Prop 8 Debate: Let Us Not Be Racist (Updated...Twice)

As you might have heard, the ballot initiative banning gay marriage in California may pass by a small margin (something like 52% to 48%).  Maybe it won't - Alice Walker just said on BBC that it was voted down.  Regardless, it is close.

What is disturbing to me, but wholly unsurprising as a queer person of color, is that people have started to blame Black people for supporting the ban on gay marriage in large numbers (70% to 30% based on exit polls).  You can see the full exit poll results here.

Here is why I have a technical problem with this:

1) it's a small sample, and it's exit polls.  Black people were 10% of 2240 respondents, leaving 224 people.  I don't know what that means exactly in terms of margin or error or reliability in a narrow sense because I don't have enough stats, but it certainly shouldn't be taken as an indictment against Black people in California purely on social science grounds AT ALL without actually looking at the process in depth of how this came to be.  It's a single initiative based on a single history on a single day, and they asked 224 people who identified as Black (or "African American").

2) It ignores whether other variables might be as or more pertinent than race, and frames the narrative in a kneejerk and divisive way before looking at what's going on.  For examples:

82% of a sample of @650 Republicans voted FOR the ban.
85% of @672 self-identified conservatives voted FOR the ban.
81% of @381 White Protestant Evangelical/Born-Against voted FOR the ban.
76% of @672 of the people who said they would be optimistic if McCain was elected voted FOR the ban.
65% of @672 White Protestants voted FOR the ban.
84% of @493 people who go to church weekly voted FOR the ban.

68% of @179 people contacted only by the Obama campaign voted AGAINST the ban.
83% of @470 people who have never been to church voted AGAINST the ban.
90% of @358 people who said "None" for what religion they are voted AGAINST the ban.

And so forth.  So we have to look much more of the story if we're going to understand what's actually going on, not jump on whatever story we want.

3) Additionally, it's not that one story about these numbers is CORRECT and the other is FALSE, but that there are a lot of factors that go into making up a person and how they respond to these questions, to say nothing of an intense and controversial political  campaign, and there are many plausible angles you can take.   The stats can be cut in 19000 ways - you can see this from the completely different story that you might draw from the numbers I gave you.   On the basis of the exit poll and its sample, quite clearly Black voters voted in large number for the ban - as did White protestants, Married people, Conservatives, and people who support offshore oil drilling (for real!).

But if you just look at these numbers, how do you know that the Mormon church heavily funded the campaign against same sex marriage, that advocates of gay marriage in the lgbt movement ALSO have a specific position and are focusing on what I would call the equivalent of assimilationism (as opposed to substantive economic rights or social justice, though obviously there's overlap).  How do you get at the real story that's going on, understand the dynamics involved?  We can't unless we try to go WELL beyond this kind of data and use it as a small piece of a much broader effort.  The people who responded to this poll are people - individuals and people who are part of social groups and play a lot of different kinds of roles.

4) The reason this post is written: for too long, we have sat by and allowed divide and rule tactics like this referendum to allow us to slip into sniping instead of looking forward to how we can engage other people.  What happens in the end is that coalitions get assembled that can pass referenda like this that screw over disempowered people while other disempowered people go along with it - and that starts this cycle of backbiting and then a different set of disempowered group is screwed over and so forth...  Instead of doing that,  we need to engage each other and figure out how to stop the many groups who are driving the actual agendas against us.  It's not race or gender or sexuality or class - it's all of them!  We need to do community education, organizing, have identity politics AND political analyses, and above all an emphasis on democracy. For example,  the exit poll shows that union voters slightly SUPPORTED the ban on gay marriage - which makes me think that unions, as a receptive institution, need to do some work on homophobia.  This is what social movement building is.  If you're disempowered, you're either all in it together right now, or you're all  f@#ked.  Especially if you, like me, are more than one thing.

5) Finally, the parts of the LGBT movement that have pushed an emphasis on court-ordered legalization of gay marriage as opposed to emphasizing grassroots organizing in many ways on many issues or in addressing the racism in the LGBT movement have tactically erred and have often not addressed the classism or racism in those communities.  Why is this a priority and not something else?  Why is marriage so important? What particular coalitions are created as such?  Why was the focus on this proposition in California rather than the one in Florida that defined marriage and its attendant benefits in such a way that it denies ALL couples, opposite- or same-sex, access to the same rights as people who are married?  Who prioritized this strategy and who chose the strategy of judicial fiat?  That's what I want to know.

Food for thought.

Update: Richard Kim has a good analysis at The Nation where he gives you his take on why Prop 8 passed, also with an eye towards race.

Update 2: Slate has an article documenting the "millions of dollars" in contributions from members of the Mormon Church to get gay marriage banned in California.

