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I was never shielded from anti-black racism, its overt ugliness, its subtle nastiness, its shared intention to make me feel small. Yet, I was cautioned to never allow someone else to define how I felt about myself. In essence, to the white people reading this, I was not raised to care all that much about what you thought of my black ass.

It is a lesson that has stayed with me for my entire life. It is a value instilled in me that has done wonders for my psyche as a black man living in a nation majorly shaped through the lens of white supremacy and governed largely in the practice of institutionalized racism. Knowing there is an ingrained prejudice in society does not make me feel inferior by default nor does it compel me to center whiteness. That is why when it comes to one lingering strain of critique related to “preference,” I find myself frustrated.
In recent months, I have read articles featuring black men complaining about white men on apps like Grindr and Tinder rejecting them. Articles of this nature have been in rotation for some time now. The same goes for white men who claim that their preference to not date black men does not make them racist by default. Moreover, like many minority gay men, I was told about the video in which gay men reacted to racist Grindr profiles.

I understand the frustration. I get that this is a longstanding issue. I know that people should make sure bigots know they cannot cower behind the false pretense of preference. I even accept that preference does not necessarily equate prejudice in some cases.

Nevertheless, I am so sick of reading and watching black men complain about white men not wanting them sexually.

When it comes to tackling the relationships between gay black men and gay white men, to only discuss in the context of sexual attraction is insulting to both and can often have damaging consequences in the narrative. Last fall, The Advocate published a piece titled “Is Gay Dating Racism Creating a Black HIV Crisis?” To his credit, author Daniel Reynolds did ultimately speak to someone from the CDC who denotes other factors play a larger role.

However, why even center the black male HIV crisis on the affections of white men? Especially when you factor in that in December 2013, the New York Times published a report, “Poor Black and Hispanic Men Are the Face of H.I.V.” which examined factors behind higher HIV rates among poorer Black and Latino men. In it, they detail how the failure of health organizations to reach both groups are largely responsible for our higher rates. We are less likely to take drugs before having sex and no more likely to engage in risky behavior, but we do have less access than our white counterparts.

Working within a smaller pool can be problematic, but the issue of racism and how it burdens black men ought to be more focused on institutional issues (poverty, mass incarceration, lack of access to education, health services, etc.) than these hollowed conversations flooding my social media feeds every couple of months. Why be so focused on the “preferences” of an idiot? Why continue to make whiteness the center of world and perpetuate this notion that we have to belong?

Read the rest at NewNowNext.

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For the rest of his lightskinned, limber and rhythmic life, Chris Brown will have to contend with what he did to Rihanna in 2009. Such is the consequence of his actions, and his occasional habit of reminding us of them—including his online and offline temper tantrums as well as his ongoing relationship with misogyny in his music. Even so, two recent actions last week gave me pause about the way we treat brown and other Black men and women who’ve committed crimes.

The most recent is news that the singer-songwriter’s appearance on The Daily Show was abruptly cancelled because several staffers “disapproved” of having Brown on the show. This despite word that host Trevor Noah intended to use Brown’s interview as a platform to discuss his history of domestic violence. Noah is no stranger to domestic violence; his stepfather abused his mother. As we learned years ago, Brown’s stepfather abused Brown’s mother, too.

So there was an opportunity for two Black men to tackle domestic violence on that wide a platform, only to have it squandered by a majority White writing staff. Not just two Black men, but one whose mother was shot and maimed by her abusive husband and another who repeated his cycle of violence. Perhaps the interview might’ve been a disaster or maybe it would’ve been something worthwhile. Whatever it was to be, it should have been given the chance.

Comedy Central ultimately released a statement to EW saying, “Guest bookings are always subject to change. The show hopes to reschedule Chris for a future appearance.”

