Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't Give African-Americans a Pass for Homophobia

Don't Give African-Americans a Pass for Homophobia

 

The injection of race into the analysis of Proposition 8's passage is extremely disappointing. A battle for equal rights has now turned into an issue of whites versus blacks. It's sad to see the smoke screen of racism when rights are being denied from Americans who pay taxes and have served their country.

In the beginning, I wanted to stay out of this racialized debate on Proposition 8. However, after I read Jasmyne Cannick's opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, "No-on-8's White Bias," I felt compelled to speak up. Cannick is someone I deeply admire and highly respect, and she is black and gay like me; however, there is another side of this debate from the black gay community.

In her piece she states, "I don't see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please." Cannick adds, "Some people seem to think that homophobia trumps racism." She explains, "There are still too many inequalities that exist as it relates to my race." Cannick lists important issues in the black community such as dropout rates, poverty, and incarceration.

As a black gay man, incarceration rates are as important to me as gay marriage. Dropout rates are as important to me as the fact that, according to the CDC, 46% of black men who have sex with men are HIV-positive. Poverty is as important to me as the fact that there are 30 states where gays and lesbians can be fired from their job with no protection from their government. As a black gay man who has endured the words "n****r" and "f****t", who lives in this duality of gayness and blackness, I have a vested interest in both inequalities.

Cannick argues that the white gay community "never successfully communicated" to blacks why gay marriage is an important issue. I agree there was a poor strategy on Proposition 8; however, I don't need white people to hold my hand into believing gay marriage is important. Black people are not docile bystanders who require whites to communicate that discrimination is wrong. Just like I don't need outreach from black heterosexuals to know that poverty is important.

No, I do not agree that blacks are at fault for Proposition 8 passing. Still, I challenge the notion that blacks needed more "communication." Many (not necessarily Cannick) who uphold this "communication" argument say, "Only 6.7% of California is black, so blacks had nothing to do with Proposition 8," then say, "Blacks needed more communication!" You can't have it both ways -- either black Californians needed outreach because they were a big enough voting bloc or they didn't.

The black community was not completely ignored. Opponents of Proposition 8 worked with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Sure, maybe that wasn't enough. Still, California is only 6.7% black. Asians voted at the same rate as whites and, according to the last census, Asians make up 12.4% (nearly double the black population) of the people in California; Asians had just as little "communication" and voted yes on Proposition 8 at 49% -- 20 percentage points less than blacks. Do black folks need extra-special attention for ignorance?

I don't know if black people are more homophobic. But what I do know is that homophobia symbolizes manhood in the black community. I remember walking through Harlem and saw a T-shirt in a window that read, "A real black man is a man who loves God. A real black man is a man who doesn't deal drugs. A real black man is a man who doesn't have sex with men." 

Homophobia in the black community equals a "real man." Sadly, homophobia is a conversation that we, as the black community, are absolutely refusing to have.

On the issue of civil rights, some black leaders say, "Gays need to stop comparing their struggle to blacks!" Sadly, it's the ruling class that wants these two minority groups to engage in comparisons of victimology. What it really says is, "Don't you n****rs let those f****ts think they have it worse than you!"

Funny thing, throughout African-American history comparisons have always been used to fight injustice. When enslaved blacks wanted freedom in America, they used the language of the Founding Fathers, who wanted freedom from the British Empire. What did the white ruling class say? "It's not the same!" When blacks demanded the right to vote, there were often comparisons to white women, who received the right to vote in 1920. What did many white women say? "It's not the same!" When another community even makes a slight comparison to the plight of African-Americans, we are now saying, "It's not the same!" The black community does not own the term "civil rights."

While I know the 70% of blacks voting yes on Proposition 8 is a number that is still being debated, regardless, even if one black person voted yes, they should be ashamed of themselves. My great-great-grandmother was born a slave in Virginia, and at one point she couldn't marry. Should I not have the right to marry, just like my grandmother, simply because I am gay?

As a black gay man, I am constantly torn between two communities. There is the white gay community that is steeped with racism, the black community that reeks of homophobia -- and the black gay community falling in between. Three years ago I interviewed former Real World cast member Karamo Brown, a black gay man, and he said, "We have to make sure that we let our churches know we are not going to let them judge us anymore. Until we as a community get better with our homosexuality and say, 'No more!' they are not going to get better with homosexuality."

I don't think the black community, gay or straight, has said, "No more." Hip-hop artists call us fags and we still play their music in our clubs, cars, and iPods. Gospel artists damn us to hell and we still buy their records. We sit in churches swallowing hate from the pulpit, knowing the preacher isn't all hetero himself. When will we, as the black gay community, say no more? We cannot expect the white gay community or whites in general, to do our work.

This article was originally published in the Advocate.

© 2008 The Advocate All rights reserved.
By Clay Cane, The Advocate
Posted on November 22, 2008, Printed on November 25, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/108137/
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