Update 3: Racialicious has a reasonable post on this subject (though they got Rich Kim's name wrong).

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Corrective action? Well if

Corrective action? Well if you read the Kim article, you'll see that the No on Prop 8 forces did a poor job reaching out. i would also suggest trying to achieve social change through grassroots mobilizations and organizing rather than by lawyers pursuing impact litigation. I would suggest listening to the arguments of those who are at the intersections. I would suggest that all people make efforts to negotiate differences.

But a good first step is to not slip easily into divide and conquer rhetoric - if black chruches or desi families or whatever other social instititions are homophobic, then fine. Try to improve those insittutions / social spaces, or try to get people out of them into ones that will be more receptive (like unions).

I'm sure someone has a grand solution, but I only have the suggestion that we find points of intersection like this one and push back against false narratives and engage people on the issues at hand. Other people will have other roles. Like revisiting in depth the actual results and establishing a more empirically reliable narrative than "Oh Black people did it." and then creating a political strategy that will work in the context of a broader social movement (on race ,poverty sexuality, etc.) and then develop sepcific tactics that will address things and push things forward, as the streets say.

I don’t expect white

I don’t expect white protestants to support the rights of minorities and oppressed groups.

I do expect groups that tell me constantly how oppressed they are to support the rights of other minorities and oppressed groups.

born again evangelical leaders aren't constantly b@#tching about allegedly being oppressed? please.

Enough already ! lets cut the

Enough already !

lets cut the crap .lets dump all the PC ,right on nonsense. We know very well that homophobia is endemic in Black America.We know that violent homophobic attacks are acceptable in Black society,Frankly I'm fed up if having to pretend that we are involved in the same struggle - we aren't.

We want a tolerant liberal society .they want a corrupt society run by 'preachers' with their fingers in the till spewing homophobic filth.

This Queerboy's interest in the black community extends only to his gay black brothers and sisters and their oppression from their own people.

You know - I'm a middle-aged,

You know - I'm a middle-aged, white, gay man. I was a kid in Birmingham challenging racist whites who defended segregation. I worked to gree the Wilming 10 in college. I demanded justice for the victims of the Greensboro Massacre. As a teacher in Wyoming I have worked steadfastly to see that my students have an understanding of the history and persistence of racism since they have so few opportunities to interact with people of color.

All my life I have worked for civil rights for African Americans. But I am not extended the same courtesy by African Americans - not just with Prop 8, but over and over again. Sen. Obama tops the list with his use of Donnie McClurkin to win friends and influence people - esp. black people. Then there's his position paper that says that we need to consider all sides. Seems like in the 1950s and 1960s that was a segregationist argument. So we end up with "Marriage is between a man and a women, but I think Proposition 8 is discriminatory." Huh?!?!?

Sorry, Charley, but MLK, Jr. was working not only for a change in popular beliefs - but, more importantly, for fundamental legal protections. Thus, there was massive celebration when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board outlawing segregation in schools, when the courts overturned segregation on Montgomery's busses, when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, and when the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed.

How soon we forget.
No, there is an absolute need and a basic right to legal protections. Or would African Americans like to dispense with Brown, Affirmative Action, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act and just wing it - - trusting that everything will be just fine? I have heard from far too many African Americans that "THEY" are different. I've even heard African American ministers talk about how GLBTI people cannot control their sexual urges and are disease ridden. I want to throw up. That's EXACTLY what white said about blacks in the 1950s.

And do you hear a chorus of outrage from black political and religious leaders right now in response to the passage of Prop 8? Nope - just deafening silence. I cannot continue to support issues of importance to the African American community if the African American community cannot support the most basic of human rights for the GLBTI community. Call it "Divide and Conquer" call it whatever. The well has run dry.

thanks neetu! will take a

thanks neetu! will take a look and get back to you!

kay, you're officially a

kay, you're officially a guestblogger! everyone welcome neetu1!! :)
will send password and other info on e-mail.


Dr, so what is the corrective


so what is the corrective action your propose (I propose none at all). Only insist that bloggers waving a finger at the black community would go on a black church tour of CA where they can tell 'those people' how homophobic they are.

The focus was on African

The focus was on African Americans because as an oppressed minority, they were expected to support another oppressed minority. You're right, small sample size, etc and the fact that an overwhelming majority of republicans voted for the ban tells me that it is them we should be yelling "Racist" and "Bigot" at, not the African Americans alone. And good point on the racism and classism that pervades mostly white gay/lesbian communities, but that is not a function of their sexual orientation, it is just a white thing, and the African Americans who voted to ban same sex marriage presumably do not move in this community and did not make their decision based on this factor.

