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A Black Woman Responds to Don Lemon

Don Lemon is gay. 

The media, both social and mainstream, have been all atwitter since the CNN anchor made this announcement via Twitter this weekend. This happened as his memoir Transparent is being released this week.

Lemon and his book were the subject of a Sunday New York Times feature, in which “he said he believed the negative reaction to male homosexuality had to do with the history of discrimination that still affects many Black Americans, as well as the attitudes of some Black women.”

And he didn’t stop there. Lemon continued, “You’re afraid that Black women will say the same things they do about how Black men should be dating Black women.”

This fallacious statement hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I immediately posted the story on my Facebook page and I have engaged in a dialogue with others on the social media network. Some agree with me that Lemon is unfairly stereotyping Black women.

Others believe that we should give him the benefit of doubt because Black women do tend to criticize Black men who partner with men and/or women of other races. Moreover, many opine, he should be applauded for having the courage to go public about his sexuality. One person pointed out that heterosexual people are not faced with such dilemmas.

Admittedly, I am straight…and I cannot know what it means to be gay.  But I do know what it means to be Black and female. And I wouldn’t trade it for all the oil in Africa…but as Langston Hughes wrote in “Mother to Son”:  “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” Nor is it for most Black women, I’m sure.

In this regard, I think Zora Neale Hurston captured it best when she wrote the following in her opus, Their Eyes Were Watching God.   

“So de White man throw down de load and tell de Nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his women folks. De Nigger woman is de mule oh de world as fur as Ah can see.”

And “as fur as Ah can see,” ain’t nothing changed since Hurston wrote this profundity.

That’s why Don Lemon’s words have struck such a nerve with me. As a Black woman, I have grown tired of some (and I emphasize, SOME) Black men “dissing” Black women, without whom, one could argue, our race would be totally lost. 

Now. With regard to the Black man/White woman thing. It is true that many Black women lament this growing trend…but not to the point of trying to professionally hurt those Black men who date interracially. Even when Black men make hateful declarations about not dating Black women, like the Washington Redskins’ Albert Haynesworth, who recently offered the fact that he doesn’t “even like Black women” as his defense against a sexual harassment charge levied by an African-American waitress.

But back to Don Lemon.  Here’s a news flash for the news man: Many of us already knew (or at least suspected) that he is gay! It is as clear as day. And most could not care less. But that hasn’t stopped the vast majority of Black women from loving him as an on-air personality.

So, to whom exactly is he “coming out”? 

Whatever the case, his “coming out,” such as it is, is not likely to hurt him professionally. It certainly hasn’t hurt the Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial board member and columnist Jonathan Capehart, who is openly gay and an MSNBC contributor.

And let’s face it, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender lobby is among the most powerful in this country.  In fact, I predict that his revelation and his controversial comments will propel his book to best seller status. And perhaps that is the point.

But this is not to say that homophobia is not a very real societal problem; however, I really think the Black community gets a bum rap with this charge that we are somehow more homophobic than American society at large.

Admittedly, it is true that in some parts of Africa and the West Indies, it is not safe to be openly gay. And truth be told, in America, homophobia is a societal ill. BUT, it is not just a Black thing…and certainly it is not Black women who are the oppressors (for lack of a better word) of gay Black men, which-if the Times quote is to be believed-is what Lemon implies in his comment.

Which brings me back to my original point: Don Lemon can lead whatever life he chooses, but why make this about Black women’s alleged prejudice? After all, many Black women claim gay men as BFF’s. Indeed, two of my best friends EVER, now deceased, were gay Black men.

Moreover, gay Black men are our brothers, our sons, our nephews, our uncles, our cousins…our fathers. Gay Black men “whip” our hair, “beat” our collective face, keep our secrets, boost our morale, teach our children…and us. Gay Black men minister to us, defend us, entertain us, protect us, make us laugh, provide for us…and love us. 

So…Nope.  I, for one, am just not buying it. I understand Don’s concerns about homophobia, but there is just no justifiable reason for singling out Black women in this regard.

The undeniable truth is that Black men, gay or otherwise, are a part of us … and Black women are not the enemy.

Dr. Pamela Reed is a diversity consultant, cultural critic and associate professor of English composition & Africana literature at Virginia State University.

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