In a short six years, “The Breakfast Club” has become a no-holds-barred platform where celebrities and activists voice their thoughts on race, politics, wellbeing, and everything in between. The show’s impact on the Hip Hop community is undeniable: as the infamous Birdman interview showed us, some moments on The Breakfast Club become memes that never get old. Other moments on the show influence what we ridicule.
During a Rumor Report last July, Angela Yee reported confidential documents revealing that Usher contracted Herpes in 2009 or 2010 before passing it to a celebrity stylist, who then sued Usher for emotional distress. Usher allegedly paid the stylist $1.1M for severe emotional distress and medical expenses before the case was settled in 2012. In a second Rumor Report four days later, DJ Envy reported that Usher had allegedly been sued by a second woman for $10M in battery, negligence, and emotional distress for exposure to Herpes. Angela Yee’s Rumor Report the next day confirmed that the second woman did indeed contracted Herpes from Usher, and sued the star for $40M.
During that same interview, Charlamagne admitted that the whole ordeal was an “entertaining rumor” and playfully likened Rihanna’s Navy and Beyonce’s Bey-hive to Usher’s “Ush-Herps”- Usher fans who have also contracted Herpes. His jokes continued in a string of subsequent interviews. When the scandal came up during a 50 Cent interview last September, Charlamagne laughed hysterically and made a pun about herpes outbreaks (at 25:40). When Tank stopped by a week later and explained how teeth-clenching during cunnilingus can cause blisters on the upper-lip, Charlamagne gave an alternative reason for these blisters: “you might be with one of Usher’s hoes” (at 22:00). Some would call that a well-timed joke. Other would say it perpetuated the idea that women who sleep with male celebrities are simply ‘hoes’ who lack rationale or agency. Either way, Charlamagne reduced Usher and his partners to their alleged Herpes-positive status. I thought it was over until he invoked Usher’s alleged status in an interview with Eric Bellinger this past April (at 15:00).
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reports that over 1 in 6 people aged 14-49 have Herpes Simplex 2 (HSV-2), which is known to cause genital herpes. Most people with the virus have Herpes Simplex 1 (HSV-1), an oral form of transmitted through saliva and skin-to-skin contact. Known for causing cold sores, HSV-1 can also spread from the mouth to the genitals through oral sex. Both forms of the virus function silently; in either case, a person may not experience symptoms for years and still spread it to others.
The Usher scandal was a perfect opportunity for The Breakfast Club pundits to challenge the stigma around herpes. Blacks are over three times as likely to have HSV-2 as whites (39.2% vs 12.3%). Instead of throwing shade, Charlamagne could’ve covered these statistics in an educational way, just as he does with issues of race. Whenever Usher’s name came up, Charlamagne could’ve chimed in with a reminder to audiences of all races to get tested and to talk with partners, friends and relatives about the virus.
In 2012, HotNewHipHop alleged that rapper Cassidy signed a seven-figure endorsement deal with Trojan to promote safe sex in his 2012 hit “Condom Style”. Months later, Charlamagne tweeted his confusion at the fact that folks believed the endorsement ever happened. If it were up to me, between Usher herpes rumor and Cassidy’s endorsement rumor, I would prefer to believe the latter. Charlamagne’s preference to believe the former shows that when it comes to gossip and rumors, some people are more receptive to the negative.
It is inhumane to poke fun at a person’s health status, and we must illuminate that stigma whether it’s from a popular figure like Charlamagne, or a friend. For infected individuals burdened by stigma, silently passing the virus to a partner may seem like a better alternative to disclosing their status. In an ironic way, Charlemagne’s cheap attempt at humor probably contributed to the rising prevalence of sexually transmitted infections.
To play devil’s advocate, radio personalities need to be funny, and cracking jokes at the expense of a celebrity’s image is an easy way to do so. Secondly, many of us empathize with things we can humanize through the people we love. Fathers often express a newfound respect for women after having a daughter; homophobic folks relinquish their fears when a close friend or relative comes out of the closet.
The bitter truth here is that women need to be respected by men much sooner, and that all individuals deserve compassion and empathy regardless of sexual orientation. The same applies for those living with sexually transmitted infections.