May 16, 2012

Voting While Black

There are several books which are currently on the market which speak to “post-blackness” or articulate a redefinition of “blackness” in this confusing era (see  In my humble opinion, and that of noted Professor and scholar Henry Louis Gates and others, there is no one definition of blackness, nor should there be.  However, the arguments’ surrounding what is and is not blackness and how it relates to the overall political discourse in this country is something that has been troubling me.

The latest example comes from North Carolina.  Amendment One – the measure which sought to define marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman was approved by the residents of North Carolina overwhelmingly.   What is problematic is not that a state with such historical ties to oppressing human/civil rights is up to their old tricks, but rather what is surprising is who, in part, the culprits are contributing to the denial of rights to a group of American citizens. 

Much in the same manner as in 2008 with California Ballot initiative Proposition 8 – which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, this ballot measure in North Carolina is nothing but solidifying hatred and discrimination into codified law.  That black folk, supposedly religious black folk, supported both of these ballot measures in great numbers is something that I cannot fathom.

Just to give you the numbers, in the same election in which over 90% of the black population voted for Barack Obama for President, 7 in 10 blacks voted yes in favor of Proposition 8 in California.  In Los Angeles County alone, if that number had been reversed, the measure most likely would not have passed.  As it stood, the measure passed 52-47%.  Most recently in North Carolina, Amendment 1 passed with a 2-1 margin of the black vote and an overall percentage of 61-38%.  While the majority of blacks may not have carried Amendment 1 to defeat, they certainly added to its victory.

During the fight for equality in the 1960s there were a host of allies who sought to help the Civil Rights Movement achieve their goals.  Most notably both Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin were two openly gay black men who fought on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.  Further, as one recent article noted, everyone who has ever sung in a black church choir knows someone who is gay – either openly or suspected.  What is the most disappointing thing about my own people’s abandonment of civil rights in the name of “religion” or worse, in trying to define “Civil Rights” as only those rights negotiated and fought by and for blacks, is the hypocrisy.  Not only were there black gay leaders, there were whites, women, and other minorities all fighting in the struggle. In the early 20th century, it was the prevailing wisdom of whites to use a biological determination concerning the need for the separation of races before it was found to be illogical, ill-conceived and downright wrong.  

Another critique of miscegenation was that it was an “abomination” of God that the two races (they never include other groups besides “black” and “white”) shouldn’t mingle, much less procreate or marry.  That some blacks are using the same arguments to deny rights to LGBT couple who want to marry (especially in certain states where the STRAIGHT divorce rate is above 50% but that’s for another day), is completely 180 degrees from everything that the “Movement” stood for.

Let me be clear, certain black folk both in and out of the public arena have continually been outspoken in favor of LGBT rights before Obama’s announcement, including, ironically the Rev. Al Sharpton and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson.   However, there are too few foot soldiers who do not challenge the negative, ignorant assumptions made in barbershops, locker rooms and elsewhere about LGBT folk.  Too few of us who stand for human rights mean it in regards to everyone.  

On a personal note, in much the same way as President Obama, I too came to the epiphany of being open to not just marriage equity – which is somewhat new on the policy/political agenda, but LGBT issues in general.  I was never “against” gays, I just didn’t know anyone nor was I openly exposed to the culture.  Attending a liberal arts college in Los Angeles will change that lack of exposure real quick.  I was confronted with people who I respected, admired and yes even had crushes on who were lesbian or bi.  I was forced to reconcile my dream at the time of being a “Civil Rights” lawyer with my own hypocrisy of not including all rights under that banner.  While I would consider my mother and the rest of my family religious, I would also consider them to be extremely progressive.  Sometimes those two can reconcile themselves, and other times they cannot.  The one thing I can say is that I strongly believe that education and exposure are key.

So how do we educate black folk to both “love the sinner while hating the sin” and keeping their religious convictions (which no one is trying to deny) out of the polling booth?  My initial response is education - education not only in the home, but in the pulpits – which, when it really comes down to it, shouldn’t be in the business of telling us who or what to vote for anyway.   Finally, we need to publicly expand what blackness means.  It does not have to include oppressing other groups in the name of hyper masculinity, religious beliefs or other reasons.  It can include being more understanding that while our struggles for justice and rights are far from over, we will never completely overcome as long as Black folk continue to be the oppressors of other people, many of whom look like them. In order to truly make this a more perfect Union, we need to join with other groups still in their middle stages of their fight for equality.  Together, with as many allies as possible (and we now have a tremendous ally in the White House) we will one day be able to achieve equality.

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