Superbowl Sunday should’ve just been another big ish talking day for Roland Martin. The CNN commentator and Tom Joyner Morning Show regular spends about 20 percent of his Twitter time talking smack about sports. Yet it was a commercial featuring soccer superstar David Beckham in his underwear that put Martin on the field next to M.I.A., vying for most offensive sideline foul.
Tweeting like most of us tend to do-off the cuff and in the moment- Martin wrote “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him!#superbowl“. A few days following the game, CNN has announced that Martin would be suspended for an indefinite amount of time, citing his words as “regrettable and offensive.”
The statement is just so much masculinity posturing-a visceral reaction to an homoerotic ad of male flesh created to excite about one hundred million male viewers. The image of Beckham in his tighty-whities ranked #1 in an analysis of social media comments; a study showed that of the 109k viewers who tweeted or updated their Facebook status about Beckham, 83% were women. Alas, it was Martin’s tweet that caught the ire of GLAAD, who linked Martin’s comment to a pattern of equally offensive calls to violence by Martin, most notably his defense of Tracy Morgan after the comedian talked about stabbing his son should he come out of the closet as gay.
There’s not a person on Twitter with more than a hundred tweets that hasn’t tweeted something that they later came to regret, but Martin’s first response to being singled out was a passive aggressive non-apology. He said that he was sorry that folks took what he is now calling an attack on soccer fans (as opposed to fans of Beckham’s abs), the wrong way: “…I’m sorry folks took it otherwise.”
Martin later offered a more sincere apology, in which he says that he understands his homophobic remarks to be offensive because of their call to bullying (not because they were, well, homophobic). This statement seemed in part to be a reaction to the fact that GLAAD was readying a petition calling for Martin to be fired as a commentator on CNN.
Some of Roland Martin’s nearly 100k followers took him to task, either on the non-contrite apology or the remarks itself, but many more came to his defense, claiming Martin was yet another victim of the “gay power structure” who are overly sensitive to even the most benign humor.
Black humor, particularly the signifying kind, the name calling and bullying we call “the dozens”, is often barbed. Like comedy in the traditional English royal court, unspeakable political views evade punishment so long as they are delivered with panache. But humor can also be a place where pathologies become normalized in dangerous ways.
For all his efforts, Martin is no comedian. Tracy Morgan’s routine, which nearly cost him his job on NBC’s “30 Rock”, invoked both a conditional, homophobic parental love (recently dramatized in Dee Rees’ Pariah) and the plight of thousands of Black and homeless gay teenagers across the country. Again, Martin isn’t a comic; he’s someone who ostensibly advocates—through public analysis of news and politics—for social justice.
In their critique of Martin, GLAAD reprinted an editorial by Martin many had missed, in which he recounts how his pastor wife has ministered gay men and women from her congregation away from their sin and into a life of chastity. The “pray away the gay” kind of preaching Michelle Bachmann’s husband claimed worked during the Republican primaries.
Martin, of course, would never self-identify as homophobic. There is always the literal meaning of the word, where religious homophobes point out that they don’t fear homosexuals, they only fear for their souls (which are damned to Hell per their interpretation of the Bible). That there are other abominations in the Bible that likewise sentence one to an eternity in Hell-among them adultery and fornication, both practiced far more widely than homosexuality in any church-hasn’t prevented prominent members of the Black church from raising the “sin” of homosexuality to a place of particular focus. Still, even those who identify a pattern of homophobia in Martin’s public remarks think GLAAD may have gone too far in calling for his firing (his suspension from CNN was surely a result of pressure from the organization).
Maybe GLAAD recognizes that it has long come from a place of privilege as an organization and decided to react to Martin’s more sincere second apology by extending an invitation to meet with him. Any such meeting is unlikely to change Martin’s mind about homosexuality as a sin, but he does seem ready to be more mindful than a comedian when it comes to calls to violence.
Perhaps now the main attraction will be the multiple issues raised by Martin’s comments. There are people reading this now wondering ‘What violence?’, as the threshold for violence is so high that even the idea of smacking “the ish out of” someone hardly registers (in an ironic twist, Martin considers cursing offensive, hence the “ish”). It’s also worth noting that the timing of Martin’s “joke” is made even more troublesome as it was immediately followed by a viral video of a Black gay man being brutally beaten in Atlanta.
As a community, we must continue to press for a culture free of hypocrisy and condemnation. And we have to press for sensitivity from our community leaders, within our churches and where ever there is gay bashing. The idea that sexists or homophobes can never be oppressors because they themselves are oppressed by racism is a non-argument. Black homophobes should and must be called out to create a safe community for all us sinners.
dream hampton has written about culture for 20 years. She’s a mother, an activist and an award-winning filmmaker. She lives in Detroit. Follow her on Twitter: @dreamhampton