America is not post-racial, especially if you’re gay. Of the many lessons learned from Sunday night’s performance of “Roman’s Holiday”at the Grammys by Nicki Minaj, the loudest and most poignant is that the Brooklyn-born dramatist-turned-rapper can’t and never will be the black Lady Gaga. Arguably, Gaga’s turn as “Mother Monster” – a super-heroine for the gay community – is her most endearing evolution. Nicki’s “Roman” clearly owes much to that creation. Minaj’s alter ego is a wild, boisterously gay male in a drag queen’s clothing. “Roman’s” Grammy stage debut was a case of too much, too soon. It’s noble of Minaj and her handlers to believe that gay freedoms gained in the Obama administration now allow for the exploration of gay stereotypes in a public forum. However, in creating Nicki as a separate creation from Gaga, the difference between black and white acceptance of homosexuality is broached, and thus opens the door to either the daring career move or career suicide of Sunday night’s performance.
There’s still a difference between the public handling of black and white homosexuality in America. For “Roman” to debut as a black Catholic man in danger of having his gay freedoms exorcised away is not a fictitious tale. Religion plays a dominant role in the black community. Hearkening to the days of slavery, in religion being seen as black liberation theology, it held more currency than government. Thus, if the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination against God, then it’s not just immoral, it’s illegal, too. Minaj’s performance was bold, but the backlash shouldn’t be amazing either. Black gays still suffer in silence. As the last bastion of silently accepted segregation left in black America, the world will not suffer Nicki Minaj as an African-American gay heroine. Rather, in a nation defined by adherence to the most backwards of notions for the most inane of reasons, black gays have been socialized into fear of Minaj, still knowing little else than to suffer in shadows and quietude.
Conversely, it is a great time to be white and gay in America. Intriguingly enough, the reactions to Gaga’s public embrace of homosexuals versus Nicki’s moment of mainstream homosexual acceptance speak volumes to this fact. Gaga’s 2011 paean “Born This Way” shot to number one and registered appreciation instead of derision. White female pop stars accepting gay liberation is so entrenched in pop music that it almost feels like a stereotype. Black mainstream stars as gay positive icons is a less than stellar history. Yes, Sylvester was a black drag queen with a golden voice, Diana Ross sang “I’m Coming Out” and Grace Jones STILL owes much of her success to her all-encompassing sexuality, but there was nothing so vitriolic about their presence. Lightweight pop songs can’t hold a candle to what Minaj did on Sunday night. A caterwauling banshee of fashion and drama, it was Stonewall-style angst for the electro age.
Black female pop stars mirror still staid African-American socio-political norms. Sensual matriarchs of the culture, they are Aretha Franklin, Salt-N-Pepa and TLC. They also aren’t as embracing of all norms as they may seem. At the end of the day, Aretha still wants a man to treat her like a “Natural Woman” in a very heterosexual and consensual way. Salt-N-Pepa are still “talkin’ about (heterosexual) sex” and TLC still want the “Red Light Special” from a penile-vaginal relationship. Not only is Nicki not traditionally sensual, she is not a traditional matriarch either. At the end of Minaj’s performance, she’s crucified for her sins in the blackest of ways. As a sinner against church dogma, especially homosexual dogma, she’s also breaking the highest of laws, thus deserving to die.
These are strange times. The election of Barack Obama stands as the single greatest achievement in American history. Many African-Americans have seen the election as an invite to freedoms they once felt were tangentially related to their lives. However, freedom from a government that always made you feel wrong does not necessarily equate to freedom from rules and regulations that always made you feel right. When the moment arrives that black America realizes that their America no longer demands to be governed by the ideal of church as state but rather church AND state, only then will we appreciate Nicki Minaj. Until that point, instead of “Roman’s revenge?” Minaj sadly must become “Roman revised.”