Azealia Banks and the tangled web of privilege

She’s at it again and is still not sorry. Where does Azealia Banks as a ‘black bisexual woman’ fit into the theory of social privilege? Lee Williscroft-Ferris discusses.


The last few years have seen the dawn of a new age of social conscience, based on the notion that most of us, whether we realise it or not, enter the world with a modicum of ‘privilege’. Generally speaking, this concept is employed most powerfully when demonstrating how this privilege manifests itself in the lived reality of oppressed minorities. When successful, it makes those willing to listen and learn think about their place in an incredibly unequal world and what they should (and shouldn’t) do and say as a result of that position.

Nevertheless, there are times when privilege is wielded as a ‘get out of jail free’ card and in doing so, apologists for people like Azealia Banks do a disservice to a theory that could and should be a driver for the kind of societal change we so desperately need.

Generally speaking, this concept is employed most powerfully when demonstrating how this privilege manifests itself in the lived reality of oppressed minorities.

This week, footage emerged of Banks verbally abusing a Delta flight attendant. The video shows the rapper shouting ‘fucking faggot’ at the man in an altercation allegedly over one of Banks’s bags. This is not the first time the ‘212’ star has used the homophobic slur. Just last year, she was widely castigated, including by GLAAD, for using the term in a heated exchange with Perez Hilton. Now, just as in that case, Banks is entirely unapologetic, her reasoning being that she is bisexual, her brother trans, and many of her entourage gay.

Apologists for Banks, some more fervent than others, have taken two lines of defence. First, they claim that Banks’s bisexuality precludes her from exhibiting genuinely homophobic behaviour. In many ways, having a trans brother and a cacophony of gay men in your inner circle is utterly irrelevant. Even if we were to accept that Banks is not inherently homophobic, at the very least she is guilty of exhibiting the worst type of socially offensive, aggressive homophobic behaviour. In seeking to excuse her actions, we give our implicit approval to the idea that screaming ‘fucking faggot’ at someone in public is not the act of humiliation that we all know it is.

Even if we were to accept that Banks is not inherently homophobic, at the very least she is guilty of exhibiting the worst type of socially offensive, aggressive homophobic behaviour.

I am perturbed by those opining that Azealia Banks can not possibly be labelled as ‘homophobic’ or even be held to account for her actions on the grounds that she is a ‘bisexual black woman’. By highlighting Banks’s race within the context of the theory of privilege, her supporters are implying that a white man on the receiving end of her anger is somehow less of a victim. This is clearly nonsense, a perfect example of well-intentioned but overenthusiastic privilege warriors becoming tangled up in a web of hierarchical oppression of their own design.

Banks’s bisexuality is the factor most regularly cited in her defence. How can she possibly be homophobic when she herself is bi? While there is absolutely no doubt that biphobia is as real as it is damaging, when it is perpetrated by lesbian and gay people, it is often in the form of dismissiveness, the propagation of the myth that bi people are just ‘greedy’, ‘confused’ or ‘undecided’. I have yet to witness or read of an incident of a lesbian or gay man hurling biphobic abuse in anger. Be under no illusion; biphobia is pervasive, among straight and lesbian/gay people alike, and its more insidious nature makes it no less destructive or divisive. However, I would propose that historically, legally, culturally and socially, female bisexuality has been on a very different trajectory to male homosexuality. The truth of the matter is that a bisexual woman holding hands with her female partner is statistically overwhelmingly less likely to be verbally or physically assaulted than a MM couple. Bigots know nothing of the intricacies of privilege. The white gay/bi male couple beaten to the ground by a black heterosexual man are unlikely to console themselves with the knowledge that their assailant was arguably lower on the privilege pecking order.

Be under no illusion; biphobia is pervasive, among straight and lesbian/gay people alike.

The bottom line is this: Azealia Banks has form on this issue. She may not be inherently homophobic but her behaviour should be roundly condemned as anti-social, unpleasant and discriminatory. After all, the child coming to terms with their sexuality and hearing Banks hurl a homophobic slur at a flight attendant will be unable to unpick the complexities of context. The potential fallout is huge. She maintains that ‘faggot’ means something different to her; that it is an attack on a person’s perceived lack of ‘masculinity’ rather than their sexual preference. The irony of this is that she is admitting to using a homophobic slur to reaffirm archaic, warped interpretations of ‘what a man should be like’. That she thinks this explanation makes her actions any more defensible is ludicrous. She could simply stop appropriating the word for her own misplaced intentions and become the positive role model she once had the potential to be – and which the LGBTQ+ community so urgently needs.

Follow Lee on Twitter (@calamospondylus)

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