Saturday, November 15, 2008

Black and white

Of all the political consequences arising out of California’s shameful adoption of anti-gay Proposition 8, in my opinion one of the worst is the myth that African-Americans were mainly responsible for it. This myth probably started among people who couldn’t read statistics properly, but it’s promoted by überbigots in pursuit of their religious-political agenda.

It’s true that some 70% of African-American voters in California voted to approve Prop 8. However, those voters make up less than 10% of the California electorate. Roughly half of white voters also voted for it; why isn’t their race relevant, too? White progressives felt that African-Americans, as victims of centuries of bigotry, hatred and discrimination in America, ought to understand and oppose discrimination against GLBT Americans. Naturally, it’s not as simple as that.

Religion is a huge part of life among many African-Americans, and for them Prop 8 was a religious issue. And there are some African-Americans who have never accepted that GLBT rights struggles are legitimate civil rights struggles. This has been the focus of much of the media coverage, and it’s basically true. However, it ignores the many alliances between African-American civil rights activists and GLBT civil right activists, and it also ignores the strong support for GLBT rights struggles from major African-American civil rights leaders and organisations (as, for example, just today Equal Justice Society, California NAACP and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. joined with other groups in a multi-racial effort to overturn Prop 8 in the California Supreme Court).

Most folks within the GLBT communities now get this. Yet the racial division is still being perpetuated and nurtured, and that’s at the centre of the problem facing the GLBT and African-American communities alike.

Far right—and monolithically white—christianist groups and leaders have been promoting the myth of African-American opposition in order to drive wedges between GLBT and African-American people. They’ve exploited those realities I mentioned earlier—religious objection and discounting of civil rights—in an attempt to both shore up those objections among African-Americans, as well as subtly trying to convince GLBT people that African-American people are their enemies. If these extremist christianists succeed, they’ll manage to weaken two of the segments of society they despise the most.

What stands in their way is what’s sometimes glibly called “people power”, the strength that comes when ordinary people stand together to assert their civil and human rights. African-American and GLBT communities alike have much to lose if the überbigots succeed, so it makes sense for them to work together to secure freedom for everyone. Can they?

The truth is, it really doesn’t matter if the two communities get along or even if they like each other. What matters is that they realise how much they have to gain by working together. To use the old phrase, united we stand, divided we fall—the latter is exactly what the überbigots want.

So, we have a choice: We can all choose to call out the überbigots on their lies and distortions, we can oppose their politics of hate and division and continue to work together to create change, or we can surrender and lose everything. There’s no middle ground in this—it’s black and white.

No comments: