Come Get Your Man: Rickey Smiley’s Dress Problem
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Come Get Your Man: Rickey Smiley’s Dress Problem

Too many famous Black men are so fearful that they…

Rickey Smiley’s contribution to the recent outpouring of stupidity from famous Black men on sexuality and gender is not the most brutish example, but considering the massive platform he has, it may be the most damaging. In a now-deleted tweet originally posted on Monday, the radio and television personality shared a meme that argued the U.S. vilifies Black boys and men for certain characteristics, such as having locs and wearing hoodies, but celebrates those same Black men and boys when they don attire deemed “feminine.” The meme concluded: “#SocialEngineering.”

Very few things remind me that a game show host is president of the United States better than the constant reminder that so many people think a meme is the best way to weigh in on nuanced, complex issues like depictions of Black men in mass media. No matter how absurd that sounds on paper, (and even worse aloud, FYI) y’all do it anyway. Not to sound like a Gulf Coast elitist, but I am fascinated by some of you daffy-ass people who share memes that would make most third-grade English teachers curse in disgust.

Alas, I regret to inform Rickey Smiley that simply putting on a dress does not make you America’s new best friend. He ought to know: I’ve seen him try it.

Smiley’s meme — the first half, anyway — was referring to DeAndre Arnold, a Texas teenager who gained national attention when his high school demanded that he cut off his locs in order to walk at graduation. Smiley’s rage on that count is perfectly justifiable; enough stories like Arnold’s have surfaced in recent years to remind us that some people and institutions remain strangely invested in how Black folks wear their hair.

However, directing his anger at queer and trans folk is just the latest example of how some Black men react to racism not by calling out White bigotry, but instead perpetuating that bigotry — by vilifying and victimizing the most vulnerable. As I wrote in response to Smiley’s tweet at the time, it’s that very reaction that has led to so many Black trans women being murdered and so many queer Black boys dying of suicide.

Alas, I regret to inform Smiley that simply putting on a dress does not make you America’s new best friend. He ought to know that: I’ve seen him try it. Irony is dead, but hypocrisy sure knows how to show up and show out, don’t it?

To our collective detriment, Smiley’s not alone in this poorly conceived line of thinking. Weeks before his Twitter fingers moved faster than his brain, Pastor Troy emerged from the dust of 2002 to whine about Lil Nas X and the neon pink, custom Versace lewk he wore to the Grammy Awards.

Many of a more evolved state of thinking told Troy to shut his goofy ass the hell up, but via Instagram, he explained, “The Only X I Respect is Malcolm.” So, about that

Pastor Troy complaining about what Lil Nas X wears recalls Lord Jamar complaining about what Young Thug wore. The same goes for previous gripes about Jaden Smith in a dress. And so on. These fragile men and their pathetic fears about the perceived effort to “feminize the Black man” are not new, but they are more dangerous than ever in the Trump era, which has seen a sharp rise in anti-LGBTQ violence.

In the case of Smiley, he is the successor to the legendary Tom Joyner and his show, The Tom Joyner Morning Show. The show wasn’t merely the soundtrack for our rides to school way back when, but a vitally important program that directly reached and influenced Black America throughout its 25-year run. For Smiley to endorse a line of thinking that is not only false but adds to the stigmatization of our most vulnerable Black people suggests he will not build on Joyner’s legacy so much as he plans to soil it.

Smiley may have deleted the tweet, but a bigger man would offer an apology. And if he wants to advocate for Arnold, a better example to follow would be the one set by Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, who invited the high schooler and his mother to attend the 2020 Academy Awards. In fact, if I could think of any straight Black man in the public space to emulate right now—one who is speaking out about issues as it relates to handling topics that might be foreign—it would be Wade.

For months now, he and Union have been publicly celebrating their child previously known as Zion Wade, but who now goes by Zaya.

During his appearance on Ellen in promotion of his upcoming ESPN documentary, D. Wade: Life Unexpected, Wade shared how he came to accept his child’s gender identity. “Now it’s our job to one, go out and get information, to reach out to every relationship that we have,” he said. “We’re just trying to figure out as much information as we can to make sure that we give our child the best opportunity to be her best self.”

Many queer and trans folks will tell you that while we’re all sold on the belief that love is unconditional, not everyone can be sure of their family's unyielding love. To see someone of Wade’s stature speak with compassion and acceptance for a Black child who expresses an identity outside of conventional binary terms is a marvel — and has felt like a call of support for so many more of us.

People like me and others in the community can and will continue to speak out and bring awareness to our humanity. But our straight allies — specifically straight Black men — need to be more out in front, if for no other reason than they are more likely to victimize us than anyone else. If that fact haunts you, check your brother, not the rest of us.

Starting with the likes of Boosie Badazz, who decided to weigh in on Wade’s child by saying, “Dwayne Wade, you’ve gone too fuckin’ far dawg, that is a male… a 12-year-old.” The rest of what he said was equally clueless, highlighting that Americans, generally speaking, have little interest in sexual education and that people, more often than not, don’t know when to shut up.

I’m about to tiptoe into the back half of my thirties, and I recognize that sassing Boosie could potentially threaten that. Boosie’s Bad Azz gotta be quiet anyway. This is the same man who wanted to pay an older woman to molest his 14-year-old son. He’s also defended R. Kelly and Bill Cosby, so yeah, let’s shimmy on by this Negro.

More than anything, though, I’m tired of writing about ignorant Black men who remind me of stupid, racist White men. I want straight Black men to be better because I know they’re capable of it. I want them to extend the same courtesy to everyone else in the Black community that so many of us give to them: To be compassionate, to be respectful, and to be welcoming.

And if they are unable to do so, if human decency is too much to ask of them, may we at least find better, bigger men like Wade to help drown their nonsense out. And if you’re Rickey Smiley in particular, maybe you can take time now to pause and reassess. If memory serves, the world never ended when you put on a dress.