I am celebrating Frank Ocean
July 15th, 2012
I don’t know much about urban music. Sure I know Beyonce’s music and can probably sing along to an Usher song or two, but beyond that I’m at a loss.
However I have, in a small way, been paying attention the way in which the attitudes of American black youth about sexuality are reflected in music and writing and I believe that I have been detecting a significant change.
In the Pre-8 world it seemed to me that black males loudly and proudly trumpeted their homophobia and black women either made the mildest of protests or offered excuses. That is no longer the case.
In the past four years we have witnessed a number of highly respected and influential black men – politicians, writers, sports legends, musicians, spiritual leaders, and even the President- have expressed their support for gay equality. The most established symbols of masculinity have made it clear that they do not see gay people as weak or inferior or less a part of the authentic black experience.
And it has impacted the community.
In the past, any suggestion that a rap artist might be gay put him outside the mainstream. If not totally ostracized, he was relegated to a niche and ignored (women have fared better, but only if they stayed semi-closeted). But when Frank Ocean released a statement revealing that his first love had been another man, the response has been noticeably different.
Writing for The Root, Helena Andrews says
“I could never make him love me,” Ocean sings on “Bad Religion,” the song about feeling alone in a non-relationship that first sparked the questions about his sexuality. Funny, listening to the track, one can hardly distinguish the anguish from the issue, or vice versa. Is he upset that he fell in love with a man or that he fell in love with someone who won’t love him back?
In the end, none of it really matters when your eyes are closed, eavesdropping on emotions that could easily be your own. And therein lies the strength of Ocean’s Channel Orange: You can choose to forget who he’s singing to or choose to unravel every allusion and turn of phrase. Either way, it’s good music.
Perhaps it is that he is skilled and talented. Perhaps it is the stark honesty within the poetry of his lyrics. Perhaps it was just the right moment. But the urban music world has coalesced around Ocean in a nearly universally supportive way.
And for what may be the first time in that genre, Ocean may have benefitted from his sexual honesty. His album is selling very well.
This is encouraging and a blessing in so many ways. Obviously, as a confirmation of the polls that show a shift in support for marriage equality among African American voters, this bodes well for future marriage votes – particularly in Maryland this November.
But even more importantly, this new attitude holds promise for those most impacted by HIV, young gay black men. Perhaps the single greatest factor in avoiding seroconversion are the voices in our heads, our perceptions of our own worth, and our sense of belonging. And for many young black men, acceptance of their own sexuality as being of equal value to heterosexuality comes too late.
I may be reading too much into this moment. Maybe I too desperately want it to be true. But I have hope that things have changed and I am celebrating the change I see.