In his new memoir, Transparent, CNN anchor Don Lemon has made a move that few of his colleagues have: he's come out as gay. Unlike Rachel Maddow and Thomas Roberts at MSNBC, though, Lemon isn't just gay but black. He told the New York Times that being a "double minority" makes him feel particularly vulnerable. But as he explained why, Lemon painted a distressingly stereotypical portrait of African-American culture. He said:
"It's quite different for an African-American male. It's about the worst thing you can be in black culture. You're taught you have to be a man; you have to be masculine. In the black community they think you can pray the gay away."
While I applaud Lemon's decision to share how he's come to terms with being both black and gay, I couldn't help but to cringe at his portrayal of African Americans in the above statement. All too often the media labels blacks as homophobes with no real proof that they harbor more anti-gay sentiment than others. Still, this stereotype persists, no more so than after Election Day 2008.
As the nation celebrated the election of its first black president, the gay community was horrified to learn that California had voted in support of Proposition 8, which effectively banned gay marriage in the Golden State. Which group was to blame for the proposition's passing? According to initial news reports--African Americans. But the reports that 7 out of 10 black voters supported a gay marriage ban proved to be flat out false. In January 2009, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that an analysis of exit polls found that 58 percent of black voters supported Prop. 8 and not 70 percent, as several mainstream media outlets first reported.
"The study debunks the myth that African Americans overwhelmingly and disproportionately supported Proposition 8," Andrea Shorter, director of And Marriage for All, stated upon the report's release.
Unfortunately, the myth that the African-American community is chock full of homophobes hasn't been debunked. This isn't to say that homophobia isn't an issue among blacks, but to characterize the racial group as a whole in such a way is irresponsible. Lemon said, for example, that blacks think "the gay" can be prayed away. Is he not aware of the scores of white evangelicals who've spread this belief? This is by far not an exclusively black mentality.
But Lemon didn't stop there. He also took aim at black women.
"You're afraid that black women will say the same things they do about how black men should be dating black women," he told the Times.
Say what? I seriously doubt that African-American ladies are going to take issue with Lemon because they believe a black man's rightful place is beside a black woman, even if that man is gay.
All in all, I applaud Lemon for having the courage to come out--as a black man, news personality, sexual abuse survivor, etc. It's just too bad he couldn't take this step without making gross generalizations about African Americans. Being black doesn't give one license to stereotype blacks.