T.I. Vs. Gay Activists: How Shoddy Journalism Is Part of the Problem
Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough — or someone else’s apology, mea culpa or act of contrition — alone.
I’m not saying that Tracy Morgan’s “I’m sorry” after he was blasted by gay-rights activists and straight people alike following an anti-gay stand-up routine at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in June was heartfelt. That’s between the “30 Rock” star and his handlers. Though he publicly acknowledged the insensitivity of his homophobic rant disguised as a joke in which he said he would kill his son for acting gay, an unenlightened few, including fellow comedian Chris Rock, still felt the need to rush to his defense.
Now you can add rapper T.I., who should be more focused on working on his own image and career post-prison than supporting Morgan, to the unenlightened.
In the December issue of Vibe magazine, T.I. blasted the negative reaction of gay-rights groups to Morgan’s comments. As he sees things, it’s an affront to the freedom of speech guaranteed to U.S. citizens in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“They’re like, ‘If you have an opinion against us, we’re gonna shut you down.’… That’s not American. If you’re gay, you should have the right to be gay in peace, and if you’re against it, you should have the right to be against it in peace.”
Immediately, the headlines came pouring in: “T.I. Calls Gay Activists Un-American!” and slight variations on that theme.
Whoa, Nelly! — I mean, T.I.! Where exactly did T.I. say that gay activists are un-American. What he seems to be suggesting is that denying anyone, even someone with an unpopular point of view, the right to express his or her opinion is un-American. There’s a difference.
I’m less offended by the headlines than I am by T.I.’s cluelessness regarding the dangers of First Amendment-protected homophobic rants, but those headlines are just stirring a pot that’s already at a dangerous boil. I suppose the freedom of the press promised by the almighty First Amendment protects careless headlines, too.
As for T.I., I wonder how he would react to a white comedian getting onstage and making racist cracks against black people. I’m pretty sure he and Rock and Morgan would be first in line to join the firing squad. But what about a racist’s right to free speech and his or her right to be bigoted in peace? Should black people learn to toughen up and take “nigger” jokes as cheerfully as gays, in Morgan’s words, “take a f**king dick up their ass” (as if that’s all there is to being gay)?
Of course not. They have as much right to speak out against racist speech as gay people have to speak out against homophobia disguised as comedy. And T.I. should get his facts straight: Gay activists were not the only ones who were appalled by Morgan’s comments. So were his “30 Rock” costar Tina Fey, actress Anika Noni Rose and pretty much every straight person I know.
Here’s the thing: Yes, free speech is protected by the U.S. Constitution, but I’m tired of ignorant people hiding behind the First Amendment. If you want the freedom to say what you want to say, you have to be prepared to face the consequences of saying it. There is nothing in the First Amendment that prohibits the unpopular comments that it protects from being criticized.
And furthermore, it’s time for celebrities to be more responsible for what they say and do in public. People are watching and listening. A homophobic joke that some people might view as being funny, others might view as an excuse to hold onto homophobic views and even commit acts of violence against gays and lesbians.
Freedom of speech is a beautiful thing. But it doesn’t absolve us of the responsibility to watch what we say. And that also goes for headline writers hoping to lure in readers with unhealthy doses of sensationalism. The First Amendment may protect us all, but it excuses no one.
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