Black Gay Pride and Prejudice

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Jason Johnson: This is a word, a podcast from Slate. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. It’s Pride Month, a time when LGBTQ Americans celebrate and look to strengthen civil rights for their community. But as Republicans villainize LGBTQ people and rhetoric in the law and militia groups target them for violent attack, this pride month feels a bit more complicated. That may be especially true for black LGBTQ Americans who are feeling targeted on two fronts.

Speaker 2: I know for me, like I always realize, no matter how much I think we’ve progressed, I’m kind of always, you know, on guard, you know, to hold my boyfriend’s hand on the street is still revolutionary.

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Jason Johnson: Black LGBTQ pride. Coming up on a word with me, Jason Johnson. Stay with us. Welcome to a word, a podcast about race and politics and everything else. I’m your host, Jason Johnson. It’s Pride Month and LGBTQ Americans, along with allies, are attending marches, rallies and other celebrations of the community. But this pride comes at a time of uncertainty and heightened violence against LGBTQ people. Republicans are openly vilifying gay, lesbian and transgender people, and now violent militia groups are targeting pride events from parades to drag queens. Story time for African-Americans in the community. This disturbing trend comes on the heels of a backlash after the racial reckoning. Joining us to talk about it is Clay Cane. He’s the author of Lived Through This Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God and Race. He also hosts the Clay Cane Show on Sirius XM Clay Cane. Welcome to a.

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Speaker 2: Word. Wassup, Jason. Thank you for having me, brother.

Jason Johnson: Before we start, I’d like to warn listeners that this will be a frank discussion about homophobia in our guest. We’ll talk about his experience of being called an anti-gay slur. Clay, I just want to ask, especially in the context of of the attacks in Idaho and across the country against the LGBTQ community, how are you marking pride this year and does it feel different this year in the wake of mass shootings and both policy and physical violence to celebrate this month?

Speaker 2: You know, it does feel different. And it actually reminds me of when I used to go to Pride in the late nineties and I can recall going and maybe not thinking of mass shootings, but knowing that if you turn down the wrong block, knowing that if some alleged straight people turn down the wrong block, that you might experience violence. And I can recall there’s an area in New York City called Christopher Street, and I can recall crossing Christopher Street to make it on this side called the Pier for LGBT folks out there in New York. That’s a that was that was to some degree still is a very popular area that younger LGBT folks will go. And folks driving by in New York City late nineties would throw bottles at us, would scream faggot at us, would say the N-word to us or they or say spic.

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Speaker 2: And then I when I was going to pride, I eventually this is late nineties, maybe early 2000 as well. I would only come out at night. Because I just didn’t feel safe being out there during the day. And I know folks might say, was it a scary war at night? Well, I guess the crowds are going and it’s a different kind of atmosphere. But yeah, I’m certainly feeling that now. I’m feeling like our right to exist is at risk. And I also feel like a lot of white LGBT organizations don’t get the intersections. I think about it. I’m just going to be honest here. Organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, HRC, that I think has failed in many, many ways. And so I think for black LGBT folks specifically, that there is a sense of are our safety at risk?

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Speaker 2: And yeah, so I feel that and it’s a it’s a strange feeling. And I know for me, like, I always realize no matter how much I think we’ve progressed, I’m kind of always, you know, on guard, you know, to hold my boyfriend’s hand on the street is still revolutionary, especially for two black men. You know, I mean, so I certainly feel that with the policies and with it also being celebrated, you know, it’s being celebrated that all gay people were taken over and so-and-so’s taken over. It’s this there’s there’s been this shift where pushback against a group who some people feel like it’s the alphabet community. They’re complaining too much because I guess they they see gay as being a white thing. So where does that lead black LGBT folks? So, yeah, I felt a difference.

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Jason Johnson: So I’m I’m glad because there’s so much in that I want to unpack. When I was again talking to some friends of mine, they were commenting on the fact that I was like, Yeah, I’m going to go to the Pride Parade on Sunday with some friends really excited. And and many of the black gay men that I know were like, that’s the white pride event.

Speaker 2: Right.

Jason Johnson: Here we are in 2022. Do you think there has been has there been more integration and pride events?

