Smile Politely

Are we talking race or homophobia?

I had an interesting conversation last Saturday at the Blind Pig, which is a great spot to engage in political debate. I was sitting down with my friend Maggie a.k.a Ms. Brown, who I haven’t seen in three years­. She has been working ever-so-diligently in the PhD program at Berkeley. Her project is in conjunction with University of Illinois, which also happens to be where she did her undergrad and where we met.

However, before our conversation could begin, one of her colleagues, who seemed very drunk, approached the piano at the Blind Pig and attempted to play it, but before he proceeded to touch the keys, Maggie stopped him.

He got up and backed away from the piano. Then he proceeded to approach our table and obnoxiously chime in our conversation. I gave Maggie a slight nudge under the table, as if to say: please make him go away.


He started talking about how he knows all these gay people in San Francisco and his best friend is a gay black male who studies black male sexuality. Instantly, I knew where this was going. I braced myself.

As he started to speak he explained fanatically that black people, especially black males, are more homophobic then white people. His idea was based solely off of the Prop 8 decision, which is asinine because there is no possible way to effectively measure this claim. It’s as if he is stating that there is a standardized test for being homophobic.

I don’t blame this individual for his notions. He is just a talking head that really has no relation to the crux of the problem.

Listening to his gibberish made me think of how easily people are fooled and manipulated into following the mass media. It’s the same media that reported there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, that the financial bailouts were needed and reported that the Swine Flu was coming to get us, but still we, as a society, trust them as a legitimate source for information.

This trust in mass media has enabled them to portray blacks as being more homophobic then white people.

The right-wing pundits interjected race into the same-sex marriage debate by being the first to indicate blacks voted 70% for Prop 8, which was wrong. The actual percentage was 57%. Also, they repeatedly drew the correlation between blacks voting for Barack Obama (a symbol of change) and blacks voting for Prop 8 (a symbol of discrimination). The right-leaning media also tried to instigate tensions between gay rights protesters and blacks by suggesting they protest black churches instead of the Mormon churches, which raised an estimated 20 million dollars for the Vote Yes for Prop 8 campaign.

This was a political tactic to drive a wedge between two minority groups and people such as Dan Savage and Wayne Benson took the bait.

Dan Savage wrote:

I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there – and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum – are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

And Wayne Benson wrote:

…there is something particularly galling and repugnant about people who have felt the sting of discrimination, turn around and step on another minority. What happened at the ballot box feels like a personal betrayal and the hijacking of history.

Never mind the fact that Arizona and Florida passed similar ballots. Never mind the fact that only 10% of the voters for Prop 8 were African-Americans. Never mind the fact that No on Prop 8 campaign did not go door to door campaigning in the black neighborhoods or build coalitions with black churches. Toward the end of the campaign they hired Samuel L. Jackson — who is not gay — to be the spokesperson for gay rights in the black community. Why? When there are voices like Angela Davis, Al Sharpton Julian Bond to be heard, we had such voices as Coretta Scott King and Bayard Rustin.

However, none of these facts mattered. What mattered was the gay community needed a scapegoat as to how the most liberal state in the union could pass Prop 8.

This is an example of just how complex the issue of racism really is.

First, the campaign organizers for No on 8 should have gone into the black communities, talked to the people and made solid arguments such as the Loving v. Virginia court case. Instead, they use Samuel L. Jackson in a political ad that didn’t even have images of same-sex black couples. They saw blacks as being a monolithic group that would respond to any black person or voice.

Secondly, in order to create a divide, the right-wing pundits played the race card, using blacks as the singular reason as to why Prop 8 passed.

Next, the liberal media reinforced the right-wing idea that blacks are to blame for the passing of Prop 8.

Liberals like Dan Savage or Wayne Benson used their power and privilege to analyze the black community and pass judgmen — without all the facts — then played their minority-express gay card and claimed that they were the victims, because they’re being discriminated against by black people. Therefore, their frustration toward the black community and claims that homophobic African-Americans are a huge problem are justified.

Simply: not true.

The real victims here are gay black people. Their voices are the only ones not present in this debate.

Race is so deeply ingrained in the collective psyche of our society it’s impossible to just turn it off, stop talking about it, or just pretend that it does not exist. When we pretend to be a color blind society race, these issues do not disappear, they just surface in a much more blaring way. It’s not that any of these groups or individuals are inherently racist — they are not — but this example shows the degree to which race entangles us all. Race matters and the only way to deconstruct its power is to bring it to the surface constructively and deal with it.

The main issue here is not race but homophobia. There are black and white people who happen to be homophobic. Homophobia exists in every community.

Also, just because blacks have felt the blistering sting of discrimination, does not mean we have a special superpower that stops us from discriminating.

We’re all in the same system together and we face the same challenges. Our target is not each other but rather the system that enables people to be homophobic and get away with it. When we create blame and judgment, we take away our ability to understand and our responsibility to act.


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