On Migos and the exhaustion that comes with empathy

My gut reaction to any perceived attack on black folks is protection. Even at the expense of my own mental and emotional well-being.

That’s what I felt when I first read what the members of, currently, one of my favorite hip-hop groups Migos had to say in response to fellow rapper Makonnen’s coming out in a Rolling Stone interview. Even as I’m typing this, I’m tempted to downplay their words. My natural inclination is to say that in contrast to what I’ve already encountered as far as homophobia from black men, their statements were rather minuscule. That because they themselves were assigning arbitrary traits, in this case, drug dealing, to manhood, I shouldn’t even take them seriously. Yet, I’m still here with a part of me wanting to guard them against vitriol. The vitriol that by in large outside of the black gay community, wasn’t thrown at them.

My intent with this is not to erase the experiences of queer/gay black women and femmes. It’s to highlight the particular way in which black gay men experience queer/homophobia. The reaction from a good portion of black gay folks struck a different chord in me this time. It wasn’t only the reactions of the usual homophobes but also other gay black folks and people who consider themselves allies.

There were black gay men who immediately wrote them off and wanted nothing to do with them and then there were others who said things like, “Read the whole article”, “You’re taking it out of context” and “It wasn’t outwardly violent so let them live.” I realized that I wasn’t alone in my protection reflex. I’m fully aware that we live in a culture of sensationalized headlines and click bait. What I also realize is that folks don’t cape this hard for context when a headline can create the opportunity for a group drag.

I understand that particularly in the climate we’re in, we’re very protective of black folks who bring us joy. Going off in a praise break to “Slippery” had been a form of self-care for me. So, I understand the immediate propensity to turn the earth upside down to find justification for their words, but it’s at the expense of us who are most at risk. Mental and emotional abuse is violence. Speaking as a person who was subject to it, it impacted my life in ways I’ll never be able to rectify. That abuse flowing directly from the mouths of black men is trauma enough, but knowing that we have very little protection but ourselves when it’s needed is devastating.

Merely existing as a man who is at the same time black and gay has been a daily fight for my own sanity.

My worldview has been shaped by compromise and mistrust; specifically growing up directly in the firing line of anti-queer religious dogma. I had to carve out space in my mind for the notion that someone could love me but simultaneously hate a part of me with extreme enmity. This extended past the pulpit and into my friendships.

Whether it be having to have the patience of Job for their understanding and acceptance to manifest or having to understand that a female friend’s boyfriend “Just ain’t with that”, I had to be okay with accepting that a part of me wasn’t fit for mass consumption. Upon acceptance of self, I was wary of most existing and future friendships. I became very hypersensitive to any small perceived slight or homophobic remark. Compartmentalization of self is tiring. That’s why when gay black men were willing to throw Migos out, I understood completely. The road to self-acceptance is often agonizing so when you meet that mark, anything that tries to knock you off, you’re unwilling to let into your space. I’ve only recently encountered a group of people who have become friends who are knowledgeable about the damage of homophobia and are actively working toward unlearning what has been ingrained in them.

I’m not interested in pathologizing Migos or cis-hetero black men as a whole in a vacuum. I’m JUST smart enough to realize that homophobia is directly linked to white supremacist violence. That being said, it doesn’t make it any less harmful because of that knowledge. What gets to me a lot is the ability to grasp the contradictions in Migos and straight black men in general, but somehow, they can’t grasp anything related to us. In an article that goes from drinking lean to speaking of the word of God, one would expect more understanding of the complex nature of humanity, but, as usual, seeing past your on backyard is a lost skill.

I really don’t care if eyes are rolled at this article. I’m more interested in the few folks who have the ability for deep empathy like I do to consider my words and do a bit better. The tendency I have towards protecting black folk is still here and I’m not completely sure it won’t stay this way or if I want it to weaken. I think more than anything, I want the same empathy. I want the same natural urge to protect cis-hetero black folks to be extended to people like me.