Friday, November 07, 2008

People of color are not to blame for California passing Prop 8

First, let me just say this: This is a little ranty, and the ranting is not directed, as far as I know, at anyone on this blog or anyone I know personally. A good bit of frustration about the anti-gay amendments is spilling out in all kinds of different directions in all kinds of different communities. Some of it's been spilling over into blame-slinging racism from white queers. Now some of it's spilling over into blame-slinging at our not entirely effective marriage equality campaign, which didn't really do half a bad job considering what we were up against... but clearly we needed to do better, and we needed to do better in one specific area in particular: Involving people of color.

Okay, folks, there's been a good bit of noise in the blagosphere that if Black and Latino voters only hadn't turned up to the polls in record numbers to vote for Barack Obama, Prop 8 wouldn't have gotten passed and (presumably white) queers would have nothing to do but celebrate on November 5th.

But Dan Savage can bite me.

If you really think that statistically speaking, Black and Latino homophobia is to blame for Prop 8's passage, first go here and read this, then get back to me.

Here? Okay, good. To recap, there are insufficient numbers of Black and Latino voters in California to have ensured Prop 8's passage all by themselves. If they voted for Prop 8 only in the same proportions as white voters (which, one exit poll suggests, they didn't), the Proposition still would have passed by a narrow margin. If every Black and Latino voter in the country stayed home, maybe Prop 8 wouldn't have passed... but we'd definitely be looking to John McCain and Sarah Palin to uphold our rights on the federal level, which, let's face it, is an unlikely prospect at best.

Need more numbers? Maybe simpler ones? You're excused for another few minutes to look here.

Okay, but the exit poll says that Black and Latino voters voted for Prop 8 in greater proportion than white voters did. Leaving aside the notorious unreliability of exit polls, why might that have been? I'm hearing from the Dan Savage quadrant that it's because Black people are homophobic. Chil', please, as any number of white gay men might say.

Proportionally more people of color supported Prop 8 because Yes on 8 did a better job asking for their votes. No on 8 didn't bother. We tailored our message to straight white women. We didn't do any coalition building with communities of color. It was a reasonable course of action from a political standpoint. After all, Hilary Clinton was a foregone conclusion for the democratic nominee. And when it turned out she wasn't after all, we still knew white women were going to be the decisive factor in the election; all the media said so. It was all about whether white women would vote for Obama because he's young and good looking, or whether they would vote for McCain because they were disillusioned and angry with the Democrats and the Obama campaign, or whether they were for Palin or against Palin. Why, we had no way of knowing people of color would get to the polls and actually vote. You know, after fighting so long and hard for that right, a fight that continued during the elections this year, given (as it happens, ineffective) voter suppression attempts aimed at people of color.

Still and all, many Black and Latino people, gay and straight, found a way to support marriage equality. The NAACP came out opposing Prop 8, without much fanfare from the No on 8 campaign. President-Elect Obama officially opposed 8, even though he did cave and make the obligatory "marriage etc etc" statement that the Yes on 8 people twisted in their dirty robocalls. And many more regular people would have if the Yes on 8 campaign didn't get to their families and churches first. Because believe it or not, Black civil rights leaders have a history of supporting gay rights. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP were there at the 1987 march on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. Gay rights leaders don't have the same history of supporting Black civil rights. And in the gap between what white queers owe the Black community and what they owe us, it's just possible that marriage fell.

So if anyone would like to continue to pin the responsibility for Prop 8's passage to Black people, go right ahead, but only if we actually learn something productive from it instead of just slinging blame—and that's that we can't win our rights without the help of people who've had many years more experience at it, and we've got to earn that help by lending a hand unasked in the continuing fight against racism. (And no doubt about it, it is a continuing fight: just because Barack Obama was elected President doesn't mean there aren't millions of young Black men, maybe some just as smart and talented, behind bars for no crime or for a crime a white man would have got off for.) If you won't acknowledge the context so we can learn from our mistakes, then you'd better chalk up those extra few votes to bad luck and start organizing for the next four years. Just don't make the same mistake.

Here's my suggestion for a plan of action for the marriage equality movement for the next four years:
1) Reach out to LGBT of color organizations first. Cop to the mistakes we made in organizing against Prop 8, eat some crow, and ask them what they need to be involved.
2) Having done that, offer help to queer-positive anti-racist organizations. Acknowledge that in the past, mainstream gay organizations haven't been doing all we could in the fight against racism. Follow through on commitments we make at this time.
3) At the same time, build inroads in mainstream communities by lending a hand in community projects. Go out with teams of VolunQueers to work on explicitly non-gay related projects that affect the lives of Black people, Latin@s, Asians, Native people, and poor straight white people. Volunteer at their churches' food banks. Be hard working, open hearted, and humble.
4) Ask moderate church and community leaders what it would take to make a counter-amendment palatable to them and their constituents. WHAT?!? Yes. Not every demand could possibly be met without failing in our aim of equality—but you might be surprised, for several groups to get on board, it might take as little as the addition of a line that explicitly states that no church will be required to marry same sex couples, just to counteract the lies Prop 8 supporters have been telling. Perhaps the next marriage amendment will state that religious organizations are responsible for defining the meaning of the word marriage for themselves, and the state is required to recognize every religious marriage and civil union equally—but that would still work for me.
5) Value people of color's work. Give thanks and reciprocate. Follow up and maintain the coalition. Call every so often and ask if there's anything they need, find out what they're working on and volunteer to help.

We're in the equality caucus together.


whatsername said...


C.M. Gonzalez said...

Well said. Thank you.

brownstocking said...

Thank you very much for posting this.

tagonist said...

very true! let's get to work