Monday, November 10, 2008

Another Prop 8 perspective

The Los Angeles Times recently published an interesting perspective of Proposition 8.

Jasmyne Cannick, an L.A. resident, offers her perspective on the issue as a woman who belongs to two groups with often conflicting ideological views (black and lesbian). I'll be honest, it was hard for me not to become angry and defensive when reading her letter. Her letter, at times, comes across (to me) as an attack on white gays and lesbians.

And yet, putting myself in her shoes as much as I can, I understand her perspective a little more. She is both black and gay. And, In the midst of many white gays placing immediate blame on blacks due to Proposition 8's passage, she is likely also coming from a defensive standpoint. She also may, right now, feel like she has to "choose" who she is going to side with on the issue.

Just another example of how anger and hostility can keep on escalating, so that in the end, we are all just our separate little groups at war with each other instead of a stronger, more united front. In an effort to unite us, I thought long and hard for a couple days about what an appropriate response to Cannick's letter would be. I know she will likely not ever read this. And I know my blog isn't read by a huge number of people. Yet, I could not rest until I wrote this.

Cannick states that she canvassed the streets urging people to vote for Obama, but she was not inspired to tell them to vote against Proposition 8.


"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."

It is true. All of it. In the hierarchy of social issues like employment, socioeconomic status, and police discrimination black people have it worse than white gays and lesbians. No one is denying that. They, I am sure, have more pressing concerns than gay marriage.

"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?"

To this, my answer is that we must vote in every election on issues that may or may not directly concern us. But if one is truly to say that they believe in equality, then surely ending this type of discrimination against same sex couples is a step in the right direction for everyone.

I am not about to argue with someone over which group, gays or black people, have had it worse. One has to admit, on any side of the debate, that both groups have been treated rather shoddily by a mostly white, mostly straight, mostly religious majority in the U.S. We have a remarkably embarrassing past in the way we have treated black people, and the effects are still evident in many ways today.

Yet, 94% of our nation's people would vote for a black president. And thank the goddess, we finally have a President of our country who is not white. A President who gives more hope to all of our nation's black men and boys that they, too, can aspire to our nation's highest office.

I know, gays were never slaves, we have never had to sit at the back of a bus, we aren't always easily spotted as an "outsider." Yet gays are still fighting discrimination in very real ways, too.

Roughly half of our nation's people still think it is okay to pass laws specifically banning "homosexual" couples from things that heterosexual couples take advantage of every day. Only 55% of our nation's people would vote for an otherwise qualified presidential candidate who also happened to be gay. In many ways, America is still stuck in the 1950s regarding issues of gay rights.

That is different from me claiming that gay people are treated exactly like black people used to be treated. The two groups, and their members whose Venn diagrams overlap into the two groups, have unique challenges and obstacles. The types of discrimination the two groups face are completely different.

And yet still so very much the same. Discrimination is still discrimination. And anyone that is not fighting against it, may as well be marching up there with a "God hates fags" shirt (which is why I purposefully included that picture in a previous blog).

More excerpts from Cannick's letter I wanted to address are as follows:

"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."


"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."

I am offended for one that Cannick claims white gays can somehow afford millions individually for anti-Prop 8 advertising. As if we are one monolithic white gay culture feasting at $500 plate dinners, donating our hundreds of thousands of spare dollars to the campaign, and then jetting away to Milan.

Most of the anti-Prop 8 donations were small sums from individual donors. The millions were from large organizations and celebrities. It is just as racist to accuse an alleged monolithic "white gay culture" of all being rich, snobbish, and single-issue oriented. Many of us are hard-working, honest, non-profit salaried employees working for largely poor, largely black/gay/Hispanic organizations. I'm just sayin'. Drawing inaccurate charicatures of people does nothing to alleviate racial tensions.

Now, if that bit about Leimert Park is true, it is a shame. But I think we all need more information regarding whether the white people were "too scared" to venture elsewhere in the black neighborhoods.

Also, racism indeed exists in the white gay community. I have seen it time and time again, having grown up in a small, mostly white, rural area. But I believe I have done my part to help To be white, gay and racist it hypocritical. But it works the other way around, too. To be black, straight, and against gays also seems a little hypocritical to many white gay people. The same way being black, gay, and against whites would be too.

But don't think that just because I am not black, I am not going to fight against racism. Honestly, I don't notice how racism affects me, like, ever. Laws concerning blacks and minorities don't affect me in the least. And honestly, when other things come up that do affect me more directly, I am more interested in them. But I also can reject racism, acknowledge that in many ways I am privileged solely on the basis of my whiteness. And I can still help in the little ways I know how to fight racism against black people and other minorities.

Because, as my 6th grade teacher taught me, to be silent, to be apathetic "just because it doesn't concern me" is wrong.

The person who witnesses a violent crime and does nothing to stop it,
the person who watches a schoolyard bully call an innocent boy "faggot" and does nothing to stop it,
the person who sits silently as racist jokes are being told,
they all may as well be the perpetrators of those injustices.

