Saturday, November 8, 2008

Black homophobia and putting the blame for Prop 8 where it belongs

In the comments to my Obama Nation post, Anonymous wrote:

Black voters in California voted 69% in favor of the anti-gay / lesbian marriage Proposition 8. Ironically, a huge black turnout spelled doom for lesbian and gay families. I will NEVER go to another heterosexual marriage again as long as I live, and I will no longer support any measures that benefit heterosexual families at my expense. I was furious!

Obama said in a major speech: "marriage is between a man and a woman!" Yeah
right, let freedom ring!
The commenter is angry. And why wouldn't she be? Could I join the majority in celebrating the triumph of hope and change if, in the same America that sent a black man to the White House for the first time, three states voted to limit my rights and make me a second-class citizen?

I imagine Anonymous is feeling the same burning anger that I felt earlier this year when many white feminists' support of Hillary Clinton descended into racism. All of us marginalized folks, we're supposed to understand each other a little better than the mainstream does. Right? We're supposed to be sensitive to bigotry and abhor inequality with passion even when it involves someone else. Sadly, it ain't necessarily so.

It did not surprise me that nearly 70 percent of black voters said "yes" to Prop 8, putting bigotry into law in California. In my experience, homophobia is proportionally higher in the black community. It is a bigotry more rooted in religion than race. And it is a problem.

In the same way that I once called for white feminist allies to stand up against bigotry in their ranks, I believe it is my duty, and that of other black progressives, to challenge biases surrounding sexual orientation in our community. That means examining our own bias, and acknowledging, listening to and proactively working with our GLBT brothers and sisters.

This is important. As I've said time and time again: You aren't about justice if you aren't about justice for all.

All that said, here is what bothers me about a lot of the discussion surrounding Prop 8 and the black vote: Much of it is race-biased in that it puts disproportionate blame on African Americans for a despicable vote delivered by California voters of ALL races. Shannika on Daily Kos wrote an excellent diary exploring the numbers behind the Proposition 8 vote:

Non-Black Votes in Favor of Proposition 8:

White Men: 51% of 31% of 10,325,615 votes: 1,632,480 Yes
White Women: 47% of 32% of 10,325,615 votes: 1,552,972 Yes
Latino Men: 54% of 8% of 10,325,615 votes: 446,067 Yes
Latino Women: 52% of 11% of 10,325,615 votes: 592,170 Yes
Asian/Native: 51% of 9% of 10,325,615 votes: 473,946 Yes

Total: 4,697,635 (9.3 times the maximum TOTAL number of Black votes
in California.)


Last night on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher," panelist Howie Mandel (Yeah, I know.) opined that "I heard it was mostly the minorities" who passed Prop 8. And that sort of thinking has become the narrative: Black people against gays and lesbians. Never mind the many black gays and lesbians who were stung by the vote and their community's role in it. (In this discussion, black gays and lesbians don't exist in the way black feminists are erased in gender discussions.) Never mind that the black vote represents a fraction of the votes by other races on behalf of Prop 8. Never mind that the overwhelmingly white Mormon Church spent $20 million dollars in support of Prop 8. It's the blacks' fault.

My community has a problem with homophobia, but we aren't the only ones. African Americans are but 12 percent of the population. We have neither the numbers nor the power, given our history in this country, to disenfranchise another group. Blaming us for what is an American ill--as prevalent in, say, white Tripoli, Iowa, as it is in black Englewood, Chicago, Illinois--will not solve the injustice.

Hear gay rights activist Jasmyne Cannick discuss the aftermath of the Prop 8 decision with Farai Chideya on NPR's "News and Notes."
Image courtesy of laverrue on Flickr.


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