Election ’08: No-on-8’s White Bias

(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Times
Opinion

By Jasmyne A. Cannick
November 8, 2008

I am a perfect example of why the fight against Proposition 8, which amends the state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, failed to win black support.

I am black. I am a political activist who cares deeply about social justice issues. I am a lesbian. This year, I canvassed the streets of South Los Angeles and Compton, knocking on doors, talking politics to passers-by and working as I never had before to ensure a large voter turnout among African Americans. But even I wasn’t inspired to encourage black people to vote against the proposition.

Why? Because I don’t see why the right to marry should be a priority for me or other black people. Gay marriage? Please. At a time when blacks are still more likely than whites to be pulled over for no reason, more likely to be unemployed than whites, more likely to live at or below the poverty line, I was too busy trying to get black people registered to vote, period; I wasn’t about to focus my attention on what couldn’t help but feel like a secondary issue.

The first problem with Proposition 8 was the issue of marriage itself. The white gay community never successfully communicated to blacks why it should matter to us above everything else — not just to me as a lesbian but to blacks generally. The way I see it, the white gay community is banging its head against the glass ceiling of a room called equality, believing that a breakthrough on marriage will bestow on it parity with heterosexuals. But the right to marry does nothing to address the problems faced by both black gays and black straights. Does someone who is homeless or suffering from HIV but has no healthcare, or newly out of prison and unemployed, really benefit from the right to marry someone of the same sex?

Maybe white gays could afford to be singularly focused, raising millions of dollars to fight for the luxury of same-sex marriage. But blacks were walking the streets of the projects and reaching out to small businesses, gang members, convicted felons and the spectrum of an entire community to ensure that we all were able to vote.

Second is the issue of civil rights. White gays often wonder aloud why blacks, of all people, won’t support their civil rights. There is a real misunderstanding by the white gay community about the term. Proponents of gay marriage fling it around as if it is a one-size-fits-all catchphrase for issues of fairness.

But the black civil rights movement was essentially born out of and driven by the black church; social justice and religion are inextricably intertwined in the black community. To many blacks, civil rights are grounded in Christianity — not something separate and apart from religion but synonymous with it. To the extent that the issue of gay marriage seemed to be pitted against the church, it was going to be a losing battle in my community.

At the same time that gays adopted the language of the civil rights movement, they never put into practice its core principles or demonstrated an understanding the people and history behind it. This how you have a gay couple in West Hollywood use a noose as part of a political effigy on the eve of one of the most important elections for both blacks and gays in California. I can tell you that didn’t go over too well with the black community.

Then there was the poorly conceived campaign strategy. Opponents of Proposition 8 relied on an outdated civil rights model, engaging the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People to help win black support on the issue of gay marriage. This happened despite the warnings of black lesbians and gays that it wouldn’t work. While the NAACP definitely should have been included in the strategy, it shouldn’t have been the only group. Putting nearly a quarter of a million dollars into an outdated civil rights group that has very little influence on the black vote — at least when it comes to gay issues — will never work.

Likewise, holding the occasional town-hall meeting in Leimert Park — the one part of the black community where they now feel safe thanks to gentrification — to tell black people how to vote on something gay isn’t effective outreach either.

In the past, it’s been common practice for the gay community to hire black faces, temporarily, to convince blacks to support gay marriage. The only problem is that the surrogates hired oftentimes are as far removed from the black community as the white gay community is.

Worse, gay activists have a history of financially supporting black political candidates, even though many of those same candidates will not openly support issues like Prop. 8. From Congressional members to state lawmakers, most black politicians were M.I.A. on Prop. 8.

There’s nothing a white gay person can tell me when it comes to how I as a black lesbian should talk to my community about this issue. If and when I choose to, I know how to say what needs to be said. Many black gays just haven’t been convinced that this movement for marriage is about anything more than the white gays who fund it (and who, we often find, are just as racist and clueless when it comes to blacks as they claim blacks are homophobic).

Some people seem to think that homophobia trumps racism, and that winning the battle for gay marriage will symbolically bring about equality for everyone. That may seem true to white gays, but as a black lesbian, let me tell you: There are still too many inequalities that exist as it relates to my race for that to ever be the case. Ever heard of “driving while black”? Ever looked at the difference between the dropout rates for blacks and for whites? Or test scores? Or wages? Or rates of incarceration?

And in the end, black voters in California voted against gay marriage by more than 2 to 1.

Maybe next time around — because we all know this isn’t over — the gay community can demonstrate the capacity and willingness to change that America demonstrated when it went to the polls on Nov. 4. Black gays are depending on their white counterparts to finally “get it.”

Until then, don’t expect to make any inroads any time soon in the black community on this issue — including with this black lesbian.

RELATED VIDEO

Donnie
“911”
SoulThought Recordings

The Court of Public Opinion

  • Randy T Foster

    This is a sad in this country. As a SGL man of color, I cannot believe that people are still in the dark when comes to equal rights. Why are we fighting among ourselves? This is what they want. They want us to fight one another on this issue. I can see them sitting back and cracking up laughing at us like we are some damn fools that we are and wishing that we all burn in hell.