I know there are larger, more important issues than gay rights and same-sex marriage. But most people, at least I hope, are not single-issue voters. Further, simply because there are more important social justice-y issues is absolutely no excuse to let them slip on by, under the radar.

I will end with the same Elie Wiesel quote that Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese ended with in a mass email he recently sent out:

"I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."


C. L. Hanson said...

This is an important dialog to be opening up, so I'm glad you're posting about this on your blog.

Interestingly, as a woman, I often worry that too much worry about feminist causes is kind of selfish -- especially given that it sometimes looks like the focus is on more privilege for the very women who already have the most -- when so many other groups are worse off. I discussed this in two posts here and here. And I was absolutely livid every time the Obama vs. Clinton race was reduced to idiotic identity politics of "Who has it worse? Women or blacks?"

The funny thing is that this is part of the reason I was able to throw myself into the gay marriage debate so whole-heartedly. I'm straight and married, and I absolutely appreciate the protection my (international) family gets from legal marriage. So I figure I can hardly be accused of selfishness since all I want is to be sure that every family has the same rights that I enjoy.

Fannie said...

Good post. I find some of what Cannick writes to be true, and some of it to fall into unfortunate black and white (so to speak) generalized thinking. Not all gay whites are rich and only care about marriage equality. All races are intersected by class.

Anonymous said...

why should anyone have to choose between racial equality and any other equality...perhaps this is just too simply or idealist, but, equality should just be. that's it. I think is it really hypocritical to say we are equal in any way if are still discriminating...anyone...for any reason.

my issue is this, Cannick makes it sound as if, urging people to vote for Obama would mean the end of racial discrimination. I do agree that people of color as a whole, are victims of racism by law enforcement and have higher rate of unemployment and poverty, not to mention lower quality healthcare. With this being said, urging black citizens to vote for Obama will not magically fix this. And guess what, nor would not telling potential voters about proposition 8 and it's harmful effects on a vast number of people, and the fight for equality.

I am still having trouble understanding her, and other poc's point of view when it comes to voting for Obama because he is black, but voting for prop 8 or not voting against it. How can you be against one form of discrimination and for another one?!?!?

I am finding it hard not to draw on the similarities between this and that which occurred during the beginning of the feminist movement. White Feminists fought long and hard against sexism and, in many instances, were excluding black feminists and their issues in the fight. Did we not learn from our mistakes? You cannot fight against one -ism, and not for another, meanwhile, say your are fighting for equality. Equality does not discriminate. Furthermore, we should not have to choose between our identities and which we are going to fight for today. Not to sound too Audre Lorde-ish, but, as a latina, lesbian, feminist, I believe that when I am fighting against homophobia, I am also fighting against racism, and visa versa. Why? Because they are both parts of me that deserve to be happy, live openly and freely, with the same rights as everyone else. period.

Jane Know said...


First, thank you for your support in the gay marriage debate. :-)

Second, I agree with you. At times I feel as though I shouldn't "only" blog about same-sex marriage. And I try to incorporate other social justice issues. Yet for some reason, I suppose because so many people seem to be attacking me and my relationship and it is usually based in hatred and fear of gays, same-sex marriage is the issue that has gotten me most riled up for a while now.

But that doesn't mean that anyone is single-issue oriented.

I think it is natural, as human beings/women/gays/black people, to consider those topics which do directly affect us the most important ones in our lives. And yet, I can still acknowledge that other social justice issues are more important to many other people. And I am still interested in other issues (health-care, separation of church and state, racism, etc.).

Thanks for linking to your articles, I always find your perspectives thought-provoking. Honestly, as a self-ascribed feminist, I have never given much thought to the porn industry. Nor do I intuitively think it is evil and causes rape. Does that make me a bad feminist? I guess some would say so.

And yet, I tend to think that repressing sexuality is much more harmful to people than expressing it without shame.

Jane Know said...

Fannie said "All races are intersected by class." I think that is often forgotten in issues like this. For example, how many white lesbians do you know that actually work in white collar jobs and make six figures and would be able to "donate millions" or even hundreds of dollars to a marriage equality initiative?

Now compare that to the number of white lesbians you know who are social workers, teachers, nurses (hehe), and employees of non-profit organizations... organizations that often help marginalized groups of society that we, ourselves, do not belong to. I think as a group, white lesbians are among the most progressive, liberal, and social justice-oriented groups out there.

That's why it was like one giant swift kick in the a$$ to know that a huge majority of black people voted for Proposition 8.

But to be fair that also indicates a huge misunderstanding on many of our parts, as Cannick herself noted, of the roots of the Black civil rights movement in the U.S. in general, which started in churches.

Antigone32, thank you for your perspective, as a latina lesbian. I have noticed in debates concerning race, that latin@s are often completely left out of the mix. I would like to address this at some point in the future.

I would be very interested to hear from any black gay men or lesbians, and what they think of the issue, specifically Cannick's letter.