September 24, 2010

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“Whenever people see a black man thinking outside of the box, they either think he’s switching it up for the white people or they think he’s gay.” — Andre 3000

Late one night, I was driving a stranger home, obviously because I’m sort of naïve and unaware that driving a random drunk home at 2:15am could result in me getting killed and having my car stolen. While trying to make awkward conversation and noticing the narrow length of my jeans, the drunk was so thrilled that I gave him a ride home, he exclaimed, “I’m going to hook you up with my friend Jeremy because you’re so cool!” I responded with awkward silence. He must have repeated this phrase at least four times, all with the same response. “I mean… you are gay, aren’t you?” I gave my single-worded answer (the truth, by the way) in the flattest voice I could muster: “No.” More awkward silence. “You mean… you like… chicks?” “Yes.” He asked me the question the same number of times as he offered to hook me up with his friends. “Yes. I like chicks. A lot.”

I wasn’t mortified, offended, or even the slightest bit perplexed. I mean, I get it; black dudes who dress and talk the way I do always get mistaken for being homosexual. The error was no big deal, because who gives a fuck? He asked me a question and I gave him an honest answer. I suppose it’s scenarios like this that make the so-called “big news” of Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party, who also released his solo debut record this year) coming out of the closet a little surprising. Not that it matters much at all– I still bump Silent Alarm almost as often as I did in 2005– but I didn’t really assume anything about his sexual orientation. However, it’s hard not to applaud him for his bravery. Coming out is hard for anyone, let alone the frontman of an internationally-successful rock band.

“The reason I’m doing it is whenever I go out, I’m always stopped by young, gay kids who say it’s really refreshing and encouraging to see someone like me being out in a relatively mainstream band.” — Kele Okereke

You see, in conservative mainstream culture, gay people have to tether between being ridiculed, hated, and begrudgingly accepted. Most of the gay people in the mainstream either are or have to play the role of The Flamboyant Homo, so the culture can differentiate between gay and straight, much like how black people aren’t “supposed” to wear tight jeans or listen to 13th Floor Elevators. And that’s a problem in of itself, sure, but at least you know what cards you are being dealt. Indie-rock, however, is supposed to be a beacon of liberal sunshine, where people of all shapes, sizes, colors, and sexual orientation are supposed to co-exist happily. Supposed to be.

However, there are sects of indie-rock that are just acting as a Trojan Horse for the same hateful mockery that’s demonstrated above ground. You see, indie-rock has long been a white boy’s game, and with that comes the same underlying sexism, racism, and homophobia as the bros who wear those tacky-ass print tees from Nordstrom. Don’t believe me? Check any Brooklyn Vegan comment threat not about a band full of white males. I’ve been looked at awkwardly for being a black man at a Fleet Foxes show, when all I want to do is hear “Mykonos” just like everyone else. They even make me show ID to get inside of Sam’s Club. I feel it’s because it defies compartmentalization, it breaks away from the subconscious ideal that everyone should be placed in a color-coded box.

My main criticism of Okereke coming out is that I felt he should have done it sooner, he should have come out the first time he was asked, but I understand that the compartmentalization I referred to goes even more haywire when you have an artist who is black and gay. Regardless of his prior fears of hushed ridicule from the hipster set, Okereke did what was right by standing up for himself, by standing tall and saying, “I’m gay. Whatever.” I can only hope that this allows his younger fans to come out sooner in life than he did and be proud of their sexual orientation. Regardless of indie-rock’s “hidden” bigotry when it comes to race and gender preference, there are lots of good eggs in the batch.

My main problem with a few of these good eggs, however, is that it feels like some of them subscribe to the theory that the best way to combat social ills such as homophobia and racism is to pretend they doesn’t exist. Wrong. You can’t hit a target you can’t see. Kele Okereke took a bold step by coming out of the closet; in the words of The National’s Matt Berninger, “All we gotta do is be brave and be kind.” We may not kill the problem completely, but we can at least acknowledge it and help it make us better people.–DM

Download:
Mp3: Bloc Party-“Like Eating Glass”
Mp3: Kele-“Tenderoni”

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