Saturday, November 8, 2008

Black Californians and Proposition 8: Is White Gay Anger Justifiable?

Many California gays and lesbians have voiced anger toward black voters who supported Proposition 8. The measure amended California’s constitution to define marriage in heterosexual terms and reversed a state supreme court ruling which held that prohibiting same-sex marriage denied equal protection to gays and lesbians.

According to exit polls, the measure passed by a vote of 52-48. President-elect Barack Obama, however, won the state by a 20-point margin. 70% of black voters supported the ban. The disproportionate black support for Proposition 8 has led many people to target black voters for criticism. A standard line of critique condemns blacks for favoring a law that discriminates against another vulnerable social group. Holding aside the merits of engaging in such a line of analysis (I have made similar arguments in the past), the exit polls do not provide a rational basis for isolating black voters for disdain. The fact that white gays and lesbians have chosen to fixate upon blacks suggests that their criticism stems from strained relations between white gays and blacks and from distorted expectations about the commitment of blacks to liberal issues.

Although black voters supported Proposition 8 more than any other racial group, polling data do not justify isolating them for a public scolding. First, a majority of voters across the state supported the ban, so targeting one particular group at all is unwarranted. Nevertheless, blacks have received the bulk of public criticism for supporting Proposition 8, even though a majority or near-majority of every other racial group in the state also voted for the measure. 49% of whites, 53% of Latinos, and 49% of Asian Americans voted for Proposition 8. And, except for Asian Americans, these groups represent a much larger share of the California electorate than blacks. In fact, if the share of black votes for the amendment were subtracted from the total number of votes, the measure would still have passed due to the volume of support among other racial groups..

The public outcry likely stems from already strained relations between white gays and lesbians and blacks and from a misunderstanding of blacks’ commitment to progressive and liberal causes. White gay racism and homophobia among black heterosexuals prevent these groups from forming meaningful political alliances. The immediate victims of this problem are black gays and lesbians, who have frequently described their isolation from both communities. While black homophobia is inexcusable and ultimately detrimental to blacks (see Same-Sex Marriage and Racial Justice), blacks and gays will only form viable coalitions if both groups begin to engage in healthy self-criticism and to seek avenues for inter-group understanding. Black gays and lesbians could facilitate this reflection and outreach. According to media accounts, however, the campaign to defeat Proposition 8 failed to draw upon the important resources of black gay and lesbian activists in order to persuade blacks to vote against the measure. The lack of diversity among mainstream gay and lesbian organizations probably explains their failure to engage in necessary community-based advocacy. By contrast, when Senator Obama sought to draw angry (and potentially racially biased) white women back to the Democratic ticket after the divisive primaries, he dispatched prominent female political leaders, including Hillary Clinton, to do the job. Targeted campaigning is a basic dimension of effective political strategies.

Finally, the public criticism of black voters likely rests upon a gross misunderstanding of their political ideology. While black voters tend to support liberal political candidates, they often compromise and prioritize their values to do so. Blacks (and Latinos) are more religious than most voters, and many of them embrace social conservatism; they are anti-choice, anti-gay, and they believe in traditional family relations. Blacks support Democrats, however, due to the party’s relatively stronger record on race-based civil rights and economic justice. As a community, blacks view these issues as more central to their well being than the passage of socially conservative agendas. White evangelicals, by contrast, tend to place social conservatism above economic issues, which explains why they widely embrace Republican candidates. Many other social groups vote in this manner. A large number of white women, for example, support conservative Republicans, and a significant number of white gays and lesbians vote for Democratic candidates but oppose liberal causes such as affirmative action. The passage of Proposition 8 in deeply blue California proves that the recent Democratic surge does not represent an extreme change in the nation's political ideology. Even blue-state voters remain committed to socially conservative politics.

