Migos, George Lopez and the Hate That Looks Like You
Hate is a strong word. That is something that I heard constantly throughout my life, almost any time I declared that I hated anything--from okra to the Boston Celtics to Adam Sandler movies. Hate is often presented as an extreme term for an extreme emotion, even though hate is at least as common as love or even indifference. Just like love isn't typically manifested in extreme or performative signification; hate doesn't usually present itself in the most blatantly egregious ways. And it oftentimes isn't going to show up solely as an act of systematic aggression.
A recent Migos interview exemplified how insidiously hate informs our culture and perspectives. After Rolling Stone writer Jonah Weiner brought up iLoveMakonnen's recent coming out, the trio made it clear that they had a problem with the fact that people were being supportive towards him.
“That’s because the world is f---ed up,” Offset said in the interview, with his bandmates agreeing.
“We ain’t saying it’s nothing wrong with the gays,” Quavo said, before he questioned iLoveMakonnen's street cred: “He first came out talking about trapping and selling Molly, doing all that.
“That’s wack, bro.”
The comments drew a swift backlash, with people decrying everything from the implication that a gay rapper couldn't "trap and sell Molly," to the outright homophobia in declaring the world to be "fucked up" because people showed support to a gay rapper for coming out. There have been countless conversations about the plausibility of an openly gay rapper finding mainstream success; but with Young Thug's gender-fluid public image and the emergence of Young M.A., the question seemed to be moot. However, the comments from Migos are indicative of an attitude towards those who are LGBTQ that remains informed by ignorance and derision. Even as we tout millennials as more progressive than their elders on this particular subject, the truth is that many younger people were raised with their parents' prejudices. And just because they aren't actively seeking to express hate through malicious acts doesn't mean those prejudices aren't informed by long-standing hatred.
There's an unwillingness to acknowledge how our world conditions us to be hateful. Because we've been led to believe that hate is the exception, not the rule, we treat hate like a scourge that only shows up in the most nefarious people or in the most dire circumstances. But our society conditions us to be hateful; our culture has centered whiteness in a way that inherently promotes varying degrees of disdain for anything else, the Judeo-Christian tradition is so pervasive in our society that a president was elected on his promises to marginalize and further vilify Muslims; and we are taught that hetero-normative people have privilege to be as loved and lusted after as they want--because they are straight, cis people. Everyone else has to explain themselves. That's hate.
Migos eventually tried to quell the Rolling Stone controversy by releasing a brief statement.
"We always been about being original and staying true," read the group's post on Twitter. "Staying true to yourself goes a long way. We are all fan's of Makonnen's music and we wish he didn't feel like he ever had to hide himself. We feel the world is fucked up that people feel like they have to hide and we're asked to comment on someone's sexuality. We have no problem with anyone's sexual preference. We love all people, gay or straight and we apologize if we offended anyone."
The statement from Migos was a fairly standard mea culpa: apologizing for having offended people while re-framing the context of the original quote and offering kumbaya-isms about love for everyone. These sort of public apologies never feel sincere. The idea that they were actually bemoaning the idea that iLoveMakonnen had to hide his "true self" feels inconsistent with what read like a dismissal of his street cred.
But regardless, hate and regret aren't mutually exclusive. You can sincerely regret that you said something "controversial" without ever really understanding what it was informed by or why you should do the work necessary to change. Lots of people are prideful enough to voice their opinions and regretful enough to apologize after-the-fact; but fewer are strong enough to actually face themselves in a way that facilitates any real growth.
Another celebrity found himself at the center of a firestorm this week when a video of George Lopez exploding at a woman at one of his shows went viral. In footage released by TMZ, Lopez is seen performing at the Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix when one particular joke sparked a heated exchange between him and the woman.
“There are only two rules in the Latino family," Lopez cracked. "Don’t marry somebody Black and don’t park in front of our house.”
The woman appeared to give Lopez the middle finger in response to his joke; which enraged the comedian.
“I’m talking, bitch!" Lopez shouted. "You paid to see a show, sit your ass down. You can’t take a joke, you’re in the wrong motherfucking place. Sit your ass down or get the fuck out of here.”
The comedian continued railing against the woman, as the crowd applauded.
“I’ll give you two choices: Shut the fuck up or get the fuck out. I tell you what, I’ll make the choice for you. Get the fuck out of here. I’ll make the choice for you, bye. You can’t take a joke you’re in the wrong motherfucking place. Bye. Four seats just opened up front.”
