Ben Buchwalter

The Racial Context of Prop 8
November 14, 2008, 12:53 am
Filed under: 2008 Election, Civil Rights, Race | Tags: , ,

Since election day, there have been numerous articles about the black vote’s impact on Proposition 8. According to exit polls, 70% of African Americans voted for Prop 8. Somehow the blame for this hateful piece of legislation was not directed to the Mormon Church, which lobbied vigorously for the Proposition, but to Black Californians, who constitute less than ten percent of the electorate.

It certainly is an interesting issue. Why do African Americans, potentially the most oppressed group in history, oppose extending civil liberties to another minority group: homosexuals? Below is one explanation from Slate.

They think sexual orientation is different from race. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of a nation in which individuals would be judged not “by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Whites, on balance, have come to believe that sexual orientation, like color, is immutable. Blacks, on balance, haven’t. They see homosexuality as a matter of character. “I was born black. I can’t change that,” one California man explained after voting for Proposition 8. “They weren’t born gay; they chose it.”

These examples prompted a slew of criticism about the Black community’s impact on Prop 8. Gay activist Dan Savage said that African Americans are a bigger threat to homosexuals than racists are to African Americans. Even though it appears that blacks had a disproportionate impact on the result, those criticisms are misguided and highlight some disturbing sentiments. Unsure who to blame, we accuse another marginalized minority thereby precipitating a race to the bottom.

The appropriate question is Why do African Americans overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage? In the African American web journal The Root, Kai Wright writes that this is primarily the fault of the gay rights movement. In an attempt to streamline their message, gay rights activists have sidelined the black community. Wright acknowledges the conundrum facing African Americans and Prop 8, saying that their impact on the proposition “ought to shame black folks everywhere.” But Wright continues to say that the gay rights movement has been self-serving in the past, using black experience only when it was convenient.

Many black folks wince when they hear gay rights compared to the black civil rights movement. And when it comes from white gays whose only interest in black people is appropriating our history, I do too.

When it comes down to it, guaranteeing civil liberties to a wider cross-section of Americans will benefit all minorities and strengthen the country. We are only as good as what we accept, and we wont be much of anything so long as we deny the right for men and women to love who they want. So let’s focus on the fact that more than 50% of California’s population – white, black, gay, straight – voted for Proposition 8. Let’s stop the blame game.


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