Guest Post by Edward Ndopu
Recently, the media has exploded with news of a Twitter battle between rapper Azealia Banks and gossip blogger Perez Hilton. After Hilton inserted himself in an altercation between Banks and fellow female rapper Angel Haze, taking Haze’s side, Banks denounced him as a “messy faggot”. She then went on to say that she used the word to describe “any male who acts like a female”. Rumours have since abounded that Banks is being dropped from her record label as a result of her speaking out against Hilton. Rather than taking sides, I believe it is most important for us to examine the context within which this media escalation has happened. Instead of writing off Azealia Banks, herself a queer woman, as homophobic, we should instead be exploring the femmephobia and racialized sexism at play in the public’s response to this debacle.
The public spat between Azealia Banks and Perez Hiton must be understood within a larger context, beyond the binary logic of right and wrong. It is profoundly problematic that much of the cultural criticism framing this fiasco is couched in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument. This narrative rests on the flawed assumption that wrongful conduct on both sides of a conflict functions on an equal playing field. The lens through which we view wrongful conduct on either side (Azealia Banks vs Perez Hilton) must take into account the overarching power imbalances that frame interpersonal experiences of epistemic violence. We cannot dislocate public figures from their sociopolitical locations. The Azealia Banks/Perez Hilton debacle has absolutely nothing to do with right and everything to do with white gay cis male privilege.
White gay cis men have cultural access to the bodies of black women and black femmes, cultural access that black women and black femmes do not have in relation to white gay cis male bodies. This cultural access allows white gay cis men to caricature black femininities, through mannerisms and voice intonations, as rambunctiously depraved and outlandish. It is a form of ontological mockery that reinforces dehumanizing narratives and racist tropes about black femininities. Perez Hilton, who personifies a homonormative politic, has systematically tapped into the cultural access to which I refer at various points in his career. Indeed, the sassy lexicon he, and so many other upper middle class non-disabled white gay cis men like him, employs rests on the commodification and appropriation of black femme identities. Hilton interjecting himself in a social media dispute between two black women, Azealia Banks and Angel Haze, precipitated the Hilton/Banks altercation, which is emblematic of his (problematic) cultural access.
Because our society subscribes to an insidiously misogynistic sociocultural paradigm, to insult someone, notwithstanding gender, is to invoke the feminine. So what better way for Banks to cut Hilton down to size than to call his masculinity into question? The Banks/Hilton feud had absolutely nothing to do with sexual identity (read: homophobia), but rather, gender power dynamics (read: femmephobia). Azealia calling Perez a “messy faggot” suggests an attempt to assert her status as a no-nonsense, hard ass femcee in a largely masculine of center dominated hip-hop industry. Masculine of center queer men, notwithstanding race, appropriate the word bitch. Very often, they use it pejoratively, and with impunity. They’re seldom called out on the ubiquity of their misguided misogyny. Yet, when it comes to Azealia’s use of the word faggot, she’s quickly characterized as homophobic, reinforcing the dominant narrative that people of color are somehow inherently homophobic, to echo Janet Mock’s recent sentiments. Although Azealia Banks is queer, she is not part of a population that would have this slur used against her. That being said, there are other words that are deeply entrenched manifestations of oppression that go unchecked each and every day. Ironically, many gay men who are up in arms over Azealia’s use of the word faggot are the same men who render femme-identified men invisible and undesirable.
Azealia Banks’ career allegedly hangs in the balance and Perez Hilton’s remains firmly intact. She’s now regarded as the ratchet, violently homophobic black woman. By virtue of his white gay cis male privilege, Hilton did not have to contend with the implications of calling will.i.am a faggot several months ago. This isn’t two wrongs make a right, but rather, one wrong is minimized, and the other, pathologized.
Born to a South African freedom fighter mother who fled from the Apartheid regime to Namibia under self-imposed exile, Edward (Eddie) Ndopu is a politically conscious (dis) abled queer femme Afro-politan living in Ottawa, Ontario. Named by the Mail and Guardian Newspaper as one of their Top 200 Young South Africans, he is a social critic, anti-oppression practitioner, consultant, writer and scholar.
There are issues with this…..
First and foremost, it’s already been discussed that Ms. Banks has made some pretty homophobic and trans-phobic remarks, on Twitter and in her lyrics, before the issue with Perez went down.
And secondly, with the whole Will. I. Am scenario. The reason why it was minimized was because Perez called Will. I. Am. a f*ggot. The difference is that he has access to the word that Ms. Banks doesn’t, and the insult meant literally nothing to Will. I. Am who is straight.
Ms. Banks wasn’t trying to “emasculate” anyone, she was straight up calling him a f*ggot. Let’s not sugarcoat this.
She behaved in a homophobic manner immediately after engaging in transphobic behavior. Her status as a member of the LGBT community does not absolve her of this behavior. Period.
This isn’t some scenario that just came out of the blue. She’s been doing this anti-trans and homophobic shit for a minute now, and for someone to dismiss all of that and simply right off her actions as some cis-white-gay attack is ignoring her actions.
Let’s get the story straight please. I seriously don’t appreciate this articles attempt to justify her behavior as some sort of subversive gender power play.
She was being homophobic immediately after being transphobic and cissexist. There’s not escaping that, period.
Thank you for articulating why I had such a gross feeling reading this. It feels like apologia, period.
Yes, the power dynamics at play make things a bit more complicated and it’s bullshit that her career’s in danger while bottom feeder Perez Hilton who’s committed every kind of ism imaginable is sitting pretty (then again, what fucking career does he actually have?), but let’s not fucking pretend this is the first time Azealia’s done problematic shit. Her queerness means fuck all here. She has a history of being transmisogynistic. The receipts are numerous. Why is that not being brought up?
Important commentary for serious. I believe the author (I’m not the author) didn’t go there because Janet Mock already had and brilliantly. I hope Azealia sees this since she stay on twitter :)
Janet Mock’s piece is amazing be sure to click the link and read it. She mentions thinking about scapegoats and this is what Mad Theory needs to be all about. <3