Monday, November 17, 2008

Divide and Conquer: Prop 8 As A Black/Queer Wedge

This article was written for

Obama’s election victory is less than two weeks old, yet already the divide and conquer tactics of the Right are in full effect. Though Obama’s election was a great victory, there were some significant losses on November 4th, particularly the queer community. The passage of Prop 8 limiting marriage to one man and one woman in California, the country’s most populous state, was a sad defeat. It was a loss created very simply by a largely complacent organizing model by the left and a massively funded, exquisitely organized campaign by the Right that cut across political, religious, and racial lines. Unfortunately, instead of the Left looking at the passage of Prop 8 as an opportunity to evaluate our organizing tactics and learn from the loss while exploring alternative avenues to stop implementation of the proposition, a vitriolic attack on the Black community has ensued.

At a time when the Left should be uniting, a line is being drawn between Black and queer communities leaving black queer folks invisible and creating wedges that could be long lasting. The truth is that many African-Americans in California did vote for Prop 8. Some statistics say that as many as 69% (plus or minus the margin of error) voted for the proposition. While that is a small t truth, the big T truth is that from the beginning of the Prop 8 battle, the religious right and other pro-8 organizers beat the streets of black neighborhoods, used black faces front and center in their organizing strategies, and made immediate overtures to black faith leaders and in black churches. Not until the 11th hour, when the polls began showing a sharp turn in favor of prop 8’s passage, did the Left realize it had been out maneuvered. Although there were a few, small LGBT people of color organizations participating in the No On 8 coalition, the No On 8 campaign was largely organized and sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign (an organization with a notorious history of racial exclusion in its operations and political priorities) and other white-led LGBT organizations, it is not surprising that communities of color were an after thought in the organizing strategy around the No On 8 campaign.

Unfortunately, in California newspapers, and in papers across the country, this is being touted as an issue of homophobia in the Black community. Our loss, and I include myself as a Prop 8 opponent, was not due to some inherent homophobia in the black community, our loss was a failure of our community to organize itself. The separation, marginalization, and exclusion of communities of color, particularly black communities from the leadership of national and state level LGBT organizations continues the image of queerness being equal to whiteness and fails to allow communities of color to see their own queer children as part of themselves.

As we move into an Obama-era in this country. It is imperative that we recognize the tactics that will be used against the Left in order to destabilize the broad coalition of LGBT people, women, working class folks, and communities of color that put Obama into office. The amazing national backlash against Prop 8 is heartening, in that it is a galvanizing force that will keep the coalitional politics of the Obama campaign alive---if we do the work to keep it alive. That means that we can not scapegoat the Black community for our failure. Be angry. Be disappointed. Be angry and disappointed that the Right got to our people and our communities with disinformation and lies. Be angry at the outcome but do not slip into race baiting generalizations that do no good and create long lasting harm not only to queer-black relationships but also to the relationship of black queers to the rest of the black community.

To be clear, I am not absolving the overwhelming majority of Black voters that went to the polls and betrayed their brothers and sisters, children, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins and friends. How quickly our community forgets that it was only 40 years ago that interracial marriages were illegal in large swaths of the country. They said that love between whites and blacks was unnatural, un-Biblical, and wrong. The same arguments used against LGBT folks getting married just different versus from the Bible used to justify intolerance and injustice. But the black community was no more and no less culpable as an entity than any of the other millions of people that went to the polls that day and voted for injustice. Black folks should know better.

If we want to see ourselves as a mature movement, then we must accept responsibility for the passage of Proposition 8 as a collective failure. Acknowledge the failure, mourn the loss, and then do the work to figure out how to move forward towards victory. Accepting defeat and accepting responsibility for defeat is the only way that we can avoid falling into the base dividing pitfalls of the Right. It is time for a national leftist humility. By looking closely and critically at the real reasons that Prop 8 passed, we can learn, grow, and make sure that next time around we are knocking on the right doors, broadening our coalitions, and laying the foundation for sustainable progressive social change. To have a revolution means to revolve to go back to or to change back the collective will. I am not interested in a revolution. I am interested in an evolution. A moving forward. An advancement of the will. It’s time to move towards a just society that says no not only to Prop 8 but also to race baiting, racism, and the divide and conquer tactics championed by the right. Yes We Can.

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