Speaker 2: Well, on the surface, you’ll see more, quote unquote, diversity. But as far as all the pride, you know, those pride, those pride marches, they are very profitable. They bring in a lot of money. So but the that that the head the higher ups who are orchestrating all the pride events, they’re all white gay men. And let’s be clear. Pride was not about rainbows. It was not about corporate parties. It was a revolutionary act against police violence. That’s what it was about. That’s the roots of Stonewall. That’s the roots of pride. Acting, pushing back against police. Pride was radicalism. So I think about I think like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia and Sylvia Rivera kind of rolling in their grey to see that the way that it’s corporatized. But on the on the on the outside.

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Speaker 2: Yeah, but where it matters, where who’s getting the check or who’s getting their little rainbow check? No, the diversity isn’t there at all because there people forget that there is this this issue of racism in the LGBT community. And I got to be honest with you, Jason, I haven’t been to a mainstream pride event in probably 15, 20 years. Maybe I just have no desire to be there.

Jason Johnson: You talked about the Human Rights Campaign. How do you think these sort of white run LGBTQ groups that you’ve talked about? Have they done a good job at all of addressing racial reckoning since George Floyd? Are they still sort of like what? We threw a dollar of war, a Black Lives Matter sign during the parade, and that’s it. How do you think those organizations have handled these issues?

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Speaker 2: Well, it depends on what you consider racial reckoning to be. You know, so if you consider racial reckoning to be releasing a statement and putting Marsha P Johnson on your on your website, then I guess they have done they’ve had some progress to for poor people. But the issue of organizations like like HRC and plenty of other organizations is that this has been an ongoing problem that black LGBT folks have been talking about for decades. So the kind of repair they would need to do, the kind of come to black Jesus moment they would need, really goes beyond this moment that people had in 2020.

Speaker 2: So no, I mean, there’s still a deep issue there. And I think where I am, where I am, is that I feel like similar to black communities at large, is that I don’t even want to support these kinds of organizations. I don’t want to ask you to to to see me. I don’t want to I don’t want to have to explain my right to exist to you. I don’t want to have to do a one on one on race, you know, for you.

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Speaker 2: So I’d even move beyond just being in the space. I just feel like we can create our own spaces. And I feel like there are so many powerful black LGBT folks on social media that have the kind of own platforms that we can. We can elevate that that do we really need these traditionally white conservative? And I know folks. Do you think there’s no way LGBT person could be conservative but truly conservative organizations? Begging to support us. And I say the answer to that is, is no. If we can support and build our own and whatever way that is, you know, we’re not going to you know, you see what happened with our black news channel. You know, maybe that’s not that’s not the way to do it. But whatever way that it is to realize we don’t need affirmation from them.

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Jason Johnson: Have there been black LGBT groups that have come to the fore to to fill in the spaces to to to fill in the gaps where pride where HRC isn’t other organizations on.

Speaker 2: The other has, especially in Atlanta. You know, we’ve our vision church in Atlanta does some really great work. Bishop Allen does some really phenomenal work. They launched a new platform, I believe is called Elevate, where they’re really showcasing and highlighting black LGBT content creators. But here’s part of the issue, and a lot of this goes to numbers, right? So black folks are what are we, 12% of the population now after that horrible census debacle? So we have black folks. Does black folks are large, 12% of the population. Then let’s say you go to black LGBT folks. Well your slash in that that number down to maybe. Six less than 6%, less than 5%. So it’s a and then let’s say just looking at black gay men, because, you know, there’s also issues with within black gay men and black transphobes.

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Speaker 2: Right. You know, black gay men can have misogyny. Black gay men could have transphobia. So it really is a niece with an A niece with an A niece. And so how do you elevate that in a particular way where it can reach people that it needs to reach? So for me, for me, I say that.

Speaker 2: A lot of this goes to funding and money in dollars that we have to have realistic expectations. And we have to not say that we’re going to compete with the organizations that have been around for a long time and have and from a straight organization that feel like all A’s LGBT folks are in the same are in the same category.