One hopes that is the case. I certainly won’t hold my breath at present moment, though. In the meantime, the Australian leg of Brown’s One Hell of a Night tour has been cancelled after the Australian government made good on its warning to formally deny Brown’s visa due to his criminal conviction for assaulting Rihanna in 2009. (Mind you, Chris Brown has already performed in the country since his conviction, specifically in 2011.)

In a statement, the promoter said: “Mr. Brown and the promoters both remain positive that the tour will take place in the near future. Mr. Brown wishes to express his deepest gratitude to the fans for their support and looks forward to a successful tour in the near future.”

I’m sure that select staff members of The Daily Show and the Australian government are feeling mighty morally superior right now. But I’m curious to know what they all think about whether or not it’s ever okay to allow a person who has made a mistake and served their time a legitimate second chance?

I’d especially like to know this from The Daily Show staffers. Maybe some of them were not around at the time, but Charlie Sheen—who has never, ever faced consequences for his history of physical abuse of women—has appeared on the show. It may have been in 2003, but that was certainly years after claims of his abuse of women surfaced. In Brown’s case, if he were going to be challenged about an issue he’s actually addressed multiple times (unlike Sheen), why keep him away?

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While introducing R. Kelly, the final performer of this year’s Soul Train Awards, host Erykah Badu claimed that Kelly “has done more for black people than anyone.” The compliment sparked a visceral reaction in many due to Kelly’snoted history of accusations of the sexual assault of minors. I myself yelled back at the TV screen, “What has that sum’bitch done for black folks?”

However, a friend and person also sharing a deep disgust of Kelly offered me a dose objectivity. As far as influence goes, Kelly alongside Babyface and Teddy Riley, have literally shaped R&B for the last 20 years. One could even make the case Kelly’s influence is the most pronounced.

That is why even though I choose to personally not support R. Kelly monetarily anymore, it is difficult for me to write off those who choose to as “bad people” as others have opted to. There will always be a debate as to whether or not it is okay to listen to R. Kelly, and even I struggle with a clear answer.

It’s been easier for me to ignore R. Kelly’s music for more than a decade, majorly because I find it comically terrible. However, have I listened to songs from 12 Play recently? I am guilty of that. Do I still listen to Aaliyah’s debut album? All the time, says my iTunes player. Do I still listen to songs from the Life soundtrack, which was majorly written and produced by Kelly? Again, I am guilty.

I’m not sure if that places me on any moral pedestal ahead of those who purchased Black Panties. I don’t know if that makes me just as bad as them, or even R. Kelly, as some have suggested. That’s an easy, sanctimonious response that’s easy to read but not easy to put into practice. If I did wipe my computer and phone clean of anything R. Kelly has touched, I’d have to do the same with Marvin Gaye. Then, perhaps I’d have to question whether I can watch The Cosby Show ever again or anything Bill Cosby’s name is attached to – including my beloved A Different World.

I’d probably call my mom to tell her to turn off Elvis Presley forever. She might listen. She might tell me to shut up and get off her phone.

How does one truly separate the art from the artist? I don’t know. What I can do in the meantime, and what I invite others to do, is to learn to embrace a little more duality.

It’s okay to say that R. Kelly is a musical genius and, more than a likely, a terrible person and sexual predator. This is not a difficult task. There is an ample amount of evidence to help one race to such a conclusion.

With that realization comes a certain responsibility, though – namely accepting that while we can acknowledge that R. Kelly may never face the consequences of the crimes he’s been accused of committing over and over again, we don’t have to literally roll out the red carpet for him while he walks freely.

Read the rest at VH1.

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Although I tend to straddle the line between being guarded like Beyoncé and live-out-loud à la Rihanna when it comes to discussing my private life, over time I’ve come to be jealous of friends who have big, prying families. As much as I love and adore my mother, she will not discuss my boy problems with me – outside of her uncertainty as to where having sex with men will place me in the afterlife.

In my family, it’s love with limits – and before anyone argues that love shouldn’t come with limits, spare me the Diane Warren ballad you’re quoting. Life is complicated. The “complication” for my family – my sexuality – makes for a consistently awkward exchange with my kinfolk, and nothing tests these limits more than holiday-season dinners.