Denying gay people the right to marry because it goes against your beliefs is the functional equivalent of denying interracial couples the right to marry. Surely, the parallels are obvious and this is why the media picked up on the numbers.

As for Florida, you're right, I am not part of the gay or lesbian community, and so did not hear anything about this issue/ballot. Not that I could have done anything about it, but maybe they did not concentrate on Florida because they knew it was a lost cause given the demographics. If you can't legalise same sex marriage in a state with a democratic super majority, what chance do you have in Florida?

Anyway, good post. Any ire should be directed at the big conservative crowd, be it white, black or blue, not just at the small numbers of African Americans.

Hey Doc-- I emailed something

Hey Doc-- I emailed something to you just now. Please take a look and tell me what you think (it is somewhat timely). Thanks!

The focus was on African

The focus was on African Americans because as an oppressed minority, they were expected to support another oppressed minority.

Well, 1) "they" don't act as a collective bloc - there are Black people who are straight, Black people who are same-sex attracted, Black people who are transgender, Black people who are for gay marriage, Black people who are against it; figuring out in what proportiions takes more than an exit poll that turns into a meme 2) If people aren't working together - lgbt people talking to Black people talking to immigrants talking to Muslims talking to other people - in however long a chain it takes for that communication to happen - then nothing's going to change. It's still inexcusable for the people who are playing divide and rule to get a free pass while the people who are subjected to it are blamed for the outcome, especially when they're a small part of the coalition of people who opposed Gay marriage (apparently) and there's such a strong tradition of racism in the United States against Black people that continues (as we can see).

...i left out

...i left out imperialism/ apologies. it's really important, because it rarely gets discussed in american politics.

dr. anonymous: Was the civil

dr. anonymous:

Was the civil rights struggle was about principle or just us-against-them?

What resonates for me about human rights struggles in general is that they are fights by and with the disempowered to stop extraordinary abuses of power. I don't think it is either JUST about principle or JUST group politics. It is a mix of both, obviously. There were PLENTY or issues in the civil rights movement once you strip it of how romantically it is discussed (notably to keep us from developing strategies of our own that match today's situation and world) and there are PLENTY of issues in all social justice movements, from organizaitonal authoritarianism ot homophobia to racism to classism to misogyny. The point is that each and every one of these is something we need to work towards.

Look, i'm not asking anyone to be perfect - in fact, I'm asking for the opposite - to recognize with some humility and compassion that we're all imperfect and to undersatnd what's going on. I UNDERSTAND that a lot of lgbt people are really really angry about the prop 8 passage--because i'm one of them. I just don't think that it's either productive or principled to use that as an excuse for racism. Which is why establishment institutions like the media and conservative LGBT people and conservative Black people are pushing the narrative that we have no interests in common!

[...] Many MANY good links in

[...] Many MANY good links in that post, a couple of which I’ve included in comments here, and one more here that looks at the framing of the exit poll data. [...]

dr. anonymous: Was the civil

dr. anonymous:

Was the civil rights struggle was about principle or just us-against-them?

This Queerboy’s interest in

This Queerboy’s interest in the black community extends only to his gay black brothers and sisters and their oppression from their own people.

Let me know what they say when you talk to them. Maybe they will agree. Maybe they won't. Ask them also about racism in the queer community. Do they agree with this?

We want a tolerant liberal society .they want a corrupt society run by ‘preachers’ with their fingers in the till spewing homophobic filth.

Stop making people choose and start listening. NO one has said that homophobia in the Black community or anywhere else shouldn't be combatted and discussed. This is a progressive site, and the main challenge I've made is that you can make these generalizations on the basis of an exit poll on a ballot initiative in one year after a state. It might, in fact, require a broader change in how queer politics works...I starting point would be to take some advice from all nonWhite and nonrich and nonmale and non-genderconforming and otherwise nondominant people in the queer community ;)

While we do that, we can talk about homophobia in all commmunities as a social structure and how it works.

I have taken your considered

I have taken your considered opinions into account, and in order to protect my sanity and emotional health, written this. Enjoy!

PS - Unfortunately, Ladoris

PS -

Unfortunately, Ladoris Cordell was mistaken in her hopes - -

As an African-American lesbian who has been in a loving relationship for over two decades, I have been made well aware of the black community's discomfort with things gay. Our long and courageous history in the forefront of the struggle for civil rights notwithstanding, the leadership of black America -- politicians, ministers, business leaders -- has not been as outspoken as it could be and should be on the issue of gay rights. Homophobia and traditional religious teachings play a role in our silence. But the roots of our discomfort, I think, go deeper. Sadly, some African-Americans believe that it is only we who should benefit from the gains achieved by the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. They fear that to allow the gay community to enter the doors of opportunity opened by our struggle, to permit gays and lesbians to share in the fruits of that movement, will diminish those benefits for the black community. Truth is, there is more than enough to go around.

