What Azealia Banks said, what Azealia Banks meant, and why she's not a homophobe

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A zealia Banks, controversial wünderkind rapper extraordinaire, has called another man a faggot.

Late Monday night, while disembarking from a flight from New York City to L.A., Banks became involved in a confrontation with another passenger whom, she claims, hit her in the face while she tried to exit. According to Banks, the problems began when she tried to squeeze past a man and his wife while they were standing in the aisle of the plane attempting to grab their bag from overhead storage.

When Banks tried to slide by the man, she says, he physically struck her, pushing her back in her seat, and prompting her to lash out against him. While there is no footage of the confrontation between Banks and the other passenger, an onlooker managed to record Banks's subsequent interactions with a fight attendant, another white man.


In the video posted by TMZ Banks repeatedly states that she wants to leave the plane, but the flight attendant refuses to let her, or her luggage go. The two tug on the bag with both the attendant and Banks yelling at one another.

When the plane's pilot comes out to inquire about the commotion, Banks explains what happened between her and the other passengers. The video ends with Banks calling the flight attendant a faggot.

As one might expect, much of the gay internet was furious.

This isn't the first time Banks has dropped the f-bomb and it probably won't be the last. Back in 2013, Banks called Perez Hilton a "messy faggot" after the pair exchanged words with one another via Twitter. Hilton cried foul and accused Banks of being homophobic.


Banks responded that her use of the f-word had nothing to do with Hilton's sexual preference, but rather to do with what she perceived as his feigning (or at least improperly performing) femininity.

Banks later elaborated that her idea of "faggotry" referenced misogynistic men:

“The shit they say about women behind their backs, it’s like: ‘Wow, oh my God!’ You can be a straight faggot, you can be a gay faggot," Banks told the Guardian. "A faggot is anybody that hates women."


As flag-raising as Banks's use of the word has been for some, her defence of her continued use of it has remained relatively consistent. Banks, who is openly bisexual, has drawn comparisons between the way that she says "faggot" to the way that some of her gay male fans use words like "bitch" and "cunt" in reference to her.

The words, she's asserted, act much like double-edged swords. Wielded one way (amongst friends) they're terms of endearment, wielded the other, they become epithets.


Taken at face value, it's easy to see how people could flat-out mistake Banks for a homophobe, but as Rich Juzwiack points out at Gawker, there are a number of things about her identity  and honesty about her word choice that make it difficult to really pin that label on her unless you really want to.


"[Banks's use of the word] struck me as an overly comfortable invocation of an epithet that is not hers to reclaim, a sign that she considers herself so down that she is allowed to say what most people are not," Juzwiack reasoned. "You think she never heard her "cunts" call each other faggots jokingly?"


A quick search through the KuntBrigade, Banks's digital fanbase, bears Juzwiack's hypothesis out. There are plenty of self-identified gay men who engage with Banks positively using language that, in other contexts, could be read as sexist or homophobic.

Understanding the specific nuances of another person's relationship to a culture or idea is next to impossible. It's completely reasonable that gay men unfamiliar with Banks's language and relationships might be offended by her word choice. But writing her off as a garden variety homophobe isn't just unfair, it's reductive.


One of the deeper issues at hand here is that the critiques of Banks's supposed homophobia have overshadowed the fact that she was physically overpowered by a number of white men on camera.

No one seems to realize how that might make her deeply uncomfortable and lash out in ways meant to hurt someone.


Though the person who caught Banks on camera tussling with the flight attendant denies that the rapper was ever touched, there's no reason to assume that she isn't telling the truth. If Banks was pushed out of the way by another passenger, then she had every right to be more than upset at the way she'd been treated.


A s ugly and difficult to hear as the word "faggot" may be for some to hear, it shouldn't preclude our ability to recognize that Banks was in distress and no one seemed to care.

Was it wrong of her to call that man a faggot? Yeah, ultimately it was, because she doesn't know what that word means to him.


But were we right to let the spectre of actual homophobia dominate this conversation? No. All too often the concerns of black, queer women are set to the side and considered irrelevant.

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