Hold onto your seats. This one took several days to write and is longer than most of my other blogpiece. But from time to time when dung is hurled at you you gotta put down your Bible and pull out your shovel. For those of you who read my blog for your classes on gender, race, and the black church, take note.
Scapegoating black people seems to be the thing to do these days.
Here’s one for you: Who do you think is responsible for the economic mess the country is in? That’s right. Blacks, along with other low-income/people of color are to blame for the economic meltdown we’re in and for bringing the global economy to a screeching halt. If black and poor people hadn’t gone out and coerced banks into giving them subprime loans on homes they knew darn well they couldn’t afford, the country wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in. Never mind that the vast majority of subprime loans went to white, middle and upper income borrowers. Never mind that greedy Wall Street Investors were the major purchasers of and investors in subprime loan, and not Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.
Here’s another for you. Whether Obama won or lost, was the rumor, blacks were going to pour into the streets in a riotous frenzy reminiscent of the riots of the 60s. Now tell me: did anyone else notice the number non-blacks on election night who took the streets crying, yelling, and dancing a jig when the name of the 44th President of the United States was announced?
And now for the latest racial slander: Black people are to blame for ratifying Proposition 8, the California state ballot proposition that amended the state Constitution to restrict the definition of marriage to a union between a man and a woman. Never mind that the demographic numbers don’t add up as Daily Kos points out, and that even if blacks had voted overwhelmingly against Proposition 8 other groups in California had already given the ballot the boost it needed to pass.
Admittedly, I don’t live in California so this never reached my ballot. But I have been known to use my moral capital to challenge homophobia in the black community. But the decision by some to blast black people for Proposition 8 for being homophobic is stupid and morally self-defeating.
Let’s get this out the way now: I am on record for opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians. That said, however, I do not endorse the notion of same-sex marriage. Civil unions I can endorse with all the rights and privileges thereof, marriage I can not. Marriage, as in matris munium, is between a man and woman. All other pairings are unions. Perhaps I’ll change my mind in the future. Perhaps not. But I’m committed to keeping the lines of communication open and revisiting whatever prejudices and traditions I’ve inherited that need scrutiny and that keep me from being the best friend I can be to gays and lesbians. But I tell you, it’s hard to keep my heart open when the strategy of groups supporting same-sex marriage seems to be to blame the black community for Proposition 8 and to blowtorch the black church for every wrong done against the homosexual community.
Listen, the black community has its share of homophobia to attend to, but Proposition 8 passed because gays and lesbians and those who opposed the bill did not do their homework.
Opponents of the bill failed to build coalitions and bridges with communities whose help they needed to defeat the bill. They failed to make black and brown people see what makes gay rights a civil rights issue. They failed to persuade black and brown people that the struggles same sex partners face is similar to the struggles black and brown people face. They failed to convinced black voters that those in same sex committed unions deserve the same rights as heterosexual couples. They failed to persuade black voters why they should care about the rights of homosexuals and how the fates of homosexuals and blacks are intertwined and that to help one is to help the other. They failed to convinced black voters that homosexuality is not a sin. What’s more, everyone involved failed to show how profoundly counterproductive homophobia within the black community is in light of the grip HIV/AIDS has upon our community.
We tried to do all of that, the LBGT community will probably insist. Try again, I say. Proposition 8 says that you failed. You didn’t get your message across. Try again. You want to convince the world that this is a civil rights issue. Then follow the example of generations of civil rights workers. Regroup, rebuild, realign, and reframe your moral argument. No, I do not believe that the success or failure of the movement rests solely on the shoulders of the LGBT community. Supporters from within the heterosexual community absolutely must lend their voice to challenging homophobia in the heterosexual community. One thing is sure, however, you won’t win the voters you say you need by bullying and slandering them.
The black church is the real culprit, some claim. Conservative black preaching incites black voters into believing that defeating same-sex marriage legislation as their Christian mission. There’s no denying a sexist, ethnocentric, heteronormative worldview of the ancient biblical world has been passed down to us and that many readers are wont to believe that the world behind the text is the world we’re supposed to get back to. Thank God for prophets, preachers, and informed readers who know that God does not call us to reenshrine the bigotries of the past but to devote ourselves toward working toward a more just future. Hence, while some have seen in Scripture prooftexts for racial slavery and women’s submission, others have seen in the same texts cause for revolt from tyranny and injustice. Here’s what I know from being a black woman, a minister, and an activist in the black church. Trashing black (male) preachers and launching postmodern diatribes against the black church won’t get you very far if your goal is to transform the church and root out deeply held prejudices. Blasting the black church only pisses folks in the church off, both women and men. Believe me, you don’t want to piss off church folks. Like most religions Christianity is quite comfortable with “us” vs. “them” ways of dividing up the world and religious folks are quick to arm themselves with militant piety when they sense their faith is under attack. Blasting the black church will only get you so far.
Civil rights workers of the 60s faced a similar similar challenge when you consider that many of those hurling epithets at them from across the picket lines and and setting dogs on them before hauling them off to jail were God-fearing white Christians who were convinced that God created blacks inferior to whites. But picketing and targeting white churches and exchanging insults with white racist Christians was not recognized strategy of the movement. King and others sought out and built coalitions with empathetic white Christians who shared their vision of a beloved community. King’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” written to white preachers who castigated King for a campaign they considered ill-timed and unnecessary is an example of an activist deft at using moral arguments to fight moral arguments. The black church, despite all its warts, has meant too much for too long to too many black people for any of us to think that mocking and blasting its members is a wise strategy. Be a civil rights movement and figure out how to change hearts as well a laws.
While I’m at it: singing black civil rights protests songs won’t win you any points with black people nor lend moral weight to your fight. Get your own protest songs. Why mock our beliefs but steal our music (which draws from our beliefs)?
If for no other reason the toll AIDS/HIV has taken our community demands that the African American church look at how homophobia inspired by the church’s teachings has contributed to AIDS/HIV infection and death rates in our community. At the same time the LGBT community has its own housecleaning it needs to do. Confronting the racism and white privilege within its ranks is one. Why are elite white gay men the ones always the spokesmen for the movement. Where are the black LGBT members and what role do they play in the setting the direction of the movement? If Jasmine Connick, a black lesbian writer from California, is to believed “it’s been common practice for the gay community to hire black faces, temporarily, to convince blacks to support gay marriage.” But that’s just about it. And then there’s the hawkish single issue fanaticism of some within the LGBT community that can be a big turnoff. The “accept homosexuality or else” posturing of many LGBT members leaves one with the impression that power not justice is the ambitionof this group and privileging one sort of difference over another is what many are after.
Finally, the question that’s blowing up blogosphere seems to be, are black people homophobic? Not all black people, but, yes, many are. Are black people more homophobic? Than who? Aliens? White people? Brown people? Disabled people? No. Here’s what I think. The working poor as a group tend to be more socially conservative, which includes being homophobic, than those who are wealthy and well-educated. For all the reasons sociologists can probably explain. If black people are more homophobic (and I’m not convinced they are) it’s not because they’re stupid and other people are smart-er. Perhaps it’s an indictment on us all that despite all the marches and speechifying that’s been done, those who continue to hold out in opposing same sex marriages and same sex unions have not been made to see that (homo)sexuality is not simply about sex and power, but love and commitment. Something even heterosexuals will agree is mysterious, elusive, and constantly in need of renewing. Maybe it’s not that black people are (more homophobic). The movement to change the minds and hearts of people to its position failed to persuade enough people. Try again. That’s what it means to be a movement.