Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blaming Blacks (And Latinos, Whites, & Queers) for Prop 8

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

If our defeat in California tells us anything, it's just how pathetic the gay civil rights movement currently is. Instead of putting ourselves out there, engaging in real community organizing, we more often focus on raising money, taking meetings, and lobbying and advertising our way to civil rights.

After all, it's easier to send an email, and make a speech or a donation, than go across the street and knock on our neighbor's door. There, we might have to confront homophobia in the flesh, and that other problem: race.

In L.A., after the news broke that seventy percent of African Americans voted for Proposition 8, the "blame the blacks" game began. At one pro-marriage rally, some white queers actually called their black co-protesters, "niggers," and made general threats against African Americans.

On the flipside, their politically correct racist counterparts called anybody "racist" who called attention to the fact that seventy percent, yes seventy percent, of African Americans voted like bigots. Let's go throw bricks at the Mormon church instead.

Why can't we throw bricks at them all? On November 4, nobody put a gun to the heads of black voters and made them pull the lever for Prop 8. Or swapped the "Yes" box in for the "No." They weren't on drugs, or sleepwalking. Or mentally deficient after years of The Man. They were just garden variety bigots and now fair game for queer activists.

Nothing absolves them. Not white racism, or the fact that statistically black voters are a small group and their homophobia doesn't have much impact. Except on black queers. Who would probably like to count.

This vote was less a referendum on gay marriage than a wake-up call on how people really see queers. Now we know that seventy percent of black Californians, more than half of Latinos, plenty of Asians, and almost half of whites think queers are sub-human, unequal, only worthy of partial citizenship. Lost marriage rights are the least of it. Homophobia translates into lost jobs, lost homes, runaway kids, youth suicides, gay-bashings, murder, HIV.

If we care about gay rights at all, we have to start putting blame where it's due. On everybody. All the African American, Latino, and Asian bigots, plus the white bigots from Mormons to Catholics to atheist conservatives. The elderly voted against us in large numbers, and eighty-two percent of Republicans. They're all responsible. All accountable.

Blame, especially, goes to activists that have made too few efforts in minority communities over the years. Including the "No on 8" campaign whose strategy was, according to the blogosphere, only marginally better than crossing their fingers and hoping "conservative" voters of color didn't turn up. This in a year with the first black candidate for President!

In fact, the poll numbers read like a demographic map of where queer activists themselves rarely make an appearance.

I blame it partly on "cultural difference." Instead of calling attention to racism, that phrase has increasingly become a mask for it, the perfect excuse for white and middle class activists to stick to their comfort zones. Latinos need Latino outreach workers, and not just any Latinos, but Latinos from a similar background. Anything less is racist, neo-colonialist, and won't work. Great, say the middle-class organizers of all colors. I didn't want to go there anyway.

Instead of thinking like niche marketers where like pitches to like, maybe we should consider Christianity and Islam that have successfully converted whole civilizations using cultural outsiders. And not just at gun or saber point. If they can do it, why not us?

Having assigned blame, our challenge is to transform it by re-launching our civil rights movement, this time across all races, classes, ages, and ethnic groups. Waiting for the perfect alignment of activists can't be an excuse.

How hard can it be to go into a neighborhood that's not our own and introduce ourselves? How hard can it be to ask a bigoted pastor to act like Christ and value love, then to beat on his doors like an avenging angel when he spits on us? What are they going to do? Chase us down the street? (They already do). Call us racist degenerates if we apply the phrase "civil rights" to something as perverse as gay marriage? We all own the promise of those words.

At a moment when Obama has crossed a million color lines on his road to the White House, it's time to explode our own bigotry, let a Guatemalan go into a black neighborhood. A Vietnamese into a Mexican one. Rich ones into poor ones. Encourage white people, the most numerous activists, to risk awkwardness and missteps to go everywhere. In fact, let's ignore race altogether as we target everyone. The stakes are high -- queer lives, queer liberation, equality.

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