Kevin Hart is the hottest black comedian of this era. He would have been only the fourth black person to host the Academy Awards which says a great deal about that American institution. The discovery of homophobic comments in tweets like this one, “Why does @DamienDW profile pic look like a gay billboard for AIDS,” prompted a flood of objections to the Oscar gig. When the Academy offered him an ultimatum, offer an apology or walk, Hart chose the latter.
Hart holds fast that he should not have been required to offer another apology. He claims to have evolved since his earlier days of sick AIDS fag jokes. I don’t see it. He shows more arrogant attitude than regret. What he considers as past apologies read much more like justifications. If he were so reformed, his appreciation of the injury his words inflicted would be evident. Such alleged growth would’ve brought him to a different stand. I believe he would not have hesitated to apologize again no matter how long ago his offense was made. Instead, he characterized those who objected to his hosting Oscar night as being “negative” and “angry.”
Recently he has invested much more time in framing those he offended as attackers out to destroy him while posing as the victim than apologizing. During his interview with Ellen Degeneres, the openly lesbian comic revealed that she appealed to the Academy to reinstate Hart, and joined him in branding his critics as “trolls” and “haters.” As an A-list gay, Ellen serves as the perfect gay proxy. Want to counter allegations of your bigotry? Secure the endorsement of an influential member of the group you’ve insulted.
Because he is a celebrated black man, the stakes are tangled by the interplay of race, gender, sexual orientation identities, and various forms of power he embodies. Those who are held responsible for Hart’s troubles are swiftly assigned motives and markers. As queer centered organizing is widely regarded as the domain of white gays, many assume that Hart’s critics are exercising collective white gay privilege and power.
For many black people, whether or not he made the remarks, when and if he apologized for them, and what the Academy actually proposed, doesn’t affect their perception of a successful black man being unjustly ruined. Institutional racism is displayed in full regalia every year on Oscar night and every day throughout the film industry. Many would ask, if it were a white celebrity would the same ultimatum have been imposed?
However, the distinction between challenging discrimination and overlooking harmful acts when the accused is black should not be avoided. There is a dysfunctional knee jerk tradition of depicting those who question black patriarchy as traitors to the race capitulating to the interests of our white oppressors. Many black LGBTQ folks are not comfortable with challenging homophobia when it’s practiced by black public figures. When actor Billy Porter publicly took Hart to the task, one commenter referred to his white partner, indicting Porter’s take as white-influenced. As LGBTQ activism is read as a white enterprise, black gays who confront black homophobes are rebuked as snow queens, Oreos or just “acting white.”
I have witnessed other talented black men whom I deeply admired being held accountable for deplorable actions. As a fellow black man, I found their achievements inspiring and would swiftly object to any discrimination or other acts of injustice targeting them. My love and respect for black men not incompatible with denouncing their actions when they do bad things. To call them out for it makes me no less black. To challenge homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny within black communities does not mean that I prioritize my gayness above my blackness.
In my assessment of the Hart debacle, I cannot forget those who struggle to survive by avoiding detection or daring to walk out in the sunlight. As my good sister, Nasheedah-Muhammad Bynes once acknowledged, “It is an act of resistance for many of us to walk out of our door and get on a MARTA train.” As one who was once young, gay, gifted and black, I once questioned where my place was in the family, in the world. It was because of the harsh words flung at me or above my head within the supposed safety of my own living room that I learned. If we are to protect another generation from soul-crushing condemnation, we must demand a greater commitment to understanding from men like Mr. Hart and the everyday brothers in our lives.