Hip-hop/Spirituality/Freethinking. Speaking for all underdogs!
Empire’s Transcendant Message!
By Khalil Amani
I’ve been a fan of Fox TV’s Empire from the first episode in 2015! I fully dug the fact that the show did not shy away from hip-hop’s and black folks' religiously engrained homophobia—and socially challenged us to go beyond our religiosity, which has been highly problematic for black folk—and face our gay “problem” head on. As a gay right’s advocate who just so happens to be heterosexual, I looked at the show’s premiering as a testament to all those years I put in advocating for gay rappers—and by extension—gay people. That indeed! I had helped create the climate for gay voices to be heard in mainstream hip-hop media and shows like Love & Hip-Hop and Empire were proof-positive that one of two things had happened; #1. That my writing advocating for gays was effective or #2. It's sheer coincidence that what I wrote ten years ago coming to fruition today is Khalil Amani doing his best Negrodumas impression/impersonation and I'm so ahead of my time. Pick one!
Since 2007 I’ve billed myself as a blogger—“Ya Gay Friend’s Favorite Straight Friend” and been advocating for the total inclusion of LGBTQ voices in mainstream hip-hop—going so far as becoming a staff writer for Allhiphop.com (“The World’s Most Dangerous Site”)—and writing for iconic hip-hop dee jay, DJ Kay Slay’s, Straight Stuntin Magazine, where my first article, “Why Gay Hip-Hop/Rap?” (2008) stirred much controversy in industry backrooms—as well as being quoted for my gay hip-hop advocacy in the Miami New Times, LA Times and Spin Magazine. Solidifying my position, I wrote a book, which became the seminal work on homophobia in hip-hop entitled, Hip-Hop Homophobes: Origin & Attitudes Towards Gays & Lesbians in Hip-Hop Culture; As Perpetuated By Rappers, Thugs, Athletes, Reggae Rastas & Religionists; Essays on the 3,000 Year Old Polemic Against Homosexuality; A Religious Hoax! (iuniverse.com 2007)
I even went so far as to going to war with veteran author, social commentator, political analyst and economist—Dr. Boyce Watkins, who thought that Empire was just another case of 21st century cooning. Watkins penned a piece entitled, “Why I Refuse to Support the Coonery of the Show, Empire.” In his article, Watkins referred to Empire as a “monstrosity” and went on to invoke Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. and black folks' African ancestors, basically speaking for people (African slaves) who had no frame of reference for such things as television—decrying that they are turning over in their graves at the present state of black cultural aesthetics. Watkins wrote, “I can’t tell you everything that Dr. King and our ancestors wanted for our people, but I can certainly say that it had nothing to do with the crap we’re seeing in modern American media.” He was referring to Empire.
Dr. Watkins wrote angelic—and glowing—and praise-worthy—and even infallible about our (black) ancestors—as though they presented a united-front against slavery, which is euphemistically and scholastically known as, “That Peculiar Institution.” He said that Empire is coonery—without mentioning all of the coonery that our African ancestors did—purposefully forgetting about the mammy and uncle-Tom and Aunt Jemima and Stepin Fetchit archetypes/stereotypes. Watkins summoned up the African ancestors as the standard bearers—a romanticization of the worst crime in the annals of human history—the Transatlantic Slave Trade—without mentioning the Africans’ complicity in his own demise. Is it not true that Africans sold Africans to the European? Is it not true that African slaves fought for the Confederacy to keep slavery as the law of the land? According to historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. and some of his historian contemporaries, it is estimated that, “…between 3,000 and 6,000 [slaves] served as Confederate soldiers. Another 100,000 or so blacks, mostly slaves, supported the Confederacy as laborers, servants and teamsters—essentially did the Confederacy’s dirty work.”
I care not to judge the actions of our African ancestors. Likewise, as a writer, I could not sit back and allow Dr. Watkins to paint Empire as a “coonfest”—against the backdrop of those questionable and spurious actions of the African slave.
