The Boondocks: Someone Teach Riley That Hate Speech Is Not Social Commentary

As I mentioned in the first piece I wrote about The Boondocks, much of it is excellent but quite a bit of it should be critiqued for the message that it sends.  Today the character I would like to focus on is Riley.  He is eight years old and is already a devout homophobe.  Everything around Riley confirms that not only is heterosexuality normal, but that there is something deviant about gay men.

The first episode I watched of The Boondocks was the Tyler Perry Winston Jerome  episode.  I wrote, I am no fan of Tyler Perry, but I think that the way in which this episode was constructed specifically attacks him for his alleged homosexuality, and this is indeed a problem.  Sexuality should never be used as a weapon to attack someone, no matter how vile we think he is. Unfortunately I was to learn after watching more episodes of The Boondocks that homophobia and hate speech are a mainstay.

The two words that Riley says the most are nigger and gay as a slur.  No one ever corrects him on his speech and yet he is eight years old. If a male sits next to him or shows any kind of physical attention is common response is nigga you gay.  He is quick to refer to an action as gay and clearly sees homosexuality as something real men don’t participate in.  If he says something affectionate about another man, he ends the sentence with no homo.

In  an episode entitled The story of Gangstalicious 2, the viewer is lead to believe that the point is to question the homophobia of rappers, but instead it felt like the point was that gay is the worst thing a person can be.  When Riley begins wearing Gagstalicious gear, Grand Dad and Uncle Ruckus begin to question his sexuality.  In fact, Uncle Ruckus says, “I’m sorry Robert, a gay grandson.  I can’t imagine anything worse than that”. As Robert begins to grimace, Uncle Ruckus continues with, “Wake up and smell the gay coffee.  All the evidence you could possibly need is right in front of your face.  It will only be a matter of time before that boys is a grown man, bent over a table with his pants around his ankles, being entered repeatedly by another man. Choo choo first train to faggotsville leaving in five minutes, through the chocolate tunnel hole.”

Robert is upset at the very thought of Riley being gay, that he contemplates moving him out to the garage. Think about what the child questioning his sexuality sees as he is watching this show.  Ze is being told that there is something wrong with them. Of course Robert reassures the audience by saying that he is not homophobic, but gay men give him the hebejebees.  How comforting is that?   McGruder may have thought that he was making some comment about the hypocrisy of gay rappers staying in the closet and then writing homophobic songs, but his show simply contributes to this behaviour.  If these men choose to hide their sexuality, it is not anybody’s business — and if they are perpetuating homophobia, it is for the GLBT community to deal with. You cannot use homophobia ironically or to teach a lesson about equality.

Many talk about the brilliant social commentary on The Boondocks, but when it comes to respecting the LGBT community, the overwhelming message is negative. When you have a character continually using the word gay as a slur, it certainly does not read as supportive of the BLGT community.  While there might be some point to be made regarding the homophobia of the rap community, McGruder is not the one to make it, when his other episodes are filled with anti-gay sentiment. When even Huey, the so-called sensible one can refer to being gay as a “lifestyle choice,” clearly there is a disconnect on what it means to be a true ally.

Despite the pervasiveness of homophobia in The Boondocks, it is something that is not adequately addressed in social justice circles.  Had a character on The Family Guy said no homo or that’s gay to the degree that Riley has, there would be constant discussion about how harmful this language is. Much of the negativity on The Boondocks is covered with humor or justified by the claim of making a larger social point, but every time McGrucder fails it is the marginalized body that fails

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One comment on “The Boondocks: Someone Teach Riley That Hate Speech Is Not Social Commentary
  1. kt says:

    Well Riley’s character is supposed to represent the media’s influence on black youth. He’s a caricature… you are supposed to think that his opinions are absurd. No one is glorifying homophobia in any way. His blunt homophobia acts as a societal critique of how the black community tends to marginalize queer people while in itself being a marginalized group.