Azealia Banks might've just reached for her Poland Spring bottle. Like supposed Republican savior Marco Rubio, who blew his State of the Union response less for reciting long-disproven ideas than for un-presidentially lunging toward the nearest water source, the New York rapper has an appearance problem at what should be her crowning moment. Using a homophobic slur doesn't make Banks homophobic, it's true. But using that homophobic slur again and again, and dismissing as old-fashioned anyone who claims to be offended by it? Well, that sure makes a person look homophobic. And it could be a career-damaging problem as the seriously talented MC continues to keep us waiting for her major-label debut.
Yesterday, Banks revealead a scorching rap remix of Baauer's so-viral-right-now trap-house instrumental "Harlem Shake." After the song got pulled from Soundcloud, she tweeted at the Brooklyn producer, who replied that "its nor ur song lol." Banks' retorts got progressively uglier, from "you're a pussy" to "all of you niggas need to grab each others dicks in a circle jerk." Then the admittedly loathsome celebrity blogger Perez Hilton, a previous target of homophobic slurs by Banks, stuck his nose in, prompting her to call him an "evil faggot." Then she went to that next level, telling Baauer and two other DJs they could go "drown in faggotry."
In the cold, harsh light of the morning, Banks has tried to shift the terms of the debate from her own colossal insensitivity to simple freedom of speech. That's the same approach she took the last time she hit Hilton with the anti-gay F-bomb, when she drew criticism from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and it worked out well for her then, at least in the short-term: Her sales got a boost. And she actually is right that it's hypocritical to an extent to target her for her slurs when, for instance, Tyler, the Creator's widely praised new video also uses an anti-gay slur without having caused much uproar — then again, Banks of all people should know the difference between language in a rap song and language in real life.
But Banks' ongoing use of homophobic slurs, and her dorm-room-style musings about the word's place in society, have grown to be arguably worse than offensive: They're boring. And she. just. won't. stop. tweeting. Her latest tweets, surely out of date by the time you read this, almost admit defeat, pathetically reciting clichés about agreeing to disagree and everybody having their own beliefs right after she implied everyone who disagrees with her is living in 1905.
Lets just all agree to disagree.— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) February 15, 2013
We are all entitled to our own truths. :)— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) February 15, 2013
Banks' defense, to the extent that she articulates it, is that outrage over our culture's no-no words is largely phony and that nowadays these words are everywhere in movies, music, web postings, and unfiltered speech, where they're often used not in a hateful sense but for their verbal power. She tweeted: "Here we go again. Everyone pretending to be so shocked and moved by the word faggot." And then: "It's like society is so bored with itself it needs to hold on to these outdated rules of what you can say and cannot say."
Everyones always acting like its fucking 1905 in this bitch— YUNG RAPUNXEL (@AZEALIABANKS) February 15, 2013
Banks' own tweets, however, undermine that defense. In the midst of calling for a cultural shift, she really put her foot in it, tweeting: "Why has society accepted 'nigger' As a colloquialism ... But will not accept 'faggot'?" And then: "What is your definition of the word faggot?" And then: "Faggot means coward, liar, backstabber......." And then: "Energy stealer, blood sucker." And, ugh, then: "Perez tries to get every gay person all riled up when the only faggot I see ........ is him." It's about this time her tone altered and she might've figured out she went too far.
Look, Banks isn't wrong that fake outrage is an epidemic in our society. That fake-patois Volkswagen ad wasn't racist. Movies like Django Unchained have shifted the conversation about the "N word." We'd probably almost all agree that even if Jack White did sing the word "fuck" during the Grammy Awards on Sunday night, it wouldn't be a big deal; that's one of the many reasons Mumford & Sons still suck. And Banks, as an African-American woman previously honored by gay-advocacy group GLAAD for coming out as bisexual, has grown accustomed to using potentially offensive language in her music, from the familiar "N word" to the less-often-used "cunt." It makes sense that she would wonder why an anti-gay slur is out of bounds.
But just, no. As with the first time Banks used that word, it's still not okay to use a hateful slur against a person who would traditionally be the target of that slur, even if that person is Perez Hilton. We don't get to decide who may be offended by what we say, and words really can hurt people. Contrary to Banks' tweets, the "N word" is definitely not acceptable for white people to say: Just look at what happened when John Mayer, in an interview that was horrendously insensitive for many other reasons, used the word only in the context of saying he wasn't allowed to use it. And we'll leave it to shows like Louie, whose star Louis CK himself raises issues by using these words, to explain why "faggot" is such a terrible thing to call a gay man.
It's worth bearing in mind that this all began when Hilton sided with another gifted New York rapper, Angel Haze, in what SPIN deemed the "Worst Beef Ever." Yes, Banks got a brief sales boost then, and there's always the old adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity. But we listen to Banks, who appeared on SPIN's cover, because she's a thrillingly ratatat rapper in the old New York style, with an ear for up-to-the-minute dance music. Not because she tweets terrible things at bloggers or muses cleverly about words that are hurtful not to her, but to a whole group of others. Banks versus Hilton: Worst Twitter feud ever.