The Proposition 8 Debate: Are “Gay Riots” Really The Way To Sway The Black Community?

I’ve been watching this same-sex marriage debate for some time and, like most of my community, I’m deeply conflicted about it. As sexual orientation is a deeply personal matter, I chose to remain silent in the pre-election debate. I believe what I believe about who I should be allowed to marry and was not prepared to castrate others for what they believe.

In my family discussions, the views were varied and, like many black families, the gay/lesbian orientation is “in the family.” So there couldn’t be an “us” versus “them” conversation. As we know all know too well in the black community, they are us, and we are them, as it relates to gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) lifestyles. Blacks are highly sensitized to this issue, however, African Americans are not homophobes. We are very religious, given our experience in America: God is about the only thing we could consistently count on to survive.

Thus, the African American relationship prism is framed by religion. It’s a deep, deep confliction for the black community, given our social conservatism, rooted in religious teachings. Same-sex marriage is a religious contradiction for most people, even if it’s socially tolerated. Tolerance should not be viewed as acceptability, point blank. That’s where most black people are. So when November 4th came and went, the initiative won and exit polling suggested 70% of black voters voted for the initiative (which is inaccurate—but a majority voted yes), the gay backlash against African Americans was vicious and vile. Oh, now we was “Ni**gers” again. I didn’t take kindly to being confronted by “No on Prop 8” folk on why Blacks didn’t support civil rights for gays.

That was their first mistake, this propensity to compare their equality struggle to ours. It’s offensive and inappropriate, and here’s why; the civil rights struggle for racial equality fought against a deeply entrenched race caste system that was deeply rooted in the American psyche and integrated in the public policy agenda (Constitution) from the outset. From slavery in the 17th, 18th, and most of the 19th centuries, to de jure and de facto segregation in the 19th and 20th centuries, racial discrimination was a cultural impediment rooted in hate solely based on skin color that subjugated and marginalized black people in a very regimented way by the total society—women, children, foreigners, it didn’t matter.

Signs were posted, protocols enforced, and social (not legal) penalties were enforced by the society—and reinforced by the courts. Discrimination could be imposed on sight. Not even the women’s movement could be compared to America’s race movement because not even women were mistreated, assaulted, and killed with the frequency and volatility of the African American and Native American. Women, who were also discriminated against on sight, were often turned on (told to “go home”) and assaulted if they persisted. African Americans were assaulted and killed if they persisted. Even womanists and feminists show a deference to the depth of hate waged against the African American and don’t compare their movement to ours.

Not so with gays, and therein lies the problem.

Sexuality is a disclosure (right of privacy) that lets people be with who they please, in enjoyment and cohabitation. It also lets people weigh their views on relationships against their moral values. Most in the GLBT community “pass” for straight for fear of offending cultural sensibilities on sex that are rooted in American Christian values. Gays have to “come out” before they are confronted. There are no signs that say “No Gays Allowed.” There are no restrictive covenants that say, “No Gays Served” or “We Do Not Rent To Gays.” Gays have always been able to vote, work, live where they want to live, and move about society freely.

Yes, their counterculturalist views on sexuality makes them vulnerable, but so does one’s views on bigamy, lawlessness, under-age marriage, drug use and other views that are considered countercultural. Gays are not attacked on their gender or race. They are attacked on their counter-cultural views that go against cultural beliefs around family and relationships. Gays don’t understand why their constant comparison to the black social justice or civil rights movement is so offensive. They need to be properly educated on this. I tried to do that last year in West Hollywood at a King Day panel, and the crowd turned real ignorant. My view is still my view. And now they found out it’s also my community’s view too. Now educate me on your view.

But since the GLBT community wants to reference and replicate the black struggle movement as their model to achieve social equality in marriage, they should know that the breakdown of the movement centered in the transition from nonviolent protest to violent protest. While the riots of the late 1960s represented a point of rebellion and frustration for cities and a new generation of Blacks tired of waiting for the promise to be fulfilled, it did little (or nothing) for racial reconciliation. Shouts of “Kill Whitey” only caused white people to leave the urban centers for the suburbs, arm up (buy guns), and continue their discriminatory behaviors from where they were. Affirmative action did little to change their views on race, and mandatory hiring and busing were failures as attempts to legislate behavior lost to the inability to legislate people’s attitudes toward race. Not until race was engaged in a more humanistic manner did (some) racial barriers break down. The GLBT community is going to have to humanize their issues around marriage with African Americans.

Attacking Blacks on their views is only going to re-entrench their attitudes. It’s not going to change anybody’s minds—particularly the way Hollywood uses gay lifestyles as a way to emasculate black men. Retaliating against those who may have supported the initiative in the black community is not going to bring them closer to enlightenment. Rioting against the black community, in the media, in the blogs, in community forums, will not bring black people closer to gays’ position on same-sex marriage. Education and a sensitive, humanizing approach will change some minds. Barack Obama didn’t change all white people’s view about black people. He did change some people’s views about black people. It was enough for him to win. The GLBT “NO on 8″ activists need to take a page from his book.

samad.jpgThe civil rights movement is over. Cultural pragmatism is in. Come out of the 60s and explain how America should embrace a culture shift on sexuality. Don’t just say, “It’s racism in the same way blacks fought against in the civil rights movement.” That’s a lie, an inappropriate comparison and an insult to the intelligence of black people—and probably why the initiative won.

Miseducation tends to bring about misguided results. Educate yourself about our (the civil rights) movement, then educate the black community about your same-sex equality movement. They are two different and distinct movements. You might just get some traction, but we’re not going to be nobody’s ni**gers again. You can riot if you want to. It won’t change any minds.

Anthony Asadullah Samad

Articles by Anthony:

Published by the LA Progressive on December 4, 2008
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About Anthony Asadullah Samad

Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is an author, scholar and the co-founder, Managing Director and host of the Urban Issues Forum. Dr. Samad's most recent book is entitled "Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom". His national column can be read in newspapers and cyber-sites nationwide. His weekly writings can be read at www.blackcommentator.com. For more information about Dr. Samad, go to www.AnthonySamad.com.