Sometimes so much progress can be made on certain issues that ignorance feels like a thing of the past. We can mistake silence on a particular topic for progress. We completely forget that covert forms of discrimination also exist. However, every now and then, something overt happens that wakes all of us up.
That overt incident occurred this past weekend and it came courtesy of the popular artist DaBaby.
DaBaby was performing on stage at the Rolling Loud festival in Miami on Sunday night. During his set, the rapper made statements that upset many, particularly HIV positive individuals and people within the LGBTQ+ community.
"If you didn't show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases, that'll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cellphone lighter up," he said. "Ladies, if your pussy smell like water, put your cellphone lighter up. Fellas, if you ain't sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cell phone lighter up. Let's keep it real."
The part that made everyone scratch their heads was when DaBaby said HIV/AIDS would kill you in a matter of weeks. What decade does he think we're living in? He must realize that medication has improved greatly since the eighties. While affordability is still a major issue for people, especially when it comes to health insurance, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. Pushing this extremely frightening false narrative is harmful and will only perpetuate homophobia.
Believe it or not, many people still think AIDS is a gay disease. DaBaby's comments prove that. His willful ignorance is something that lives inside others too. Not to mention the influence he has on his younger, ill-informed fans. Unfortunately, when a harmful stereotype gains enough traction, it's very difficult to rid society from it completely. This kind of generalization gave way to ugly homophobia in the eighties. Gay men were being told on their deathbed that they were being punished for living a sinful lifestyle.
DaBaby's response to the controversy did nothing to disprove these beliefs, quite the contrary. He claimed that none of his gay fans were sexually irresponsible, so they don't have AIDS. First of all, such claims are nonsensical, as one can become infected any number of ways. What if someone was the victim of sexual assault? Second of all, this plays right into the kind of homophobia which blamed gay men for their diagnosis all those years ago. You would think our culture would've learned not to judge or treat people differently because of their HIV status.
It's quite scary to see how little has changed.
The most infuriating part of this entire saga, however, was T.I.'s response. He claimed that DaBaby should be able to speak "his truth" the same way Lil Nas X does. Newsflash: DaBaby's "truth" is very different than Nas' truth. One person is judging and generalizing about an entire group of people. Another is merely trying to express himself artistically and increase representation in mainstream popular music.
This is another homophobic attitude we've seen and heard far too much. Our very existence is threatening to homophobes. They feel as if we're taking away their rights by just asking to be treated equally. What T.I. may not realize is that DaBaby, like every other American citizen, has the right to free speech. However, he isn't necessarily free from consequences.
When public figures say things of this nature, a lot of people call for them to be cancelled. I don't think cancelling people serves any real purpose. First of all, it never lasts. People who are "cancelled" always manage to continue their careers once the dust settles. And the dust always settles. Second of all, it escalates to a place that loses focus on the issue at hand. It becomes less about defending a marginalized group and more about going after public figures.
Besides, this is the hip hop community we're talking about. This kind of ignorance and homophobia is so commonplace and accepted in that world. We've got a long way to go before this sort of rhetoric is widely condemned by the majority of the people within hip hop. Hopefully, we reach that day sooner rather than later. But, unfortunately, we're not there yet.
If this incident should teach us anything, it's that education is very important. However, another important part of the equation is the desire to be educated. If an ignorant person like DaBaby isn't open to being educated, very little progress will be made. Based on his response, that sadly seems to be the case. Unfortunately, this kind of mentality will always exist among certain people. But we must not be comfortable with the apparent progress we've made.
We must continue to educate and continue to make our voices heard. And while cancelling people on a mass level might not work, it's more than okay not to support an artist if you choose to. I certainly won't be listening to DaBaby's music any time soon, or T.I.'s for that matter. At the end of the day, issues like HIV/AIDS still need to be discussed. I hope this story teaches us a lesson; don't buy into the illusion that everything is suddenly okay. There is always work to be done.