Jason Johnson: We’re going to take a short break. We come back, more on black perspectives on LGBTQ pride with Clay Cane. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today. We’re talking about African-American and LGBTQ rights with journalist Clay Cane Clay. This is something that I have noticed. I am old enough to remember in the late eighties when I first started seeing commercials celebrating Black History Month and MLK Holiday. And I remember, like, being a kid, and it’d be like, you know, free at last. Well, these mattresses aren’t free, but they’re discounted because, you know, it was crass and it was tacky, but it was like 1988 was the first time I saw large corporations trying to commodify Black History Month.

Jason Johnson: There’s been a lot of commentary I’ve seen online about that with Pride Month, where you have these organizations do these, I guess sometimes well-intentioned but sometimes extremely strange ads that supposedly show their support for the LGBTQ community. There was I think I actually texted you this, there was the Burger King ad that like put two tops and two bottoms of the bun on some burgers. And I was like I was like, this is cringe, right? Like, help me make this bad. What have you thought about that? I mean, as someone who, you know, is a gay black man in media, what have you thought about the sort of commercialization of Pride Month? Is that a good thing? Is that a sign that that themes are sort of being mainstreamed or is it is it more sort of hypocrisy because a lot of these same businesses and corporations give money to right wing candidates who are anti LGBTQ?

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Speaker 2: You know, I really struggle with this. So the only images that I saw, let me be very specific of gay men, of black gay men when I was younger was in pornography. And that’s not me the same any kind of pornography. That was just my first image of seeing two men showing intimacy to each other.

Speaker 2: So the part of me that is has my issues with capitalism and corporations, it disgusts me because I know they’re taking a movement that is so anti these massive corporations who do not give a F about you after they get your dollars for LGBT pride. So it’s it’s disingenuous. It’s it’s obviously, you know, they realize it’s marketable and it’s rainbows. It’s all it’s all these these rainbows. So it almost looks, you know, fairytale this or whatever.

Speaker 2: So there’s that side of it. And that frustrates me. And I know it’s insincere, but I will say outside of the rainbows, I will say that when I see a commercial, not necessarily when I see imagery of of LGBT folks or black gay folks, I do wonder wow. I wonder if I would have saw that when I was a kid. Maybe I would have hated myself a little less. Maybe I would have stopped trying to pray the gay away. Maybe I would have not been so impacted by bullies who were calling me a faggot every day. Maybe as I was running from my life after school, hoping to not get my teeth knocked down, that maybe I would have realized that it wasn’t me that had the issue. It was them who had the issue.

Speaker 2: So I think for as complicated as it is and again, it’s not genuine. I do feel like if I if I were a kid and I saw that, it would have had a really important impact on me and. I know a lot of folks, you know, feel like little Nas X isn’t that great of a singer or whatever. But I do know I mean, if I would have saw a black I mean, I heard of like Elton John, maybe, but that’s about all I really knew. And Elton John, you know, you knew he was gay, but he really the saying that he didn’t, like show intimacy on him. If I would have saw a little Nas X, a hip hop pop star, you know, show an intimacy with a guy and having songs of how he wants love like anybody else that would have had an impact on me. So it’s it’s it’s complicated on one end that the older person in me is disgusted by. It’s annoying. I know it’s disingenuous. But on the other end, as trite as it sounds, representation does matter and it really can affirm you. And so does the end. Satisfy the means?

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Jason Johnson: Maybe so when it comes to representation.

Jason Johnson: And and you and I again, have had this conversation on and off air. Where do you see the state of of of black queer representation in TV and movies? Now, I will say this, you know, I see The CW launching this new show, Tom Swift, right. About this, you know, 20 something gay black man who was like flies around the world and solves crime and everything else like that. And I think, you know, and he has a sort of tension with his bodyguard that I’m like, okay, cool. But I see in a lot of other instances and commercials and this new show on Netflix first kill that the idea of black on black love in the queer community is still very rare.

Speaker 2: When you think of the images that they’re choosing and and me and my friends and my circle will be like, Yo, when can we see if just be into two black gay men? And I never forget when I interview Jussie Smollett. I know folks have issues with him. This is before that issue. He said in Empire they wanted to make his boyfriend white. And just he told me on air, he said s no, we’re not doing that. Jamal Lyon is going to have a black boyfriend. The truth of the matter is, is that black gay men are a very insular community. And what I mean by that, according to the CDC, black gay men are no known today, other black gay men more than any other demographic. But you wouldn’t think that’s the case.