They’re not completely comfortable with my sexuality, but they don’t want to totally alienate me either; my family may not be comfortable getting an invitation to my gay wedding, but they wouldn’t miss the baptism of the baby I made in a lab with my gorgeous homegirl from college.

So suffice it to say, when it’s time to sit with family for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, my mother will not be asking me if there is any special man in my life helping me sin to the best of ability. I can talk to my siblings and my niece about my personal life, but that’s a whopping three people – two and a half, actually, since there’s only so much you can tell a teenager. As for my parents and the rest of my extended family, the actual contours of my dating life will remain totally undiscussed.

I already know what they will actually say to me: I will be asked innocuous questions about the weather and Times Square (aka the most horrific place on Earth). In a sense, I get off easily; some of my other friends in similar situations have relatives that make inquiries only in code.

“So, do you have any friends?” they’ll ask. “Friends” is the word older people use to describe someone they assume you’re having sex with, but that acknowledgement gives them the willies so they tone-police themselves.

But I’m now at the point where I wouldn’t mind being asked uncomfortable questions – even coded ones – like “Are you the boy or the girl?” I’d happily explain to them that’s not how any of this works, but I need a starting point first. I would even love to finally start being asked things like “You’re not getting any younger. Isn’t it time you think about settling down and marrying someone now that you can?”

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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If there is a heaven, I would not be surprised if Whitney Houston asked God to step outside its gates for a second to unleash her fury properly. I know Allan Raible meant well when invoking the late legendary vocalist in his glowing review of Adele’s new album, 25, but I so wish he hadn’t done so. Comparisons – no matter how cringe-worthy they can be at times – are employed to contextualize. That said, context is key, and in the case of comparing Adele to Whitney Houston, essential.

Writing for ABC News, Raible claimed: “It is Adele’s flawless execution that makes these winners. She is, after all, the closest successor we have to Whitney Houston, who could definitely sell a crowd-pleasing ballad while keeping things from getting too cheesy. Adele seems to have a similar universal appeal.”

I’m actually impressed by the varying levels of wrong crammed into just three sentences.

Adele is an extremely talented singer, but Whitney Houston is a once in a lifetime vocalist. There will never be another Whitney Houston. Whitney Houston, notably at her prime, was such a premiere talent that Whitney Houston herself struggled towards the end of her life living up to such a high standard of singing. Houston could literally do any type of singing and do so flawlessly.

And as much a fan as I am of Houston, some of her material was very much cheesy (some of the pop fluff from the mid 1980s, certainly “Whatchulookinat”). She was not the singer-songwriter like Adele, but her voice was so powerful that it could make any song crafted better than what it actually was.

Of course, Raible was not necessarily arguing Adele’s voice rivals Houston’s, but he did speak of it enough to put in the same conversation. It’s just not the case. Anyone who likes Adele should never put that kind of a burden on her.

As far as Adele being a Houston-like figure in terms of appeal, only someone white would think to say this.

What bugged me about Rolling Stone comparing Justin Timberlake to Michael Jackson in 2003 and what grates me about Raible’s claim now is that there are certain factors at hand that makes it much easier for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Adele to have widespread appeal than Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston – no matter how successful the latter were in their respective careers.

Adele will never have to know what it’s like to be marketed as a mainstream balladeer and face resentment from those who look like her – something Houston initially struggled with in the late 1980s. Houston made it easier for the likes of Beyoncé and Rihanna. If anything, I liken Adele to someone more like Celine Dion, and while I don’t want to strip her accomplishments away, Adele also benefits from our current climate of music. That is to say, one that offers a dearth of singers who can actually sing.

Read the rest at VH1.

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For many former white boy band members, the keys to transitioning to full-fledged adult star include muscles, showing off more skin, and more often than not, a flirtation with R&B. Last year, Nick Jonas did all of these things, only he added a notable twist: A full-on courtship—and embracement—of a gay fan base.