    Second, I live here in the state of Michigan that passed Prop 2 in 2004, and gay men and women can’t even get benefits for their partners at all! Also, I feel that both sides should wait for the dust to settle and come back and talk to each other like ADULTS, not children. Children act out when things do not go their way. Also, as a black gay man, I feel that I no connection with the black community at all due to the fact of being called “fudge packer, but*& (*, and last, ass bandit”. Also, having kids and adults calling me that, I just want to walk away from the black community period! I rather deal with the black gay community to make sure that other black gay youth do not go through what I went through as a kid. I do not need straight black America’s approval to live as a strong, proud, masculine man in this country. And as far I am concerned, I not care that other black men and women who are heterosexual are hooked on drugs, in jail, homeless, and last, have kids that they can’t afford to have. That is their fault, not mine. That is the choices that they made, not mine, and I sick and tired as a taxpayer, paying for them to sit on their asses and collect money that I paid into this system every year and not do anything to get themselves out poverty, off drugs, and stop having kids that they can’t pay to keep. Last, I help those who can help themselves. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10.
    For the people that are white and posting comments on this site, have to remember one thing, blacks did not get this way overnight and it will take a lot of hard work and determination to change the mindset of people. But, first, the issue of racism must address first in an open honest way so that stereotypes are broken. Second, issues like poverty, unemployment, and many other ills that this country has can be talked about and solutions that are realistic are put in place by people who are willing to it.
    Last, I want to get married to my life partner and not have to worry about our families interfering with our money, house, and many other things that we worked hard for. I want to have the same rights as a straight couple and not be treated like a second class person.
    To end, let’s start by ending the foolishness in our backyards first. Then move to the next level.

  • grinder

    Randy, thank you for your message. In several comments, I have written that black gay people are the chief victims of homophobia in the black community, and your posting illustrates what I have been trying to say. I wish you nothing but the best. There is lots of work yet to be done. I want you to know that someone else saw your posting, thought about it, and took it to heart, and wishes the best for you and your other half. Good luck and godspeed to both of you.

  • I’m not able to follow the strategy you’re bellowing that will get you what you want. On the one hand, you’re the yadda-yadda-blah-blah-blah typical crack-addicted negro, then you’re a lesbo, then you didn’t have market situations racially-redirected so that you could compete with people that actually do know what they’re doing and who are a lot smarter than you. So which victim ideology are you on board with now?
    My take is that most really ugly chicks like you are just pissed off about everything.

  • Plus you have to contend with the fact that the vast majority of negroes vote the same way their massa vote, and oscuma is their current massa. And massa o don’t like him some gay marriage. BTW, I couldn’t care less, you want to get married, do it. Marry a lamp, I couldn’t care less. This country has vastly more important things onto which to direct their attention.
    Stupid-fuck liberals and democrats should only wake up once every other decade and vote. You people are really, really too stupid to do much else.

  • KEVIN

    DEAR JASMYNE A. CANNICK

    REGARDING YOUR OP-ED PIECE ON NOVEMBER 8TH IN THE LOS ANGELES TIMES: WHAT A FASCINATING EXERCISE IN RATIONALIZATION. TO BLAME WHITE GAY PEOPLE FOR THE DISCRIMINATING ACTIONS OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS IN CALIFORNIA, IS A TRUELY STUNNING ENGAGEMENT IN BLAMING THE VICTIM. SO… IT IS THE FAULT OF WHITE GAY PEOPLE THAT BLACK PEOPLE VOTED TO LEGALIZE DISCRIMINATION… NEXT YOU WILL BE TELLING US THAT MISOGYNISTIC AND HOMOPHOBIC RAP LYRICS ARE THE FAULT OF WHITE PEOPLE ALSO. YOUR WRITING WOULD LEAVE ME TO BELIEVE THAT THERE IS NO CONCEPT OF PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY. I KNOW THIS NOT TO BE TRUE.

    I THINK THAT THE SITUATION CAN, PERHAPS, BE VIEWED MORE SIMPLY: ONE DOES NOT DENY EQUALITY AND CIVIL RIGHTS TO OTHER PEOPLE SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY DO NOT SHARE YOUR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. TO DO SO IS THE VERY DEFINITION OF DISCRIMINATION. ALSO, WE DO NOT MAKE OUR LAWS BASED ON WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS… IF WE DID, SLAVERY WOULD STILL BE LEGAL IN THIS COUNTRY.

    I AM 53 YEARS OLD. I HAVE ALWAYS SUPPORTED THE ISSUES AND CONCERNS OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY. IF THEY CAN NOT SUPPORT THE ISSUES THAT ARE IMPORTANT TO ME AND MY COMMUNITY, THEN WHY SHOULD I CONTINUE TO SUPPORT THE ISSUES THAT ARE OF IMPORTANCE TO THEM. I RECENTLY VOTED AGAINST THE ELIMINATION OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION IN COLORADO. PERHAPS THE NEXT TIME THIS ISSUE IS BROUGHT UP FOR A VOTE, AND WITH THE ELECTION OF BARACK OBAMA I DOUBT THAT IT WILL BE THAT LONG, I WILL RECONSIDER MY ORIENTATION TO THIS ISSUE… I MAY JUST RECONSIDER MY FEELINGS ABOUT THE ISSUE. IF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY THINKS THAT IT CAN TRUST WHITE EVANGELICALS AND MORMONS TO SUPPORT THE ISSUES AND CONCERNS OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN COMMUNITY, INCLUSIVE OF AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, I THINK THAT THEY MAY HAVE A RUDE AWAKENING BEFORE THEM, AND ACTUALLY, I THINK THAT THEY ALREADY KNOW BETTER.