Until white gays and lesbians and black heterosexuals develop sustained political ties and mutual support, they will continue to clash on important social issues. Their respective racism and homophobia, however, form powerful barriers to their political collaboration. Black gay and lesbian political groups, which tend to lack the funding of mainstream organizations, could help to expand black support for pro-gay initiatives. Singling out black heterosexuals for public rebuke, however, will only exacerbate the already delicate relationship between blacks and gays.

Related articles on Dissenting Justice:

Anti-Gay Group Thanks Obama, Seeks to Exploit Black Homophobia to Constitutionalize Bigotry

Split Ticket? What California's Battle Over Same-Sex Marriage Means for U.S. Liberals

Strong Support for California Anti-Gay Measure Proves That Many Blue-State Voters Embrace Red Agendas


RightDemocrat said...

No. African Americans are simply reflecting their moral and religious values. Anyone who would expect African Americans (or Hispanics), regardless of party or ideology, to favor gay marriage doesn't have a good grasp of cultural differences. I am sure that a lot of working class white Democrats voted for Proposition 8 also. It is your upscale white voter that is most likely to support gay marriage.

I have long supported non-discrimination toward gays but draw the line at gay marriage. It seems that the gay community has become the new bully on the block threatening anyone who disagrees with their agenda.

Gays may have dealt with some adversity because of their perceived or professed orientation but by and large are not a disadvantaged group. Look at income levels. Of course, you have wealthy African Americans and poor gays but the reverse is far more common.

PL said...

1. To the poster above: There is no 'gay agenda' and if there is, I certainly did not get the memo that fighting for my civil rights is agenda. Denying a suspect class of people a right granted to other groups is legally-speaking, DISCRIMINATION no matter what you think.

2. The phrase "white gay racism' is very questionable -- gays are not backlashing out of racism but a gut-reaction. I felt the same way the first-night and it has NOTHING to do with racism. I have done more for black civil rights in my lifetime than gay rights (and I am not white -- far from it). I highly doubt 'white gay' racism exists -- though no doubt that the gay 'leadership' is enshrined in whiteness. I will agree with that one.

3. You are right -- this backlashing has to stop. I wrote about it in my blog. It is understandable as a gut-reaction but after a little reading, education and understanding, not at all. It really makes me sad as an ethnic gay who fights for everyone's rights.
Prop 8 only won by 500,000 votes -- that really isn't anything. A lot of voters were confused, the No on 8 top-down, disorganized action was just pathetic and tried all the wrong tactics and few of the right ones.

Anyway, we know this won't stand. It may just be a blessing in disguise and get young folks like me who don't even care about gay marriage out in the streets and passionate about making change.

Thanks for your post. Agree with it for the most part and will link.


Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

RightDemocrat, as I stated in my blog, black religious conservatism explains a lot with respect to the vote on Prop 8. But I do not see why protesting the vote is "bullying." No one can force you to vote a particular way.

I would urge you, however, to think about why YOUR religious values should dictate other people's rights. Not only is this inconsistent with the constitution, but it is a dangerous and incoherent basis for law. Even within the same religions, people disagree; across religions the disagreement only grows. Historically, religion has served as a justification for all manner of discrimination, warfare, and oppression, including slavery and segregation. Audre Lorde wrote that "the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house." She was right.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

PL - are you saying that white gays are immune from racism, but blacks are not immune homophobia? Why? People are conditioned by their environments. Many gay people are even homophobic until they learn to become comfortable with the reality of their sexual desire. If gays can be self-loathing, why can't they hate others?

Also, in this comment, I have used racism in the sense of "bigotry," but racism is far more subtle than that. There is racial privilege and exclusion that many gay people of color have experienced. I encourage you to read the work of Urvashi Vaid (Virtual Equality) and some of my articles as well. They document the internal biases within the gay and lesbian community (class, gender, race, age, etc). I have also written extensively on homophobia and sexism among blacks.

Family Photos said...