Speaker 2: So you want to have your your love affirmed. Cause I always say that to look at LGBT folks above the groin, everybody obsesses over LGBT folks below the groin. So you want to have your love affirmed in your sexuality because you know how you might be hurt in your church or your school or in your community. But you also want to have it affirmed in your racial identity. Because I grew up thinking gay was a white thing. I don’t even know black gay folks existed, I think even though they were the eyes, I just thought it was a white thing. I’m like, Yo, what’s going on? And then of course you’re being called a faggot in school and all these kind of things. So it’s so important to see that. It’s important to see that not just in gender and sexuality, but also in race. And we just don’t see enough of black gay folks together, black lesbian couples together. And then when you see that that the lesbian couples it’s def, it sometimes appears to be a way to appeal to, you know, straight men. So so oh, so it’s a lot.

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Speaker 2: So for me, it’s important for me to see black love and varying examples of black love. And you know what chart this out. One of the greatest examples of that and we have to go to our own a lot of folks don’t know about it is a native son, Emil Wilbekin. He does native son. He showcases black love all the time. They have they have annual events and a lot of folks don’t know them. But Emile built that from the ground up. They do amazing, amazing work. And so I sometimes have to look to that. But I definitely agree with you. And again, if you’re a young black gay person and you see, you know, their tokenism, it can be a bit frustrating.

Jason Johnson: Along those same lines. It’s actually just popped up in the news this week and I thought was fascinating. Great. Ask Clay about it. Michael Sam is actually back in the news and for context, the audience who may not remember Michael Sam was Defensive Player of the year in the SCC in like 2014. And you know, before he entered the draft, he came out publicly and did big interviews and said, hey, you know, I’m a gay black man, blah, blah, blah. And many people speculated that that had a harmful impact on his draft position and he never played it down in the NFL. And yet just last year, right, we had an openly gay player on the Raiders. Then he’s I believe I think he was like part Middle Eastern or something else like that. I remember the gentleman’s name looking at Michael Sam as a time capsule.

Jason Johnson: Right. Six years ago. You can’t even get to the league as a gay black man, as a player. Where do you think the state of sort of black LGBT issues are in sports right now? Do you think we’re you know, do you think we’re getting closer to the day where, you know, somebody will show up to their press conference and say, hey, this is my partner. Do you think we’re getting to a point where that wouldn’t be an absolute end to someone’s career as it might have been for Michael Sam? Or do you think that that is still one area of American society was like, no, this is just this is not going to be open anytime soon for people to live their full lives publicly.

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Speaker 2: I think it’s going to be difficult because part of sports is selling hypermasculinity. And sadly, a lot of people, you know, they only associate hyper mass. I shouldn’t say sadly, but people associate hypermasculinity with being straight. And so how can you be masculine? How can you do what’s considered to be a masculine sport and be a straight man? They see it. They see it. They see being gay is being weak. And there’s nothing wrong with being masculine and feminine, obviously. But people associate mannerisms with with gender. So I think it’s going to be really tough.

Speaker 2: I will say this, though. I’ll never forget years ago, I’ve said this on TV before, when the when there was all that controversy of homophobia in the NFL. This is before Michael Sam, the NFL, Roger Goodell, they sat down with glad they sat down with every LGBT organization they flew glad in and they had an epic meeting and Glad had a 50 point.

Speaker 2: Plan. Wow. Strategy. Execution. Because, you know, now they get fined for saying something homophobic and crazy. Glad laid it out. And now homophobia in the NFL. You know, I know it’s still there and there aren’t a lot of openly gay folks there. But nonetheless, as far as they’re celebrating pride, they’re doing all these things because there were actual demands made and it and and they got a return in it. And so I always find that interesting. And then, folks, they are the LGBT. They have to fight so much. Some of them are demanding it. And they’re and and and they’re they’re getting it and they’re putting dollars on the line for it.

