Nah, Azealia Banks, You're Wrong: Black Women, Gay Men & Politics of Identity

by Brittany Dawson

Azealia Banks recently argued in an exclusive interview on Sirius XM’s OUTQ radio, a channel centered on exploring topics of LGBTQ interest, that the public is misinterpreting her use of the insufferable homophobic slur f*ggot.

“I feel like when I use the word ‘f*ggot,’ it comes from a feminist point of view, not a homophobic point of view,” says Banks.

On one hand, the interview showcases Banks’ critical awareness of white [gay] media’s pervasive power, misogyny, and culture of selective and fetishized consumption. Banks’ intimate comments mirror those of scholars sitting at the academic roundtable.

But no matter how insightful or poignant Azealia has been about certain topics related to race and feminism, she’s wrong about the destructive use of a word that has yet to reach the same level of colloquial use as let’s say, the N word.

In an instant, her most recent remarks left many sympathetic Azealia Banks supporters (including myself) disappointed, confused, and embarrassed. Just last month, she gave a powerful interview about the effects of racism and white supremacy on the music industry.

But now this?

Linguistic shifts in language (as we all can attest to) rarely happen overnight. Even when a word is reclaimed by a marginalized group or identity, the unwritten rule is that only members who identify in this category can infuse it in their own meaning. Rightfully so, we are still offended when non-Black folk use the N-word, even when they’re not doing so to harm. Again, the relationship between language and meaning is a convoluted one. And because of this, we must be careful and intentional.

Banks believes that f*ggot is no different than White gay men appropriating shades of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) typically used by Black women (“yaaaaassss,” “get it, honey,” etc.). In an Instagram post, she offers their use of “b*tch” as an example, as the world has traditionally been used to demean and insult women. While she is correct that white gay men need to take accountability for the ways their appropriation of black women's language and culture can be offensive, this is not an excuse for her using harmful, insulting language.

And what complicates the Banks Gate scandal is that unlike other rappers, she identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community.

My question is this: If African Americans use the N-word based on self-identification and reclamation, what makes Azealia Banks ineligible to use this term? Does Banks have the right to use this word, if she identifies as part of the community it’s traditionally been used against?

I don’t think so.

Obviously debating whether or not f*ggot is offensive is counterproductive and insulting. Attempting to hurriedly swallow a jumbled, homophobic concoction all in the name of feminism, white privilege, and misogyny to only then say, “Well, the way I’ve used it…” is a poor retaliation against being held accountable.

Azealia Banks is from the 212 aka Harlem, New York. An “urban upbringing” (her words exactly) and had an early exposure to a word, based on her mother’s conceptualization of the word to describe misogynistic males:
It was never a thing of, like, a guy being gay, you know what I mean, it was always just a man who hates women. ... You could be gay or straight. You could be a straight f*ggot…I feel like f*ggots are, like, men who want to bring women down. ... F*ggots are men who don't want you to be independent.
Wait, huh?

Banks implies that while the term does not explicitly cater to defining gay men, it merely suggests weakness, misogyny, or a reproachful person. Again, I cannot imagine if Steve Harvey uttered similar sentiments on the word b*tch, and continued to use it on his television show. We would laugh at his ignorance, rip apart his fallacious argument in an essay, and warn others of his misinformed stance. Eminem makes as many homophobic remarks and continues to win Grammys. Using the excuse that you’re “redefining” a slur to combat oppressive systems is immature and eerily reminiscent of apologists who use their upbringing to excuse their racism, transphobia, misogyny, and bias.

Making matters worse, Banks believes organizations like GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and folk who are offended are adopting a draconian attitude: “I don’t care… this is not a real issue…[it’s] an antiquated cause.”

But what Banks fails to realize is that this goes beyond policing language. Organizations like GLAAD aim to mitigate society’s ignorance and dispassionate demeanor towards an array of troubles impacting the LGBTQ community, one of which includes erring homophobic and misleading comments on a word Banks has no right to diminish as “inoffensive” or “antiquated”. How dare we tell members of the LGBTQ community how to process and interact with a dangerous slur?!

The point is, the reason why Banks can blissfully ignore being called homophobic and in another breath, still claim to support the LGBTQ community is that the experiences of people who identify as LGBTQ are met with derision, skepticism, and a myopic conception that purports we’re all making an issue out of nothing.

I am no longer accepting or supporting artists who adopt oxymoronic opinions. Banks’ interview with Sirius XM injects an infectious belief that it is okay to use f*ggot if you’re describing a male who fails to adequately perform on the dynamic gender stage. The fact that the term is used to represent an emasculated, withering male in a society where hypersexualized images label anyone less than as a pariah, is even more problematic. Blaming white gay media for her own ignorance and insensitivity is beyond unacceptable.

We cannot fight the injustice we face on one hand, while using the other to enact harm against other oppressed groups. And I’m not quite sure why Azealia Banks doesn’t understand this.

Brittany Dawson is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She is a senior at the University of South Carolina who is passionate about equality, social justice, and education. You may follow her on Twitter: @BrittanyJDawson.

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