How Can Faggots Be Racists?

The impetus for the Guardian’s republication of the article, Richard Pryor: meltdown at the Hollywood Bowl, excerpted from Scott Saul’s new Richard Pryor biography is likely the current brouhaha raised by an alleged gay mafia’s response to Kevin Hart’s having been offered the hosting gig for the Academy Awards in the wake of the homo-reactionary disposition he espoused in his standup routines and tweets over the last decade. Curiously, little or nothing was made of Hart’s homophobic quipping by mainstream gays until the Hollywood elite offered him Hollywood’s biggest and most politically important stage. One wonders, might this be because they had been relatively unsullied up to this point, inasmuch as, when Hart had smacked homophobic, his public homonegativity was generally directed at African American homos, and at them, perhaps, only by association.

In any event, a marked, indeed stark difference between the halting Hart apology tour for such slights and epithets as he’d leveled at same gender loving (SGL) folk, and Pryor’s excoriating his white liberal Hollywood Bowl audience a generation ago was that, Pryor had nothing for which to apologize. Hart’s “gay” jokes, like any jokes which target marginalized people, are thinly veiled hate speech. And, hate speech by public figures is among the most dangerous kind of bullying, dehumanizing people who are different, as it does, and thereby potentially inciting hatred or, at least, intolerance of the subordinate group. Before he dismissed the largely white liberal Hollywood Bowl audience as hypocrites, Richard Pryor had publicly affirmed and uplifted homosexual affection and sex as no comic, politician or other public figure had in history of the country. 

And, lest we miss an exceedingly important point about the danger of conflating what might otherwise be construed as political interest groups with grassroots movements for human rights for all, it was in comments like, “Richard Pryor, you just committed professional suicide!” or “Kiss your ass, hell! I’d like to put a hot poker up it!” amid the largely jeering and taunting crowd that made clear who the audience and the producers of the Hollywood Bowl fundraising event really were. And moreover, why Pryor became so incensed at the hypocrisy into which he sensed he’d waded. As biographer Saul put it, “[h]e felt the victim of a bait and switch…he’d originally been asked to perform for a human rights rally,” and wound up having to ask himself, “How can faggots be racists?” 

Eighteen years after Stonewall, and nearly thirty years after the founding of the Mattachine Society, the organization which formally commenced the movement for gay liberation in America, the Hollywood Bowl event was a fundraiser for the Gay Liberation Movement, presided over by a so-called newly emerging Gay Mafia. Where Saul suggests, “It was hard to tell where Pryor’s allegiances lay,” he might seem to have missed the point of his own story. As Pryor told the predominantly white gay audience, “I came here for human rights,” but, “devilishly attuned to the hidden dynamics of the moment,” as Saul asserts Pryor was, and witnessing the organizers’ racist treatment of the African American dance act on the bill, he could not but reveal “the fault lines of the gay rights movement.” “When the niggers were burning down Watts,” Pryor reminded them, “you mother fuckers were doing what you wanted on Hollywood Boulevard, didn’t give a shit about it.” 

And, as the one SGL African American cited in the article remembered, “[b]eing a black homosexual and living here practically all my life, I can say that the California homosexual is the most extreme of bigots. He hates blacks, fats, women, and himself most of all. Pryor’s actions were crude, but sadly true. If one refuses to believe, let any person who is fat, black, ugly or female try going to a gay club alone.”

And, whether or not he has evolved in his capacity for acceptance, respect and empathy around sexual diversity, it was this insight of Pryor’s about the Gay Liberation Movement’s schizophrenic relationship to “human rights” (along with the need for damage control), that may inform some of Kevin Hart’s grudging apology to white gay America for his past insults to SGL folk.

John-Martin Green, Ed.D.