On Proposition 8

A Racialicious Roundtable

Alternet recently reprinted an article by James Kim (written for The Nation), reporting:

If exit polls are to be believed, some 70 percent of African-Americans voted Yes on 8, as did 53 percent of Latinos and 49 percent of Asians; each of these demographics went heavily for Obama; blacks by a 94-to-6 margin. Los Angeles County, heavily minority, went 50-50 on Prop 8. These results have shocked gay activists, who knew from earlier polls, for example, that black voters favored Prop 8, but they were seeing much smaller margins, closer to 50 percent.

The easy, dangerous explanation for this gap, and one already tossed around by some white gay liberals in the bitter aftermath, is that people of color are not so secretly homophobic. But a more complicated reckoning — one that takes into account both the organizing successes of the Christian right and the failures of the gay movement — will have to take place if activists want a different result next time. First, there’s the matter of the Yes on 8 coalition’s staggering disinformation campaign. Ad after ad told voters that without Prop 8, their churches would be forced to perform same-sex unions and stripped of their tax-exempt status; that schools would teach their children to practice homosexuality, and, perhaps most effective, that a smiling Barack Obama had said, “I’m not in favor of gay marriage.” This last bit went out in a flier by the Yes on 8 campaign targeting black households.

[...]

For years, the California Christian right apparatus, long hampered by their nativism and racism, had been unable to make inroads into the state’s brown, yellow and black populations — a demographic goldmine in a state that is more than 50 percent minority and growing. Prop 8 may prove their gold rush. From the very beginning they bought up ad space in Chinese, black, Spanish and Korean media; they hosted massive rallies for ethnic Christians. The Sunday before election day, I went to Los Angeles City Hall for the most celebratory, most diverse rally I have ever attended; it was organized by Yes on 8 Chinese advocates.

So, it would appear that the passing of Prop 8 had a bit more to do with targeted outreach and good messaging than the inherent homophobia of nonwhite communities. Now, I am not saying that people of color can’t be bigoted or homophobic – we are. But what always chafes me about these issues is that people jump to a gut reaction like “blacks have a problem with homophobia” in their community without taking the time to figure out why something happened the way it did.

That aside though, Prop 8 brought up a lot of good conversations as to the nature of community building, homophobia in nonwhite communities, the idea of solidarity, and how we so often fail to notice the interlocking oppressions that manifest themselves when we try to mass organize.

I asked the contributors here to share their thoughts on the passing of Prop 8. Here is what they said.

Andrea Plaid:

This hurts me deeply.

It hurts me deeply that a majority of Black, Latin@, and Asian Californians refused to see how racial and sexual oppression–and liberation–are linked to each other. They voted to maintain their places in the kyriarchy instead of working for the freedom of another group who suffers–and have died and still die–to simply express their desire to create intimate, life-long relationships so they’ll have one person–just one person–bear witness to their lives. No, the PoCs who voted for this hateful policy are owed and do not owe a quid pro quo to queer communities, but they–we–do owe them the common courtesy to ensure an environment to be able to live peacebly with whomever they wish to live with. In a secular society–where, by definition do not have a state-endorse and -enforced religion and, in this particular societywe have so many to choose from and quite a few of us have traveled from religion to religion–should abide by the faith of civility. The same civility PoCs have lived, bled, and died for what we’ve demanded from whites is what our queer relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors want from us. That’s all–nothing less and nothing more.

And because we live in a secular society, we simply can’t use our deities and our sacred books as reasoning to justify what we did to our queer brethern and sistren–literally and figuratively–at the voting booth in CA. If we can’t agree on a religion, how can we say whose god said what and which sacred sayings apply for the rest of the US, especially when it comes to legislating other people’s lives?

And, honestly, I think the religious argument serves as a smoke screen for judging what people do in their bedrooms. That’s right: sex. The revulsion I’ve seen in these anti-gay marriage arguments seems seated in a certain curiosity with the kind of sex queer people are having. Using a deity’s name and scriptures allow a disconnected piety as a gossamer veil for the can’t-quite-look-away fascination people have with how queer people fuck. But this is the argument I’ve used to cut the crap around that disingenuousness: in a secular society, a person should expect three things from zie’s neighbors: 1) they pay their taxes, 2) they maintain their dwelling places, and 3) if they have children, then they are rearing well-adjusted, productive children. How exactly does fucking influence those three things? And usually that kills the argument.

That is perhaps, where the post-Prop 8 activism rests–not in loud, shoe-sole wearing marches–but in quiet advocacy, of discussing with family members and friends and neighbors to help them see that we’re connected. And, more than ever, we can use these words to remind us why we need to connect our struggles and our advocacy to develop a civil society for all of us:

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me, and by that time no one was to speak up.”
~~Fr. Martin Niemoller

Arturo Garcia:

For me it keeps coming back to the numbers. And at the risk of sounding like a pollyanna, the numbers lead me to believe there *is* hope for the days ahead.

Everybody comes back to the “70% support” for Prop 8 among black voters. What gets ignored is, blacks only made up 10 percent of the total number of voters, anyway. Latinos, who voted for Prop 8 by a 53-47 margin, only made up 18 percent of that number. Guess what? Whites still constitute 70 percent of said voting population, and the measure only failed with them by two percentage points.