Lopez's initial joke may have been an attempt to mock anti-Blackness in the Latino community--something that is very real and very under-discussed on the national stage--but in his over-the-top reaction to a fan (described as a "heckler" by most news sites but it's unclear if she yelled anything at him initially), Lopez inadvertently showcased how that kind of a culture shapes perspectives and informs behavior. If George Lopez can admit to growing up in a world that was steeped in contempt for Black people, how can we not view his disrespect of a Black woman through that lens?
It was revealed later that the woman in question was a Black Latina, who was attempting to play off of Lopez's joke--not antagonize him for it.
“At first she wanted to be part of the joke, because he's her favorite [comedian], but then it just went 180," Juan Quezada said in an interview with Arizona 12 News. "Completely the opposite.”
Quezada is one of the woman's friends and was with her at the show.
“It was like the time of my life at first and then all of a sudden, he says a racist joke about Blacks marrying Hispanics, which we thought was totally funny,” Quezada said. “When she stood up she put two hands in the air and she was like, ‘I’m Mexican and Black.' She was joking with the whole situation.
“She was not offended at the racist comment. She was more offended after-the-fact--when he kept going and going and going at her.”
Being an "edgy" comedian means that you are likely aware that your jokes might be poorly-received, and Lopez's defenses were probably already in place the minute he walked onto that stage. His overreaction to a woman who was joking with him playfully suggests that he was ready for any fight--which isn't unusual for a comic. But his repeatedly calling the woman a "bitch" before having her removed, after having just "joked" about how contemptible so many Mexicans see Black people, means that George Lopez needs to check himself. Hate isn't something you lose just because you have "Black friends" or hang out in Black spaces; that's a learned behavior that shapes so much of your reactions and interactions. Self-awareness appears to be in short supply when it comes to bigots.
And bigotry is often hiding in plain sight. Anti-Blackness runs rampant all over the globe, as does homophobia. In our efforts to bolster our communities and culture in a world steeped in white supremacy, there is an ongoing push to make sure the current wave of revolutionary thinkers understand that there is no progress without the addressing and eradicating of those ills within our communities. Black activism will not be a mule by which all non-white people gain ground in American society, only to turn and spit on the Black people who rallied and faced the most hate when the battle began. And Black progress won't be informed by anti-LGBTQ rhetoric that centers heteronormative people and their perspectives; ignoring those in our community who are often branded "the problem" and treated as though they have to "choose" between their Blackness and the fact that they're LGBTQ. Sometimes hate is telling your brothers and sisters that their plight means nothing to you.
Finally, R&B crooner Maxwell also stepped into a mess this week. After tweeting that “Including everyone in black history month is beneficial to all of us cause not all of us look a typical black…” Maxwell was blasted by his Twitter followers for implying that Black History Month shouldn't solely celebrate Black people. After several heated exchanges, the Brooklyn native got into a back-and-forth with a woman that ended with him sending her a direct message that read: "Check the numbers bitch."
Maxwell's initial thinking was questionable enough, but it's very telling that he went so far as to disrespect this woman. There were several people criticizing Maxwell's position, and several of them were men. But as men, we are taught that there is no bigger affront to our manhood than a woman mocking or ridiculing or even passionately disagreeing with a man. For Maxwell, a man who has built a career on his appeal to Black women, to go out of his way to call a Black woman a "bitch" (in her DMs, no less) suggests that he was specifically angered here. Would Maxwell have been so quick to disrespect a Black man or a white woman? Has he ever?
Maxwell, Migos and George Lopez all highlight the commonality of contempt. It's a part of our culture--when something is that deeply-entrenched, it's not even viewed as a problem by many people. It's "just the way things are." That has never been good enough. And it damn-sure isn't now.
Hate is a strong word. It's an even stronger emotion and its probably at it's strongest as a cultural weapon. I was raised in the small town South, in a devoutly Christian culture. I watched how race was used to justify the marginalization of Blacks and Latinos; I saw the way the church and churchfolks demanded, both subtly and overtly, that we marginalize gay people; I saw the apprehension towards the first Muslims who moved into my community. And in every part of this country, I watch as we normalize hate by softsoaping Nazism and making excuses for rapists. And I know the history of America. I have seen and learned enough to know that hate is who we are--hate is a default in our culture and, perhaps, in human existence. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had to revolt just to ensure that non-white peoples' humanity was recognized; we wouldn't have had to march for women's rights. There is no neutral--you are either working to tear it down or passively endorsing it as the status quo. You don't have to attack a mosque or a nightclub or a church to be hateful. Most of the time, our most dangerous weapons are our words. And those words are informed by ideas that we've been taught. So instead of hollow apologies and defensiveness, if you're not trying to be what this culture has conditioned you to be, do the work necessary to change. Otherwise, we have to stop lying and just embrace the word hate as just a part of who we are.
And I, for one, hate the thought of that.