Why African Americans Should Oppose California's Proposition 8
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
On the corner of King Blvd and Crenshaw black street preachers goose step their way through anti-gay slogans, adding an unwelcome touch of street theater demagoguery to the flow of everyday pedestrian traffic. A few blocks away, Yes on Proposition 8 (the California ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution and outlaw same-sex marriage) signs have begun springing up like weeds, a final appeal to black and Latino conservatism by the anti-gay marriage regime.
The perception that black folk in particular are more receptive to homophobic propaganda is partly grounded in reality and partly grounded in stereotype. Polls have shown that African Americans are 10 percent more likely to support Prop 8 than other racial groups. Because the pro and con polling numbers for Prop 8 are so tight, black support for the measure could put it over the top. And what exactly do black straight people like me have to be threatened by? Cultural nationalist supporters of Prop 8 argue that homosexuality and the insidiously labeled "gay lifestyle" (a slur that presumes that gays and lesbians are monolithic) threaten the already besieged black family. Given this belief, African Americans are presumably more invested in propping up heterosexism because of the pathologization of black families. Yet Prop 8 rests on the same logic that prohibited interracial marriages, a premise that the California Supreme Court cited in its ruling in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages. Slavery and antebellum patriarchy were rooted in rigid definitions of family and marriage aimed at preserving property rights, lines of descent and white purity. This legacy continues to influence the gender hierarchies underlying so-called traditional family structures and to police families that aren't nuclear or heterosexual.
Voting to amend the California Constitution will extend this legacy. It signifies a concession to flat earth politics, a betrayal of civil rights principles and a hypocritical denial of some of the real crises that imperil black families. As straights we live in communities that are devastated by the large number of black children in foster care due to parents who are either unwilling or unable to take care of them. As straights we lament the absence of affirming role models for children in a racist hyperviolent culture that devalues black lives, yet fail to connect this to a cult of masculinity that demeans women and gays and lesbians. As straights we engage in the schizoid rhetoric of championing black self-determination yet vilify full citizenship for gays and lesbians as a "European" thing. As straights we cherry pick who is "rightfully" part of the community based upon heterosexual privilege while disrespecting the valiant heritage of black liberation struggle exemplified by gay freedom fighters such as Audre Lorde and Bayard Rustin.
Although there are several California-based African-American churches that have consistently advocated for gay and lesbian partnerships, black religious fundamentalism is still the number one barrier to aligning a progressive black civil rights agenda with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) rights. Gay and lesbian families of color are invisible in the mainstream media, yet they are an integral part of communities of color. Contrary to the propaganda of black fundamentalists, gay and lesbian caregivers, parents and grandparents nurture black children alongside and within so-called straight households. As a black atheist and parent, I want my seven-month-old daughter to grow up in a culture where -- gay, straight or bi -- her entire range of personhood, love and commitment to another human being is not legally bound by the Paleolithic mores of religious fundamentalism. In this regard, voting no on Prop 8 is the only moral choice.