Moreover, while California had more registered voters than ever before — the AP reported more than 17 million people around the state — only about 5 million of them actually voted for this specific proposition. Seven million Californians didn’t vote at all on the issue. A sweeping mandate, this was not. This gives me hope.

Also, in looking at those CNN exit polls, you can see that the percentage of voters who were for Prop. 8 drops off by age. While 61 percent of all seniors voted for it, 64 percent of all voters 18-24 — the demographic advertisers crave the most — voted against it. And less than 48 hours after the vote, this group is pissed off and organizing. Facebook groups. Boycotts targeting pro-Prop 8 businesses. Protest marches. Ironically, the young people Prop. 8 purported to “protect” may well steer the path toward its’ ultimate demise.

Thea Lim:

I live in Canada. Same sex marriage has been legal here for 3 years – not that long, but long enough for it to be a very normal thing for an urban Canadian like me. It’s easy for me to forget that in the vast majority of the world, same sex marriage is illegal. I was incredibly taken aback and saddened to hear that California voted for Proposition 8.

But this isn’t the first time a social justice movement, when faced with failure, has blamed people of colour. In fact the lack of people of colour within certain mainstream social justice movements (like the environmental movement or the anti-globalisation movement) occurs in part because people of colour are consistently used as scapegoats when progressive goals fall short.

I regularly hear, for example, that people of colour (and often poor people) don’t care about environmental issues – though that’s clearly untrue. Another famous (Canadian) example: when Quebec held a referendum in 1995 to separate from Canada, the leader of the separatist movement blamed “the ethnic vote” when the referendum didn’t pass.

As Nadra and Latoya have pointed out, it’s clear from the numbers that Prop 8 could not have been passed by the African American vote alone. We know that 70% of African American voters in California voted for Prop 8. It’s pretty telling however, that no one is talking about what percentage of white voters voted for Prop 8.

When people of colour are blamed for homophobia, it not only (stupidly) exempts white folks from homophobia, it also totally renders queer people of colour invisible. Creating an opposition between queer people and people of colour suggests that there’s no one who falls into both of those categories.

Not to mention the fact that perhaps, for queer people of colour (and white queer folks too), priorities are different. Marriage is not always number one on the list. In the words of Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore:

    Gay marriage does nothing to address fundamental problems of inequality. What is needed is universal access to basic necessities like housing, health care, food, and the benefits now obtained through citizenship (like the right to stay in this country).

But while we’re dealing with the racism that puts the blame for Prop 8 solely on the shoulders of people of colour, we do also need to admit, and then confront, the homophobia that exists in communities of colour. I don’t really care to talk about whether or not white communities or more or less homophobic than our own; it’s a pretty fruitless debate.

Fighting the racist rhetoric around Prop 8 doesn’t require us to deny that homophobia exists in our communities. The fact of the matter is that as anti-racist people of colour, we should be worried about how the homophobia in our own communities daily puts the physical and emotional needs of queer people of colour at risk.

There are many initiatives in the US that seek to address our own homophobia. The Dari Project is one. Supporting these initiatives may be the best way to prove that those who blame Prop 8 on people of colour are wrong.

Many thanks to M, F and Michelle for their help.

Nadra Kareem:

I still find it mind-boggling that 70 percent of black Californians voted for Proposition 8. Although I’ve heard time and again that blacks are raging homophobes, that stereotype never rang true for me. Perhaps this is because I’ve known gay, straight and bisexual blacks, alike, not to mention blacks of all political and religious affiliations. Or perhaps this is because the homophobic comments I’ve heard blacks make didn’t seem to be more extreme than the homophobic comments I’ve heard whites, Asians and Latinos make. Adding to my confusion is that one of the most homophobic members of my immediate family has become less so as she is exposed to gays and lesbians in her workplace and in popular culture. As America has become more accepting of gays, so has she.

I don’t know whether this family member would have voted for or against Prop. 8, and I don’t know what motivated those blacks who did to do so. What I do know is that California’s blacks don’t make up enough of the electorate to be responsible for Prop. 8’s passage, so why focus on this part of the population other than to suggest that, while Americans were open-minded enough to elect a black president, blacks are too narrow-minded to support gay rights. I am also curious as to why the media hasn’t broken down California’s black electorate into smaller segments so the public can have a better idea about which blacks supported the proposition. Were highly educated blacks overwhelmingly in support of the proposition? How about well-income blacks? I suspect not.

The only distinction I’ve heard the media make about California’s black electorate is that we were likely to have been influenced by the Church. I, for one, am a black who would be considered a highly religious member of the electorate because I attend church services weekly. Yet, I voted against Proposition 8. While I believe that the New Testament defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman, I recognize the separation that exists between church and state. This is a distinction that Jesus made himself when he said in Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

If Jesus recognized the separation between church and state, why are Christians so bent on making their religious beliefs law? If we recognize the laws of the land, as Jesus did, there can be no denying that, while there is no Biblical basis for same-sex marriage, stripping two willing adults of their right to marry in the U.S. constitutes discrimination, and, therefore, should be illegal.

(Photo Credits: ABC.com, NYDailyNews.com)