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Speaker 2: So but as far as actually being a player, I think it’s going to be tough. You know, we had this idea that, oh, young people are so evolved and they own up and they know racism, homophobia. Now it’s not I mean, look at I mean, what’s his name? Brian Flores. I mean, if we can’t even get a black coach to not be vilified. Right. You know what I’m saying? In the in the NFL, we’re a long way from an LGBT person or a black LGBT person being able to play. And, you know, I think a lot of us, we we just want to be able to live our lives. I mean, I have friends who who are in their fifties and they have really prominent jobs and nobody at the job knows about them because they just don’t feel comfortable the day to day lives of people just not feeling safe, that if I say this, I’m not going to get fired, although in some states you can be fired for being LGBT but not going to get that promotion.

Speaker 2: Right. You know, I don’t I don’t friends who are in like five year relationships and they’ve never brought their partner to work. Wow. Because they just don’t feel safe and they know what the reaction is going to be. So you accept it and you create your own world in your own circle with the people that you know. And you see a pride flag and you say, Good. But how does that impact your daily life? Your daily daily life?

Speaker 2: I know people who live and who live in the South and they may be HIV positive and they’re fighting for fair health care and they can’t get it. So these are the day, the days that that people live through and go through. And so if they are at work and Michael Sam comes up, they don’t say a word. Right. Because they know all this. This you know, they know what the cameras they’re at the barbershop. Michael Sam comes up. They’re not going to say it, but Lil Nas X comes out, they’re not going to say a word because they don’t even want to. That is not the moment where they feel like arguing for their right to exist.

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Jason Johnson: It’s fascinating when you talk about comfort in the workplace from your perspective. When we talk about corporate America, is there a space where the the the gay black male co-worker or the the the the lesbian black woman co-worker is now sort of a virtual signal and commodity. That’s another level of pressure. Do you see that sort of thing happening either in corporate America where it’s like, well, we’re going to we’re going to have this gay black man because it makes us look diverse, but we don’t really care about his lived experiences. We just like having him there.

Speaker 2: See, I don’t know. It’s complicated because I feel like. Some. Some people are okay with you being gay as long as they don’t see it.

Jason Johnson: Mhm. Yeah.

Speaker 2: So I feel like people are oftentimes freaked out when they see somebody with their partner. Mhm. I feel like they’re disturbed if they see a quick peck on the lips or a holding of the hands or a picture of your partner on your desk. Mhm. What I’ve heard from my friends, I don’t work in corporate America anymore. Is that okay? If they find out, that’s fine. But they don’t want to see it.

Speaker 2: And it’s interesting you bring up the example of a interracial relationship. Me and my friends always say this that our fathers. Would rather we come home with a white woman any day over a black gay man. Like, if I if I told my father I was marrying a white woman, I mean, you know, he would he would be okay with that. Right. Versus knowing that I’m in a relationship with a black gay man. So. I don’t I think people you know, people act like they’re threatened by what they what whatever they think people do in bed. Right. But I think they’re really threatened by love. Mhm. I think they’re really threatened by.

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Speaker 2: People being happy. Right. That that’s really the threat, that there’s something about that. And I know for a lot of people, they think, you know, again, they think it’s a weakness thing and you’re not a good representation of black men. You know, I never forget Jason, my first time I went to Harlem, and as I was walking on the street, I saw a shirt in the in the window. It had a it was a black shirt and white letters. And it said a real man. Does it do drugs? Hmm. A real man loves God. A real man does not sleep with men.

Jason Johnson: Wow.

Speaker 2: Or never. It was all this feature in the window. Wow. On a T-shirt, black shirt and white letters. It was like an uppercut. Because all my life I’ve been taught how to deal with racism from my father, my grandfather, even my mother, who’s white. All my life, I’ve been taught how to deal with racism, but I never was never really prepared. How to deal with that isn’t even homophobia. That’s just like that kind of ugly.

Jason Johnson: Racist violence and.

Speaker 2: Yeah, and that. Almost impacted me more. I’ve experienced more racism, but it almost impacted me more because it came from my own community. So it hurt in a different kind of way. Wow. It hurt in a different kind of way.

Jason Johnson: We’re going to take a short break. We come back more about black gay rights. This is a word with Jason Johnson. Stay tuned. You’re listening to a word with Jason Johnson today. We’re talking about Pride Month for black Americans with author and radio host Clay Cane. So, Clay, I understand you’re working on like a graphic novel or cartoons dramatizing the life of civil rights organizer Bayard Rustin. Just, you know, I love comic books. So can you tell us a little bit about this project? All right.

