The internet has been ablaze this week after the above photo surfaced on the web. Actor Michael B. Jordan and his Creed director Ryan Coogler posed together for a Vanity Fair profile. In the photo, Jordan is seen with his hand on Coogler’s head. The photo is meant to show their closeness and brotherhood as the two have worked together on both Creed and Fruitvale Station. But rather than serve as an occasion to show the sensitive side of black masculinity, black men everywhere are up in arms because the picture looks too gay for their tastes.
I’ve been involved in a lot of conversations over the past few weeks about the portrayal of black people in the mainstream media. Many people in the community have complained that we are constantly shown as ignorant, criminal, violent, and uneducated. That we are only used in media to perpetuate stereotypes about black culture. And this is especially true where black men are involved. This photo shows a tender moment between two professional colleagues. It offers a sliver of more complex emotion from black men that the country isn’t accustomed to seeing. And in that fact, that it avoids stereotype and typical black male bravado, it’s being viewed as gay instead of what it actually is-a great photo.
For me, this uproar shines a national spotlight on black masculinity and its extreme fragility. As a black, gay man, the only prejudice and issues with acceptance I’ve ever experienced have come from other black people. And largely within my own family. There’s a long-standing belief in the black community that you cannot be gay and still be a man. There has always been a need to assert masculinity to all those around us. Because we may have to work harder to gain access to those things that everyone else seems to be guaranteed, being gay is viewed as a weakness that can be an obstacle to black acceptance.
Many black communities are founded on strong religious foundations. Christianity is often sighted by black people as a reason to look down upon homosexuality. But that same religious foundation is also used to discriminate against gays.
There’s an ignorance within the black community that has prevailed decade after decade despite how rapidly the world around us is changing. The alpha male-the angry, black man-is often regarded as the default archetype to deal with the outside world. Any personality different than that, any more complexity than that and you’re setting yourself up to be emasculated. This refusal to think differently and accept everyone is a limited mindset that can hold us back. We live in a society that’s working to accept all people despite their differences. I find it hard to believe that anyone works at a job, attends a class, or goes anywhere where gay people aren’t present. A continued outlook that doesn’t accept them makes you the minority. And in a sense, this ignorance can be just as limiting as any other perceived roadblocks you think your skin color is causing.
For all those men who’ve seen this photo and feel so threatened that they have to publicly declare the photo gay, they need to ask themselves what bothers them so much. Why is their masculinity so fragile? Why do they feel a need to let everyone else know that they think it’s a gay photo? What are you protecting about yourself, or who are you surrounding yourself with that’s forcing you to flaunt your ignorance?
Just like any other race, black men deserve to have all ranges of emotion and walks of life depicted in the media. And we deserve to have these depictions without facing unnecessary backlash because of widespread, contagious ignorance. Look at this photo again and admire it for what it is. It’s not gay. It’s black masculinity at its most vulnerable. A step forward. And any response less than that is a step back for all of us.