Dr. Boyce Watkins brought all of his Ph.D. halls of higher academia wrath down on Empire when it aired, but Khalil Amani answered back at “The World’s Most Dangerous Site”—Allhiphop.com, penning a blog entitled, “Empire Is A Black Bourgeoisie Nightmare!” I put my Associate’s & Bachelor’s degrees up against Boyce Watkins’ Doctoral degree and got at his “bourgie” ass—going so far as to even check him on his grammar when he misspelled “Negro” in lower-case as “negro.” (Hey! I was being extra flippant, but how else do you fight a war of words with a motherfucker that holds a Ph.D.? Every jab counts!)
Clearly, Dr. Boyce Watkins had a problem with the show’s gay theme. Dare I say that his essay on Empire was some highfalutin D/L homophobia? This Negro went so far as to play a ghetto Sigmund Freud psychologist—psychoanalyzing one of the show’s creators, Lee Daniels—claiming that Daniels was “pimping” his own (black) people and using the show to exorcize his own childhood gay demons, writing, “Daniels efforts to use media as a tool to pathologize his own people might be an even greater reflection of the mental illness he is confronting as he works to cradle a deeply abused inner child.” Boyce may be a doctor, but he’s no doctor of psychology! That nigga sent an Uber for Lee Daniels who is an openly gay black man and expected Daniels to jump inside! Watkins, in all of his highfalutin pomposity, as far as I can tell could not—and did not get a rise out of the creators of Empire—Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, but guess who did get a response? Danny Strong, one of the co-creators of Empire actually read my response blog to Dr. Boyce Watkins and reached out to Khalil Amani via Twitter writing, “Loved your piece. Totally spot on and very well written. And hilarious too! Thank you for writing it.”
Here’s an excerpt of my response to Dr. Boyce Watkins.
"So here we go with the black-academic-bourgeoisie (pronounced boos-shwa-zee) name-calling us’s who like “Empire”—“ignorant Negroes.” Boyce reminds me of those ig-nant kids who used to pick on the kids who rode on the short yellow (or blue) bus to school, an academic bully of sorts! Yes, some of them are retarded or a little “touched,” but they are people, somebody’s chirr’ren! … “Empire” is about one smidgen of black life—the hip-hop industry and all of its f**kery, but to say this is “cooning” is silly. From “Empire” young people will see black people—not just as rappers and singers, but as C.E.O.s, businessmen and women, make-up artists, Public Relation Specialists, etc. “Empire,” unlike any show thus far, explores the complex nature of homosexuality in the (black) family, which Dr. Watkins and some others consider the emasculation of the black man—and what I consider more of that same ol’ homophobia masquerading as afrocentric thinking. …Black academia spends too much time worrying about how white folk view us! Though it may be their job to take us to task, they come off as worrisome and bullying to say the least. Black people are not just “ratchet” and white people know this! We in da White House and da Trap House! We are multidimensional and multi-layered and multi-complexed (Is that a word?)"
Don't get it twisted! Khalil Amani is no Empire bandwagon jumper when it comes to dealing with homophobia! I fell in-love with the show off the rip! Empire is an extension of what I've been doing since 2007, as evidenced by me being on this 2008 cover of DJ Kay Slay's, Straight Stuntin Magazine, asking the poignant question, "Why Gay Hip-Hop/Rap?" If you don't know, now you know!
And so, last night’s episode (April 24, 2019) really touched me and inspired me to pen this essay. In that episode, Jussie Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon “jumps the broom”—gets married to his on-screen love interest—and man from across the pond (England)—in a beautiful ceremony in which his mother and father walked him down the aisle—but it is not without drama leading up to the moment. Jamal’s father, Lucious Lyon, played by Terrence Howard wrestled with the idea of walking his son down the aisle in a gay marriage ceremony.
From the beginning, Lucious had an issue with his son’s femininity. As a child, Lucious had caught his son wearing high-heels and for that—a young Jamal was tossed into a garbage can as punishment. Like many of us, who can clearly see a gay child from a mile away, Lucious, a rising hood star could not see himself fathering a gay son and resorted to physical violence against his son whenever his son’s “gayness” reared its ugly head.