In September 2014, Jonas spoke to Logo’s NewNowNext about this move with an admission of previous effort. First, Jonas explained, “I grew up doing theatre here in New York, surrounded by [the gay community] and loving it at a young age.” Then he added that when it came to his past life as a member of The Jonas Brothers, “When my brothers and I started touring and had some success, naturally [gay men] became a pretty big part of our following. I don’t know that we ever did enough to really own that.”

The solution: “I really want to make an effort to embrace the community with open arms.”

So he did. This included a spread in Flaunt magazine’s “Grind Issue” that served as a tribute to Mark Whalberg’s infamous 1992 Calvin Klein underwear campaign. Jonas was photographed in a homoerotic way—touching his crotch, revealing his very well sculpted abs and grabbing his own bare ass (taunting us). I imagine women enjoyed it, too, but if felt like a nod to the gay gaze. Additionally, Jonas has started frequenting New York City gay clubs—dancing to his new singles, lifting up his shirt to tease the boys (or gworls, depending on the gay you’re talking to), looking quite awkward, but making an effort to engage.

He’s also opted to play gay characters: First in Kingdom, and more recently, on Scream Queens. Although some were touched by his efforts—or at least titillated enough to embrace whatever Jonas served—others were less than impressed.

Enter Adam Lambert, who tweeted this time last year: “Anyone find it interesting how straight male Pop stars r pandering to gay audiences lately!? Should we be flattered? Progress or strategy? No shade. I just wanna hear about music! Not be teased on weather someone MIGHT be bi curious or gay or straight. Who cares?! Lol”

Jonas responded to this, telling PrideSource that “everyone’s entitled to their opinion,” but ultimately, “I think it’s unfortunate that some people have to find a negative in every situation.”

Later Jonas echoed this sentiment, and the manner of it bugged me.Speaking with Daily Star Online at the Radio One Teen Awards, Nick teased fans about the upcoming season of Kingdom – notably whether his scenes will get steamier. “Well I’m gay in Kingdom, if you keep watching the series you’ll see more of that,” Jonas said.

However, when asked if he had ever sexually experimented with another man, Jonas answered, “I can’t say if I have or haven’t, but if you watch the show you’ll see more of that.” Actually, you can say if you have or have not—especially if you’ve been essentially putting the tip in with your gay fans.

Jonas was once again asked about “gay baiting” and said, “In every situation when there’s an opportunity to be negative some people find the need to be.”

I loathe that he dismissed legitimate criticism under the very vapid pretense of “positive” or “negative.” Not every critique is trying to call you the worst person who ever lived on this Earth. This is a silly deflection tactic.

I am appreciative that a straight American pop star isn’t running away from the gay fans who helped make him a star. Even so, Jonas’ methodology is a little heavy handed. Granted, I appreciate the sight of his body, but there’s something irritating about Nick Jonas’ refusal to answer whether or not he’s ever actually experimented sexually with another man, given his consistent courting of gay fans.

Read the rest at Fusion.

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Usher is the most successful male R&B artist of the past 20 years – actually, one of the most successful artists period – yet he often feels left out of the conversation when it comes to our generation’s premiere stars.

Much of the narrative about his success now focuses majorly on the juggernaut that was 2004’s Confessions, which sold more than a million records its first week. However, the entertainer had already cemented himself as crossover smash with 2001’s 8701. In fact, I recall being frustrated that Rolling Stone crowned Justin Timberlake “The New King of Pop” in 2003. Clearly that honor should have gone to U. But even with accolades –including Billboard naming him the Top 100 Artist of the 2000s– we’ve been undervaluing Usher for years now.