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Speaker 2: So it’s not completely a graphic novel. I’m working on a project with John Lewis, his production company, with creating short form comic books, if you will, for the Department of Education in New York City. And, of course, for folks who don’t know by our. Rustin was the architect of the March on Washington. He was Dr. King’s right hand man, and he was basically erased from history. This is a guy who did incredible, incredible work. And it was an attempt to erase. I mean, you’ve really seen a resurgence of him now. So it’s really cool that I that I could I’m sure we’ll get that somewhere.

Jason Johnson: That’s your goal. Want to get back to that? You know you did something. Yeah.

Speaker 2: Be a good bear. Yeah. But it’s really cool to be able to highlight him a in a comic book storybook kind of format. So it’ll should be out in the fall.

Jason Johnson: Let’s say I have a son or daughter, right. Who, who knows their identity. It’s like, Hey, Mom, Mom, Dad, I’m queer, I’m gay. Eight, nine, ten, 11, 12 years old when it comes to, say, political leaders. Right. You’re talking about Russian name two or three political leaders maybe that have been erased in the past or today that you would that you would want a nine or ten year old kid or 13 year old to hear about that would help them sort of live in their identity and say, hey, there is a space for me. I don’t have to go through six or seven years of hating myself. I can be like this woman or that woman or that man.

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Speaker 2: With those alarm lock her name. People don’t know one of the great leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. It wasn’t just Langston Hughes. It wasn’t just the one or Hurston folks who I love a lot. I would encourage looking him up. He was really a social and political leader during the Harlem Renaissance. There is a Philip Randolph. Of course, a lot of folks don’t know that he was LGBT. They weren’t saying that back then. They were saying homosexual and AIDS. Philip Randolph, he planned the first march on Washington, which was which was canceled or I shouldn’t say canceled, but they decided to not do it because I believe Eisenhower gave in to desegregating the national defense industries. So a Philip Randolph is a name that we often forget. And I tell people, you know, go back and research his history and research his work.

Speaker 2: And lastly, I would say I’m political in a. Very particular kind of way. Maybe she isn’t a politician, but I just think of her as a warrior and I encourage folks to revisit her story. And it’s a name that you probably know. But it’s Audre Lorde. Algae Lorde was a writer, and she was often Xed out of black radical literary circles because she was a lesbian. So those are names that I think back, and I think that they inspire me and of course, other writers as well, like Alice Walker and so on.

Speaker 2: But the other thing that I always say, too, is that, you know, one of the things that I always hear is people say, well, I don’t agree with that quote unquote lifestyle. First of all, it isn’t a lifestyle, but I don’t agree. But saying you don’t agree would be like saying you don’t agree with the sun rising or the sun setting. Being being attracted to the same sex or the opposite sex is as natural as the sun rising or the sun setting. So there was nothing to disagree with.

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Speaker 2: And for black folks, we don’t have the space, the time to throw away other black people. We can’t throw away Angela Davis. We can’t throw away. Like I said, Alice Walker. We can’t throw away black LGBT folks. The founders of Black Lives Matter. We can’t throw them away. They are a part of our community. We need all of us collectively. Because. Because a lot of white LGBT folks are throwing away black LGBT folks. We don’t want to do that. We need each other. We collectively need each other. And that’s what I want is to all when I see these Twitter wars on social media and the alphabet community and now like we’re a part of this together day by day. And that’s what I want people to really remember, especially in the black community, that we don’t have time to throw each other away. We need each other collectively at the voting booth, at a march on social media and media. We all need each other.

Jason Johnson: Clay Cane is the author of Live Through This Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God and Race and the host of the Clay Cane Show on Sirius XM. Thank you, man, so much for joining me today.

Speaker 2: Thank you, Jason. I appreciate you, brother.

Jason Johnson: And that’s the word for this week. The show’s email is a word at slate.com. Our producer is Jasmine Ellis. This episode was produced by Eric Aaron. Alicia montgomery is the vice president of Audio at Slate. Our theme music was produced by Don Will of Jason Johnson. Tune in next week for Word.