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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

Posted: December 8, 2008 12:45 PM

The Meme That Will Not Die: Blacks Enabled Prop 8 to Pass


It's really time to stop dancing around the fantasy of a post-racial America, particularly with the exposed nerves around Prop 8. Here's another example of jaw-dropping color arousal and unhelpful ruminating, this time in an op-ed by Caitlin Flanagan and Benjamin Schwarz in the New York Times, "Showdown in the Big Tent" -- it asserts most blacks are homophobic, apparently due to race itself.

Christian teaching on marriage is not the only reason so many blacks supported Proposition 8. Although it has come as a shocking realization to many in this community, a host of sociological studies confirm that many blacks feel a significant aversion to homosexuality itself, finding it morally and sexually repugnant.

None of these studies are cited by the way, and besides, if we run with that ludicrous statement and take a look at general demographics in this country -- many whites feel a significant aversion to homosexuality as well, or we'd have marriage equality in quite a few more states. Homophobia has nothing to do with race; religious beliefs, levels of education and class are much better predictors -- and that applies across color lines.

A blanket statement about blacks and homophobia overlooks black LGBTs, secular blacks, those with high levels of education -- those who did vote against 8. Did these folks turn in their Negro card when they lost their homophobia? It's absurd thinking.

But acknowledging this that would render this op-ed's hysteria useless, facts and logic are inconvenient. It's amazing how intelligent people can so easily fall prey to their own biases, and display them so publicly.

Again, it's clear there are unique cultural factors that make homophobia in the black community worth exploring and combating, but this op-ed is unbelievable, even suggesting that

Many gay activists have begun quietly to suggest that had Hillary Clinton been the Democratic nominee, Prop 8 would not have passed.

Why will this zombie meme -- that the black vote was the cause of the failure to defeat Prop 8 -- simply not die?

Left-leaning California's horror about this newly revealed schism between two of its favorite sons is a situation that cries out for a villain, but the one that liberal white Hollywood has chosen for the role probably won't make it all the way to the third act.

"It's their churches," somebody whispered to one of us not long after the election; "It's their Christianity," someone else hissed, rolling her eyes.

Their churches -- those black churches did it. Have they forgotten who bankrolled Yes on 8 and exploited the cultural conservatism of a slice of the religious black community -- white evangelicals and Mormons. Gee, aren't the vast majority of those folks white?

More after the jump, including the unsettling news delivered to me on Saturday just before I had to go onstage to moderate a panel about building coalitions.

This kind of irresponsible baiting is incredible, yet I have to say that this kind of thinking is still roiling inside the LGBT community. On Saturday, just prior to the one I moderated at the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference, I had more than a few people come up to me to say that this kind of irrational, unproductive blaming was stirring among some of the attendees of a panel about Prop 8 moments ago.

Of course I was told this just before I had to go on stage and discuss "Winning Coalitions for the Common Good." Needless to say, it was intimidating to think that a good number of people in the room arrived agitated over Prop 8 and race, and here we were, there to talk about communication, reconciliation and moving forward.

As I said in my post about the plenary session, I had prepared opening remarks to lay the foundation for opening honest communication, and in light of what I was told about the rancor just before going on, I had no idea what to expect:

Today I'm here with my colleagues from the National LGBT Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative that is being held just a few blocks away. In many ways the issues we are discussing there have much in common with those this panel will address. In our workshops we are dealing with long-simmering communication challenges between blogs, traditional LGBT media, elected officials, community leaders and LGBT advocacy organizations. We're meeting to learn how to build mutually beneficial ties as we advance, report on, and provide commentary about the LGBT rights movement. The bottom line is that we have to add effective communication tools to our toolboxes to make that happen.

And here we, at your conference, to being a discussion about how to achieve similar goals on a different front -- how to build stronger coalitions, in this case between the LGBT community and communities of color, labor, women, the faith community and other potential political allies for the common good. And that involves developing a framework for productive dialogue in the wake Prop 8. In the blogosphere the reactions were raw, long-simmering tensions were unearthed in a very public way.

The fact is, this wasn't surprising to those of us who inhabit both worlds as LGBT people of color. What it laid bare was the long-standing dire need for better communication between the LGBT movement and communities of color, and discussion about LGBT issues within communities of color. So I see this as an amazing opportunity for all of us to add tools to our toolboxes to reach our common goal of equality.

The panelists on stage with me, Kathryn Kolbert, President of People for the American Way; Assemblymember John Pérez of the California State Assembly; Robert Raben, of the Raben Group; and Dr. Kenneth Samuel, African American Ministers Leadership Council deftly negotiated this difficult territory, and the Q&A with the audience was productive. I left the stage with a sigh of relief; I do hope that there was active listening going on because that's the only way to move forward.

I did receive positive feedback about the session, so I left somewhat reassured that what was said gave people food for thought, and that they were perhaps ready to actually take action individually to leave their comfort zones to do the difficult work needed to use those tools in the toolbox and communicate beyond our fears about race, religion and difference. If we don't, the religious right will continue to exploit our inability to come to grips with the solvable schisms in our community.

Related:
* Nate Silver at 538.com takes on the Prop 8 Myths
* Open thread - flicks and pics from the conference
* Shameless celebrity moment at the Gay & Lesbian Leadership Conference (Kate Clinton)
* The National LGBT Blogger and Citizen Journalist Initiative

(UPDATE: Mike Signorile weighs in as well.)

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