Prop 8 passed. The initial hinting that it might pass on Election Night, was a blow to the elation that many felt from the early announcement of Obama’s victory. Last week, thousands gathered in San Francisco, students gathered on college campuses, and thousands more took to the streets even earlier in other cities like Los Angeles. In the media aftermath, blame is blowing, and an interesting development has emerged. African Americans are being targeted as the reason for Proposition 8’s passing.
Proposition 8 sought to change the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, it passed 52.3% (Yes) to 47.7% (No). Many Californians report that they were unclear that they were voting to amend the state constitution. Moreover, propaganda endorsing the Yes on Proposition 8 position obfuscated the issue by featuring children confused and vulnerable in commercials, claiming that the initiative was to protect children from education about sex and marriage in schools.
On Saturday November 8, The Letters to the Editor section of The San Francisco Chronicle led with, “Turning their backs on another minority.” In this printing, the author totalizes the civil rights movement into a comic book narrative of Rosa Parks and MLK, Jr. and sends shame to “the African American community” as she blames the passage of Prop 8 on the report that supposes that 70% of African Americans voted for Proposition 8.
Before we descend fully into to blaming “the blacks” let us look at the facts.
1. California is not South Carolina. Even if there were a monolithic black community that voted unanimously to outlaw civil rights for LGBT identified individuals, it would not make or break a vote. According to the US Census Bureau (2006), California’s “black” population is 6.7% (vs. South Carolina’s 29% or Mississippi’s 37.1%). Add in issues of racial profiling and discrimination of formerly incarcerated individuals at the poll and the numbers of people with easy access to voting quickly diminish.
2. My inner social scientist says this claim that 70% of African Americans voted “Yes” on Proposition 8 lacks empirical evidence, and my auto-ethnographic senses tell me that this is a wack attempt to wag the dog. There is over-reliance on an idea that African Americans are more homophobic than other identity groups in the US. There is also an assumption that everyone identified as LGBT is white. In order to fully understand the implications of the “70%” statistic, one must understand the conditions under which the data were collected. The exit poll numbers are from whom, what, where, when and why? What precincts were these African Americans being questioned in? What were non-African American voters reporting in these same precincts?
3. The strategy of the No on Proposition 8 campaign was not inclusive. Many report that the No on 8 community-based efforts were not targeted toward non-white communities or communities whose primary language was not English. Such was not the case with the opposition. I received fliers to my home from the Yes on 8 campaign that included images of Obama as well as other black religious leaders supposedly endorsing Yes on Proposition 8. Both strategies insult non-white communities that identify as LGBT as well as non-white ally communities.
Despite these foul ups on the part of political workers fighting against the passage of Prop 8, that doesn’t excuse the rampant homophobia in all communities.
We have serious work to do if we are to be united. That includes not allowing our social groups to dehumanize people who identify in same sex relationships. It is also imperative that those included in the LGBT human rights movement do not erode into racism and bitterness as our struggle continues. Divided we fall.