From those violent beginnings, Lucious was now being asked—or rather ordered by his wife, Cookie that he better not upset or disrespect or embarrass his son by his unwillingness to walk his son down the aisle in a gay wedding ceremony. Granted, Lucious had come a long way in accepting his son’s sexuality; for Jamal, the gay child proved to be a masculine child—even a “gangsta” in previous episodes, going so far as to beat up a man in dealing with family interests and even taking a bullet for his father. Jamal was no stereotypical effeminate homosexual man—and more and more, daddy dearest, Lucious Lyon saw that his son, even while being gay, was no effeminate pushover. Jamal could "get busy" when necessary! Lucious saw that the child that he had once put in a garbage can, in spite of his tormented childhood was loyal to his father and the family business and wanted nothing more than his father's love and acceptance.
Lucious’s problem with walking his gay son down the aisle stemmed from the idea that there is a “gay agenda”—A “gay mafia”—some phantom movement to make gayness normative. He did not want to be part of someone’s grand master plan and used like a puppet. He saw his son’s gay marriage as perhaps having greater implications than simple love betwixt two men. This is what he wrestled with—"Do I deny my son’s request to walk him down the aisle and not validate his marriage and stand strong against the unseen forces of this phantom 'gay agenda'—or do I do the right thing and support my son and walk him down the aisle and make this the happiest day of his life—putting aside my insecurities and conspiratorial ideas and notions and be a loving father?"
In the end, Lucious did walk his gay son down the aisle with his mother. He had time to reflect on his egregious child-rearing (and Cookie’s threats!) and decided that his love for his son trumped (Damn! I hate using that word now!)--Lucious's love for his son outweighed any outside influences. Lucious Lyon, as far as his family is concerned, had caused him to evolve from a cold-blooded disciplinarian and rabid homophobic nepotist to accepting a gay son—and another son out of wedlock, while embracing a new son-in-law.
Empire’s gay wedding was epic, thought-provoking, socially relevant and a game-changer! Empire’s gay wedding lessened the homophobia in our culture and caused some of us to rethink our homophobia—and deal with gay loved one’s in a more understanding, tolerant and humane way. We will look back on this episode the same way we viewed 1967’s movie, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner—starring (a black) Sidney Poitier who planned to marry into a white family—a movie where America wrestled with race relations—miscegenation—race-mixing—interracial marriage—and like Empire’s character Cookie Lyons, who coerced her husband into accepting his gay son’s “lifestyle” choice (of course, being gay is not a choice!)—in the 1967 movie, it was another woman, Katharine Hepburn who also proved to be a powerful force in convincing her (white) husband (Spencer Tracy) to accept the fact that his daughter was in-love with a black man—and that she was going to marry him—with or without her father’s permission and blessing.
Yes! The parallels between yesteryear’s racism and coming to terms with interracial marriage and today’s homophobia and coming to terms with same-gender-loving people sharing their lives in a world where they are afforded every right that heterosexuals enjoy is our utopian idea of a First-World, Free & Democratic society. Empire is doing its part in addressing our present-day social “shit-uation.”
The idea that there is a “gay agenda”—that there are people sitting at a roundtable strategizing on how to make gayness normative—like there’s a “gay mafia”—a secret society of gay folk who are hell-bound on turning America gay is conspiracy theory at its bullshittist-ness! Are people pushing to make homosexuality normative in our society? Absolutely! And rightly so! But more than calling it a back alley, closed door, covert, “agenda”—the demonization of same-gender-loving people to achieve civil & human rights is simply America’s willingness to grow past the archaic and antiquated stereotypes that have plagued our gay countrymen and women since forever.