Some of this is his own fault. It’s no secret that it’s harder for R&B artists now that it’s been in year’s past (unless you’re white), but unlike Beyoncé, Usher tried to keep up with the times. He grabbed a glow stick and joined the EDM kids, resulting in songs like “Oh My God” and “Scream.” Usher also began to collaborate with Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias, which is not wrong in theory but is in its subsequent end result. All of those overly pop-dance singles were cynical attempts to maintain Usher as a radio mainstay.

They were successful in that sense, but they also began to strip Usher of what made him so successful. He stopped being the consistent great album maker. He began to rely more on clichés with only glimmers of forward-leaning R&B such as “Climax.” He essentially didn’t own that he is Usher, thus above that sort of music making. Even if I loathed R&B’s brief but no less painful flirtation with EDM, I understood why many felt compelled to do so. I will never understand why Usher felt such pressure.

Even so, considering his catalog and the millions upon millions it sold and hit after hit it produced, you would think he’d have more capital to quickly recapture past glory.

Especially when you consider he’s beginning to make such good music again. This would include the delightful ode to oral pleasure in “Good Kisser.” I’m not sure I will ever forgive the masses for not making that song a bigger deal.

Now, I understand the division over “She Came To Give It To You” featuring Nicki Minaj. I enjoy it, but it does feel like a retread of that Robin Thicke song I dare not name. Usher got even better with the Mike WiLL Made it produced “Believer” and “Clueless,” which was distributed by way of a Honey Nut Cheerios box.

Read the rest at VH1.

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While watching Charlie Sheen this morning on TODAY, all I could do is think about Magic Johnson.

When Johnson revealed that he was HIV positive, and thus, would immediately be retiring from the NBA at the advice of his doctors, Johnson said during the press conference, “Life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man. When your back is against the wall, you have to come out swinging. I’m going to go on, going to be there, going to have fun.”

Johnson would make a brief return to basketball, and in 2011, revealed that he regretted that decision to leave basketball. Still, Johnson stayed true to the commitment he made in that 1991 presser. Life indeed went on for him as Johnson blossomed into hugely successful entrepreneur, advocate, and philanthropist. (Full disclosure: I am a recipient of his foundation’s Taylor Michaels Scholarship Program.)

And yet, more than two decades after Johnson and many other faces and names helped changed the way we look at HIV, the stigmas continue. I’m not comfortable with the reality that some sentiments I heard at the age of 6 remain in my 31st year of life. I’m equally bothered by the circumstances that led to Sheen’s disclosure.

Sheen did not come out willingly; he was pushed into it by way of being gossiped about in tabloids and being blackmailed by the people he allowed into his life.

Look no further than the National Enquirer whose cover story leads with “World Exclusive! Charlie Sheen Is HIV Positive — Inside His Shocking Diagnosis.” The story begins with “Decades of debauchery have finally caught up to Charlie Sheen.” Then there is TMZ, who reported details about Sheen leading into his announcement this morning.

 Sheen revealed that he has known for four years that he was HIV positive. He also noted that he’s been millions of dollars in keeping his status a secret. As a result of this interview, Sheen said, “I released myself from this prison today.”But what kept in his personal cell for so long is remains clear. The “tiger Blood” jokes have already started. As have the comments about him associating with prostitutes – which further vilifies sex workers, who need greater access to prevention efforts than they do further condemnation and criminalization. Even in the Sheen interview, Matt Lauer asked him about the various laws across the country aimed at those with HIV/AIDS. The problem with that line of inquiry is that many of those laws are archaic about based on perceptions about the disease formed in the 1980s.

If Sheen had already claimed that he has revealed his status to each of his sexual partners, why press him about laws that need revision in the wake of medical developments in treating the virus?

Thankfully, there were teachable moments by way of Sheen’s doctor, but too much of the conversation felt stagnant.

Make no mistake: I do not pity Charlie Sheen. It is hard to ever feel that empathetic towards a man with a history of violence against women. Nonetheless, he deserves better than what brought him to this interview. To gossip about his health is deplorable. To extort money from him in this manner is despicable. To continue to damn him and other people living with HIV points to lingering shaming tactics that ought to face certain death.

