Tyler The Creator says words like "faggot" are only offensive if a person chooses to be offended by them. In an interview last week on the Arsenio Hall Show, the rap star defended his use of word, comparing it to racial slurs.
"That’s just a word, you can take the power out of that word," Tyler told Hall. "The way that I see things, you chose to be offended if you care more about stuff like that, and that might sound very ignorant, but if you're a black person and someone calls you the n-word and you get offended, maybe you might be. But if I know that I'm not a n-word...I'm not gonna get offended."
Tyler cited his friendship with Frank Ocean as proof he wasn't homophobic. "Frank is gay and I use that word all the time," said Tyler. "He doesn't care because he knows me. He knows when I say that word I'm not thinking of someone's sexual orientation. It's just another word that has no meaning."
Hmmmmmmm....okay. First off, I hate when people say and do things they know can rub folks the wrong way and then place the blame for being offended on them. It's so damn condescending. People should have the right to feel offended, regardless of how asinine, petty or trivial their gripe may come off to others (which in this case isn't--but of course that's my opinion). Particularly in this case, when a word that has historically been used to degrade and dehumanize LBGT people, and, as I know firsthand, is often the prelude to physical violence, being offended shouldn't just be shrugged off as equivalent to being pissed someone threw shade at a new pair of shoes you bought. Like the N word, the suffering and pain behind it is and continues to be real, and should be acknowledged. And it felt like Tyler glossed over that.
All that being said, I'm not of the mindset we should ban slurs from public discourse or hold mock funerals for them. Let's be real--there will always black folks who say nigga, LGBT folks who say faggot or trannie, women (and their assorted gays) who say bitch or ho, to the chagrin of other blacks, LGBTs and women, no matter what. To me what is more important is not so much the word, but the context and the intent. For example, Tyler says his friend Frank Ocean, an openly gay or bi (he's never put a label on his sexuality, but let's stick with those for the sake of argument) man, doesn't have a problem with him using the word "faggot." But that's just it; Frank Ocean is Tyler's friend. They have a relationship where they've established clear boundaries on what they can and can't say to one another. As Latifah said about being called a bitch in "U.N.I.T.Y." "now don't be gettin' mad/when we playin' it's cool."
However, there's a big difference between trading otherwise hostile slurs with friends in private and someone screaming said slurs at a black or gay couple or woman walking down the street. The intent in this case is to intimidate and gain dominion over a perceived threat. What worries me is when artists like Tyler The Creator, Eminem (who's used the same argument for eons) Chris Rock or Louis C.K., all of whom claim to be supportive of the LGBT community, use "faggot" in their songs or routines, their legions of fans--particularly ones who don't think twice about saying "pause" or "that's gay"--won't pick up on this nuance, or will just ignore it all together.
But is that Tyler The Creator's fault? Earlier in the Arsenio interview he made a point about people thinking for themselves, which I'm a big believer in. We shouldn't take celebrities' (or anyone's) words and actions as gospel, and need to come to our own conclusions. There's no way a singer, rapper, comedian, actor, writer or director can control people's reaction to their creations.
I guess in the end it's a question of freedom of expression versus personal responsibility, along with critical thinking. An artist may not be able to stop others from misinterpreting their work, but they can choose to be transparent about their intentions or be aware of how the majority of people (i.e. well adjusted, reasonable) will perceive their actions. On a day-to-day level, what we play well in private--or as, Wendy Williams says, kitchen table talk--won't always fly in public, and we should cognizant of that.
Okay, so this post has gone in about two or three different directions. Watch Tyler's interview below and tell me what you think.