Professor Hutchinson: Thanks so much for your blog posts. Indeed, reading the exit poll results on the CA Prop 8 initiative & seeing support for the ban among blacks at 70/30 certainly shook my worldview -- I was actually surprised the black community was anti-gay marriage to that degree. So, I've been scouring the web for information on how I, as a white lesbian, can reach out to the black community & engage in some sort of dialog to see what is going on. Your article is one of the few I've seen that addresses the issue head-on. I gather your recommendation is to reach out not only to GLBT African Americans but also straight black groups. Our GLBT employee group has been in dialog with BIG (Blacks in Government) as well as our Asian & Latino employee groups but professionals tend to be more liberal anyway. If you have specific ideas for ways to "develop sustained political ties" I'd love to hear them! BTW -- it's not so much 'anger' towards black Californians that I feel, more like shock or disappointment. The Florida result, e.g., seemed as I would expect but not liberal CA!

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Hi. Email me offline. I know a group that can help. Potentially, this election can bring about changes. But we have to work! I do not care for arguments that suggest most of the work has already been done. Elections are symbolic and allow us to rally. So let's get going. No more of what happened in California.

JLambyG said...

Hi Darren,
I took a much-needed break after all our pre-election blogging. I was excited to check out your post-election wisdom of the past month. Then, I got to the comments you posted on this entry. My friend, your personal integrity usually triumphs over your deeply-held personal views (or possible bias). For the first time, you let me down!
You asked,"Is white gay anger justifiable?" Well, angry 'white' gays certainly have a RIGHT to their feelings whether they are justified or not for me depends on how they ACT on that anger. Unfortunately, here in CA we quickly went past negative feelings into negative harassing and 'targeting' blacks and/or religious folks BECAUSE OF THE WAY THEY VOTED! Darren, you KNOW the law! That is wrong!
We all are entitled to the same First Amendment right to express our beliefs no matter how goofy others may find them. Threats and intimidation are tools used by terrorists! I can't help but liken it to the bullying tactics used to dissuade potential black voters from registering 30 years ago! I ask you, are we moving BACKwards as a nation?

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

JLamby -- Hi. Thanks for returning. It's great to have you back. I would not read more in the headline than is actually there. Of course white gays or anyone concerned with equality can be angry about the vote. But I am asking whether focusing on "black" voters is justifiable. For the reasons stated, I do not think it is right to single out blacks, as a class, the way the protesters have done. BUT, I do believe that anger over black homophobia is aproppriate. Not only have a dedicated a lot of my legal career to tackling those issues, but I have written two blog posts on them. I will put the links below. Tell me if you have the same opinion after reading them.

Anonymous said...

To the person who said there is no gay white racism, you have to be in denial..please wake up and take a close look at the gay community and the good old boy networks in castro, west hollywood, chelesea, fire island..these networks have helped newcomers (other whites), fund the movement, take advantage of newly found acceptance in companies, government and get their own gay white friends placed in those positions and they all in turn create white organizations which raise hell when a white person is attacked or killed but do NOTHING when LGBT people of color are murdered. All this is done systematically so the face of the gay movement remains white.

There is news for gay white community. The face of America is changing, the demographics are changing and so is the color. We the lgbt people of color may be in minority with in the gay community but accepting us would only help you to get your message of equality out. It is shameful that we are having this debate but the passage of propostion 8 has exposed the gay white community which had successfully silenced persons of color and their issues.

Anonymous said...

Dear RightDemocrat,

I am sorry you have repeated a nasty untruth about the gay community: "Gays may have dealt with some adversity because of their perceived or professed orientation but by and large are not a disadvantaged group. Look at income levels."

The fact is that many many gay lesbian people suffer economically as a result of the discrimination they face. What do you think your family kicking you out does? Schoolmates harassing and beating you? Jobs discriminating against you.

I will mark the origin of this untruth: it is used against the gay community to both argue they are other (some white guys in certain zips) and not the victim of discrimination. It is not true, but your repeat of it continues its harm.

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