” said Bennett said in an interview with Genius. “The only time that we started even talking about gay sexuality or the LGBTQ was when [Lil] Uzi or [Young] Thug started wearing purses.”

According to a poll by NBC News, 72 percent of black parents fear that their children will face greater turmoil than they did in their adolescence. However, Bennett is more optimistic.

“The feeling that music gave me let me see brighter options and brighter perspectives in the future,” Bennett said in reference to alternative rappers he grew up listening to. “That’s what I think our youth needs right now is to see the same skin tone, four or five years from now, that are successful. Because a lot of those kids, especially LGBTQ kids, black kids, and just kids all around the world feel like they can’t even make it to tomorrow.”

Over 3,000 black people have been lynched in America from 1882 to 1968, according to records kept by Tuskegee University. Hundreds of thousands of African slaves were transported to the US during the slave trade and subjected to abuse. Considering that being black for many people was a death sentence in America, it is no wonder black people might be averse to coming out as LGBTQ+.

Malik Patterson, a Chaffey student, felt that these issues regarding Queer identity were deeply rooted in survival.

“We don’t associate ourselves with depression, anxiety and other things that look like weakness. It’s definitely a bravado thing. I think it comes from slave days because we had to either shut up and work or we died,” Patterson said.

As of 2018, hate crimes in America increased by more than 17 percent since the previous year, according to the FBI.

Patterson suggested that with this kind of danger lurking, black men have a difficult time coming out because of masculinity's association with silence.

"When I was growing up, I always heard 'men don't cry so suck it up and be a man,'" Patterson said. "It hardened me. It made me retreat into a shell and I got kind of closed off."

Program Director to Social Vocational Services in Long Beach, E. Lynn Barkum, agrees with this sentiment.

"The black community has always had problems with homosexuality because we've always had problems with ourselves," Barkum said.

Patterson expressed a similar opinion and went as far as to suggest that these insecurities come from a fear of being a part of yet another oppressed group.

"We're always playing defense because we aren't in a position to play offense," Patterson said.

Barkum implicated slavery as the origin for self-hate in the black community.

“I like to call it ‘the hate that hate made,’” Barkum said. “We’re programmed to hate each other for anything that went against our masters because it made it easier for them to control us and keep us from rising up.”

In regards to rap music and its connection to these issues, Barkum pointed to the association with blackness, sexuality, masculinity and survival in the neighborhoods hip hop come from.

“Rap came from gangster, street stuff," Barkum said. "There are probably a lot more rappers who aren’t straight but they’re too manly. They’re thinking, ‘If I come out, I’ll lose my fan base. They won’t love me the way I need them to love me.’"