Read the rest at VH1.

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I refuse to relinquish my dedication to the text message.

In recent months, I’ve come across relatives, friends and men I have dated who seem to have issues with texting – or more pointedly, returning a message I sent. “I don’t like to text,” they tell me, or, “You write too much.” Heaven forbid I don’t stop at “WYD. HRU.” For those who actually enjoy typing words out in full, this would be, “What are you doing?” and “How are you?”. Both of these abbreviations are disgusting, for the record.

If you’re kin I barely speak to outside of holidays or old classmates who I sometimes forget are still alive (listen, adulthood is stressful), by all means ping me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat or whatever other social media service I am ignoring but likely signed up for. I like that social media brings many people who otherwise would never connect together.

But I increasingly loathe that it gives people a false sense of intimacy. As in, just because you see whatever I choose to share on social media doesn’t mean you know me. Likewise, you responding to something I put on the internet is not anything close to hitting me back on words said directly to you – it’s ignoring me. No one wants to feel ignored and the fact that I now can visibly see what you are doing on social media in real time as you ignore me is infuriating.

So if you’re a close friend or, even more importantly, a person I am dating, I will not bend on this. Respond to my text. I repeat: respond to my text.

I don’t understand why this task is difficult for people. After all, you’re on your phone either way. The way you can scroll through every social media app you’ve downloaded is the same way you can look to “messages” on your phone, read said messages and you know, respond to them. Why is this a challenge? Spoiler: it’s not.

Read the rest at The Guardian.

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I wish I lived in this mythical world in which being a gay Black male was a one-way ticket to immeasurable success.

Ever since Frank Ocean publishing a letter revealing he was once in love with someone of the same sex played a pivotal role in his success, I’ve seen many argue that it was nothing more than a marketing ploy to boost his career. And if they don’t argue it was a marketing ploy, at the very least the admission is categorized as one that gives Ocean some sort of advantage over his contemporaries. This would include your average social media simpleton and some of Ocean’s recording artists peers, including Miguel and, more recently, Wale.

Indeed, during an appearance on Power 105.1’s The Breakfast Club, co-host Angela Yee asked Wale whether a gay artist can be successful in hip-hop.

Wale said in response: “If a dude was gay, man, he’d get a Grammy,” Wale said. “They’re gonna make fun of them. They’re gonna throw their Twitter jokes… but in the next three years, there’s probably gonna be a dude who’s not even gay that’s just like ‘Man, this is my last resort’… But nah, I would sign a gay rapper if he was dope. ‘Go ahead man, go do that thing. Go do them Versace fashion shows.’ ”

The Versace quip is interesting, given that although hip-hop remains heavily hypermasculine (as do most things in our culture), it’s always been overtly masculine rappers shouting out the gayest of fashion designers. In any event, Wale went on to cite Frank Ocean, declaring that he was “pushed to the moon” before later adding, “He got the Grammy joint, everything… People look at it like you a hero, you a pioneer.”

He has since tried to “clarify” by way of repeating himself in different phrasing.

Wale’s revisionist history does negate the reality that, although Frank Ocean’s celebrity may have magnified following his admission, his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape was a critically-acclaimed smash that was on many a music critic’s year-end list—cementing him as a rising star the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z, and others immediately wanted to work with. As long as Frank Ocean stuck to the themes that wowed people, he was going to become a star no matter what.

Likewise, many tend to forget that Ocean’s letter came not long after a writer who heard his debut album, Channel Orange, early and proceeded to interject rumors about the singer-songwriter’s sexuality onto the Internet.

What grates me most, though, is Wale’s sentiment about what it’s like to be gay in America right now: “People are probably going to go bad on me for saying this, but it’s an advantage to be gay in this country right now. That’s just the fact of the matter.”

Many share this sentiment, and I invite them all to report directly to the seventh circle of hell in a winter coat.

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