    FORTUNATELY, I THINK IT IS ONLY A MATTER OF TIME BEFORE EVEN THE MOST DISCRIMINATORY RELIGIOUS PEOPLE FIGURE OUT THAT WHEN THEY FIGHT AGAINST SAME-SEX UNIONS AND GAY MARRIAGE, THEY ARE SIMPLY FIGHTING AGAINST EQUALITY, COMPASSION, AND LOVE. SOMETHING WHICH ALL AXIAL-AGE RELIGIONS HAVE, SUPPOSEDLY, LONG SOUGHT TO MAXIMIZE.

    “IF AND WHEN I CHOOSE TO, I KNOW HOW TO SAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID.” PRAY TELL WHEN YOU MIGHT FEEL SO GENEROUS TO ALL OF US KNOW NOTHINGS. WHAT ARROGANCE. WHAT HUBRIS. PLEASE.

  • Spark

    Jasmyne,

    Although I do not live in America, I followed the news closely regarding proposition 8 to see how much change we can *really* expect to see in the next 4 years. The entire world wants to see a more progressive America so other countries (such as Australia where I live) can realise that equal marriage rights are long overdue.

    After reading your article today on the L.A Times website, I was stunned that a gay person would take such a twisted approach to the failings of the proposition 8 vote.

    Although closeted gay people would have been able to sit at the front of the bus in the 50’s. During the 30s & 40s the Nazis ranked gay people worse than Jews, they tortured and done horrific science experiments on people they accused of being gay. Gay people received electric shock therapy since it’s inception and this continued until the late 70’s. There are still countries where people are hung today for commiting homosexual acts based on a religious code.

    How many black politians have won successful elections compared to gay politicians? You’ll find that most gay politicians who won any elections were closeted and living a false life to appease the publics view of society.

    People will vote for someone regardless of the clour of their skin, and that is a wonderful thing and I’m glad (and relieved) Obama is president. But what if he were gay? People would never have even given him the chance….

    Because alot of the black population are religious, doesn’t make the bigotry any more acceptable. It naive for gay people to think black folks are responsible for the outcome of proposition 8, but I think there was at least an assumption that other minorities would rise above religious bigotry, given that thier rights were also trampled on by a society that heavily out numbered them.

    Seems that history is quickly forgotten…

    You have large audience and you could have written something beautfil about this moment in time, you chose to pick a different team that was sharing it’s own moment of glory.

    Fair enough, but you didn’t need to degrade others who actually still believe in equal marriage rights…

  • Simon

    Spark is brilliant, too smart to read this woman’s ridiculous rant…this queer Uncle Tom owes the queer community a huge apology, though of course she’s black first, lesbian a VERY distant second. I’m sure the black community will treat you better than the gay community NOT!

  • (sent to the editor of the LA Times on 11/10/08)

    Dear Editor:

    I was extremely disappointed to see the op-ed piece by Jasmyne Cannick regarding No on Prop 8. Sadly, her argument is tragically flawed. I am especially offended by Cannick’s deeming of same-sex marriage as a white luxury. That is an execrable statement and I reject it. It’s unfortunate that Ms. Cannick appears to only have the capacity to care about one issue at a time and not understand that black people (and I’m black), are the not the only ones deserving of civil rights because of the color of our skin. The right to marry has nothing to do with race; it is about basic
    civil rights, which everyone should fight for. It is simply too dangerous to allow religious groups the power and influence to re-write the constitution because they are afraid of what they don’t understand.

    If there are many others in California who feel the way Cannick does then I can see why Prop 8 failed to win black support. That’s troubling. I don’t recall ever seeing that tackling homophobia trumps other “black issues.” And what are these “black issues?” Newsflash: not all black people are struggling, not all are so steeped in poverty they can see and focus on nothing else, some of us are doing quite well yet still manage to volunteer to help those who aren’t. We can do both at the same time. I do. Some of us support organizations like HRC and Garden State Equality while also supporting the National Black Justice Coalition. Why does everything have to be so racially divisive? I do not say that to discount the income and education gaps, but just to state that we can focus on more than one thing at a time.

    Cannick’s piece was irresponsible and feeds the caldron of racial division. As well, she disregarded those of us African-Americans who do support marriage equality.

  • Renee

    Hi Jasmyne,

    I enjoy all your articles immensely and pretty much share your views on various issues. I have gay friends and family members but am ambivalent on this gay marriage for “one” reason alone…white gays are just as racist if not moreso than their heterosexual counterpart. Most black gays can readily attest to this fact! I also do not support feminists and animal rights activists for the same reason although I may agree with their issues. Keep dropping the “truth” on them!