As much as some blacks have a problem with people comparing the Gay Rights Movement with the Civil Rights Movement—comparatively speaking, similar overtones exist. The idea that the larger populace (white America) wanted to keep black folk as second-class citizens, as many white folk echoed sentiments of “black agenda” and making interracial relationships and integration—normative. Similarly, today, some black folk have learned from their own oppression and have picked up the mantle of bigotry and gift-wrapped it for another segment of our population—the gays—and then got to justifying their homophobia, arguing that race is God-given and sexuality is chosen—that you can’t change the color of your skin, but you can change your sexuality—whom you are attracted to. I’m still waiting for a straight person to prove me wrong and become gay and show us that you can change your sexuality. I mean, ask yourself, straight person, “Did you choose to be straight? Can you choose at any given time to change your straightness for some gayness? If I gave you a million dollars could you be gay for a month?” If not, why the hell would you presume that the opposite is true—that the gay person can change to straight?
Some black folk act like they have a monopoly on struggle. "My struggle is greater than yours! I'm born black! You choose to be gay! Don't compare your sexual struggle with my civil right's struggle!" In ignorance, they fall back on Dr. King's Civil Right's Movement and say that the Gay Right's Movement piggybacked off Dr. King's movement without understanding and/or knowing that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr's. "movement" of civil nonviolent disobedience is a borrowing, yea, a theft of India's Mahatma Gandhi's nonviolent protest movement of "Satyagraha." I say, "All movements needs maximum attention!"
They say, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” If this be the case, then Empire is leading the charge in reshaping our thinking. How many parents are wrestling with an LGBTQ child? How many parents have thrown away a child simply because of their sexuality? How many parents have nothing to do with their gay child? How many parents have allowed religious beliefs and social customs to drive and control their thinking against a gay child? Lucious Lyon throwing his feminine-acting child in a trash can for fear that he is gay represents the symbolic and symptomatic sickness that many of us have towards gay people. Some of us are just that sick and though we may not literally throw our gay kid on a garbage heap, mentally, we throw them away. Do you know a parent who's thrown away a gay child--or a transgender child? I do.
Pope Francis recently stated, “There are people that prefer to select or discard people, because of the adjective, [of being gay]” ...These people don’t have a human heart.”
Never do some people realize that when social customs and religious ideology take precedence over innate love between parents and gay children—who’s really being controlled? Empire challenges that control of the mind that has been placed in the box of what’s normative. Lucious Lyon proves that innate love between parents and children trumps the worst of society’s inhumanity towards humanity.
In the end, Empire’s gay wedding is a microcosm of our macrocosm society dealing with homosexuality. We are being taught how to love without limitation—without fear or reprisal—without custom and convention. Empire is teaching us that love is the greatest force in the Universe! This is Empire’s transcendent message! Love trumps all!
Author, poet, essayist, blogger, troll, satirist, cultural critic, freethinker, father, grandfather, husband & C.O.O.N (Consciously Optimistic, Overtly, Nihilistic), Khalil Amani is "Gay hip-hop's Straight Advocate." A Miami native who's written for Allhiphop.com and DJ Kay Slay’s, Straight Stuntin Magazine. He’s been featured in L.A. Times, Miami New Times, Miami Herald, The Denver Post, Thump/Vice/Noisey.com, Forward, Spin Magazine, DaveyD.com, DJ Kay Slay's Streetsweeper Sirius XM Radio Show, The Opperman Report, Star Chamber, Sa NeterTV, CBS's, "West 57th Street" (1988), The Biography Channel's, "I Survived a Cult" (2010), The Biography Channel's, "Escaping Evil: My Life in a Cult" (2013) and 2018's, ID (Investigation Discovery) Channel in conjunction with People Magazine "Cults," on Oxygen Channel's, "Uncovered: The Cult of Yahweh Ben Yahweh" and in a special edition of People Magazine on cults. In 2019 Amani also has interviews at InTouchWeekly, Foxnews.com and Newsweek.com. Amani is the author of seven books, including the groundbreaking “Hip-Hop Homophobes...” (iuniverse.com ’07). Khalil was the first media person to write about the allegations surrounding Afrika Bambaataa allegedly getting stabbed for date-raping a young man in 2013 and is in the upcoming documentary on the Afrika Bambaataa allegations, Trapped in a Culture. Amani majored in English and Black Studies at San Diego Mesa College and the University of Nebraska. Follow on IG @khalil_amani, Facebook, Twitter @khalilamani. Email @email@example.com