Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Prop 8 Blame Game
http://www.theroot. com/id/48845/ page/1 By Kai Wright |

Why white gays and black homophobes both need a reality check. Nov. 12, 2008--

Somebody forgot to tell gay people that race wars are no longer in vogue.

While the rest of the country has spent the last week reveling in the afterglow of Grant Park, gay America has devolved into a Sarah Palin rally. The issue is a particularly nasty California ballot initiative, Proposition 8, which passed last Tuesday with just over half the vote.

Prop 8 repealed a historic state Supreme Court ruling that gave gays the right to wed—and it appears to have won massive black support. That's a fact that ought to shame black folks everywhere. But it also ought to finally convince the white-led gay rights movement to take people of color seriously, a case black gay activists have been trying to make for the better part of the past 30 years. Addressing the destructive reactions of too many of my white gay compatriots in recent days would be a good place to begin.

It started when a CNN exit poll declared that 70 percent of black voters supported the initiative. That finding led many in Cali's white gay community to conclude they lost their rights because of black homophobia. Things went downhill fast from there. Much of the ensuing outcry has been nasty, even hateful. As one college student wrote to the black gay blog Rod 2.0 in describing a Los Angeles protest, "It was like being at a Klan rally, except the Klansmen were wearing Abercrombie Polos and Birkenstocks. " I wish his remark could be easily dismissed as hyperbole. The comment sections of blogs ranging from progressive standard-bearer DailyKos to black lesbian rabble rouser Jasmyne Cannick have been swarmed with racist rants and reports of slurs hurled at African Americans.

Big-name gay scribes have piled on. By 10 a.m. the day after the election, popular columnist Dan Savage had shot off at the mouth, declaring himself "done pretending" that "the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans" aren't a bigger threat to gays than racist gays are to blacks. Whatever that means.

There is no question that homophobia runs deep in black America—or that it wreaks far more acute damage than denying marriage rights, frankly.

Just ask the families of Sakia Gunn or Rashawn Brazell or any one of the scores of black queers whose murders have been met with a collective shrug in black communities. Or all the families destroyed by a raging AIDS epidemic we go on ignoring, in large part because of our uneasiness with sexuality of any sort, let alone the homo and bi and transgender kind.

It's long past time black people have a conversation about this ugly reality.

But first, as with all things involving race and sex, there's a whole mess of facts about the California marriage fight that must be straightened out. Not least of these is the shaky assertion that black voters made the difference. DailyKos diarist Shanikka has gained small celebrity for her post debunking it. The fact that blacks are densely clumped in just nine out of 58 California counties makes any race-based claim in CNN's geographically random sample muddy at best. Further, the poll excludes all of the state's 3 million early votes and counts blacks as 10 percent of voters when they're less than 7 percent of the population.Of course, you don't have to get into such devilish details to notice something weird about this blame-the-blacks narrative.

Even if 70 percent truly did support the marriage ban, why single them out? So did six out of 10 people over 65. Ditto white Protestants and people with children under 18. Look at the electorate through any of these lenses and you identify a far larger share of the vote than when viewing it by race. "The reason why people are so fascinated with the 70 percent number is Obama and this kumbaya moment that we were having," says Ron Buckmire, a leader in L.A.'s Barbara Jordan/Bayard Rustin Coalition, a black gay group.

"To discover that not everyone was in the same place was really shocking and surprising for some people."It should have been a no-brainer. The Mormon-funded, anti-gay side aggressively targeted every racial and ethnic group in California—often dishonestly. Anti-gay operatives launched a robo-call scheme directed at black voters that falsely claimed Barack Obama supported their initiative. Obama does not support gay marriage, but neither did he support Prop 8. (Not that Obama did a hell of a lot to counter the lie.) The underfunded, pro-gay side responded with too little, too late. These shenanigans explain why many black voters supported the marriage ban. Still, that's no excuse. "I am far less concerned with a white gay backlash than I am with the need for us to have a dialogue within the African-American community about what it means to have equality," says H. Alexander Robinson, who heads the National Black Justice Coalition, a black gay rights group. Here, here.

Let's be clear, these hateful repudiations of gay relationships hurt black people. According to the U.S. Census, 10.5 percent of same-sex households are black, and they are at least twice as likely to be raising kids as their white counterparts. Denying these families access to civil marriage bars them from hundreds of rights and responsibilities.

Many black folks wince when they hear gay rights compared to the black civil rights movement. And when it comes from white gays whose only interest in black people is appropriating our history, I do too.

But here's what Coretta Scott King had to say, in an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. "Homophobia is as morally wrong and as unacceptable as racism," she declared. "We ought to extend to gay and lesbian people the same respect and dignity we claim for ourselves. Every person is a child of God, and every human being is entitled to full human rights." The whole community faces consequences when those human rights are denied. Look no further than AIDS for proof. Black people were overrepresented from the epidemic's outset, but fear and hate of the gay men who bore its first burn paralyzed the community as the virus spread. Now black people account for half of all new infections.

At some point, we all must ask difficult, self-critical questions. No, as black people, we're not any more or less homophobic than anybody else. And yes, the white gay community needs to look at its own failures before casting blame on others. But so what? Too many of us are homophobes, and we need to talk about it. Last Tuesday's vote should remove any doubt about the urgency of the discussion.

http://www.theroot. com/id/48845/ page/1


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