I don’t know if i’t a divide

I don’t know if i’t a divide and rule ploy, but pretending that african americans, the black community, whatever, doesn’t have a huge problem with LGBT people is a joke.

Evidence please. Anecdotes. Data. Qualitiative studies. Ethnographies. Something.

It's all well and good to try to say things about the outside world, but if you're going to say something that could easily be construed as racist in the way it's framed (Black people are homophobic but...every other community from Latinos to Asian people to White Christians are expempt from mthe charge?) you need to back that shit up.

I don't know if i't a divide

I don't know if i't a divide and rule ploy, but pretending that african americans, the black community, whatever, doesn't have a huge problem with LGBT people is a joke.

I don't expect white

I don't expect white protestants to support the rights of minorities and oppressed groups.

I do expect groups that tell me constantly how oppressed they are to support the rights of other minorities and oppressed groups.

Not as a quid-pro-quo, just due to the logic of a) being and citizen and b) telling others how oppressed you/they are indicating how you/they are sensitive to such matters and that such matters are important.

I am not surprised with the vote, people are often ignorant about their own privilege and the injustice they permit done to others. People are often insensitive to harm when it is done to others and specifically to people they disagree with.

I think bigotry, racism, misogyny, misandry, homophobia, ... all of that is wrong.

But I think the politics of grievance is morally bankrupt in its current state of groups who tally up the various grievances and claim to be able to put a partial ordering on the moralness and goodness and evilness of the various groups.

I am hopeful that with 8 years of Obama as President, we are all much better prepared to shitcan the politics of grievance.

also it's not just bloggesr -

also it's not just bloggesr - it's irresponsible newspaper headlines ;)

I am upset about this

I am upset about this erroneous finger pointing at African-Americans regarding Proposition 8. Why are you so quick to believe whatever you hear? If someone told me 70 percent of gay people voted against Obama my first thought would be, excuse me Jesus, that is crap! I don't believe it! This political year was fraught with right wing lies. Bear that in mind.

"Religious organizations that support Proposition 8 include the Roman Catholic Church], Knights of Columbus, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) a group of Evangelical Christians led by Jim Garlow and Miles McPherson, American Family Association, Focus on the Family[and the National Organization for Marriage Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, California's largest, has also endorsed the measure. The Bishops of the California Catholic Conference released a statement supporting the proposition. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has publicly supported the proposition and encouraged their membership to support it, by asking its members to donate money and volunteer time. The First Presidency of the church announced its support for Proposition 8 in a letter read in every congregation. Latter-day Saints have provided a significant source for financial donations in support of the proposition, both inside and outside the State of California. About 45% of out-of-state contributions to Protect has come from Utah, over three times more than any other state."

Still, even though gays were fighting to preserve a basic right, it was the anti-equality side in California that seemed to have the most fervor. A symbolic low point for the gay side came on Oct. 13, when the Sacramento Bee ran a remarkable story about Rick and Pam Patterson, a Mormon couple of modest means - he drives a 10-year-old Honda Civic, she raises their five boys - who had withdrawn $50,000 from their savings account and given it to the pro-8 campaign. "It was a decision we made very prayerfully," Pam Patterson, 48, told the Bee's Jennifer Garza. "Was it an easy decision? No. But it was a clear decision, one that had so much potential to benefit our children and their children.”

This is your real enemy. Don't trust exit polls. I think they are pitting one group against the other. African-Americans are less than 7% of the state population, do the math. Many more Whites voted and they put this over, not Blacks. What are the total numbers of each group that voted. No one has said. I know someone who watches C-Span and they said most Blacks did not even address the question at all. And they do not have the money to fund a tens of millions of dollars Proposition 8 campaign. Note that they also targeted affirmative action for eradication in another state.

I cannot believe that these groups get a pass and Blacks are being targeted for the blame game. Rather than be upset at the phantom African-American menace, fight like hell. There is no right wing black conspiracy against gay Americans. When you tried to align your struggle with that of Blacks you inherited their enemies. These same enemies are now trying to pit one against the other because they fear the combined numbers of both.

How many gay activists supported the civil rights movement in the 1960’s? Then how do you automatically expect support in return? Have you asked Blacks to support you or did you just assume?

No one gave Obama anything and they will not give gays anything either. Obama stands on the shoulders of a lot of brave people who gave their lives for him to stand on that podium last night.

Never trust exits polls because in all my years of life, no one has ever been seen at a polling place asking anyone anything when they left.

Don't fall for the lies.

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