Language Lessons

January 15, 2013

Being 21, rising New York rapper Azealia Banks tweets a lot.

Banks, known for the 2011 viral hit “212,” is openly bi — new terrain for hip-hop. The gay world brings its own linguistic landmines. Like the N-word, terms are coded and use has much to do with ownership.

About a week ago, Banks got into it on Twitter with rapper Angel Haze. Perez Hilton jumped in, and Banks called him “a messy faggot.” She described the slur as “any male who acts like a female.” And said: “As a bisexual person I knew what I meant when I used that word.”

GLAAD condemned Banks, and rumors flew that Interscope threatened to drop her. (Her first full album, “Broke with Expensive Taste,” is due this year.)

This is not a good look for Banks. It mostly makes her look immature not very media-savvy. However, as a fellow queer, I see the layers at play. She took a white, powerful, mainstream-gay man down a peg with a word that would be considered “reading” (dressing down) in a gay club — which Twitter is not. It did not translate well at all, and she’s the one who looks messy. Banks got policed hard by the wider world while Perez (who, by the way, called that word in 2009) successfully calculated the publicity boost.

Most depressing to me, though, is that, even gay to gay, the worst thing Banks could think of to call a man was a woman.

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