••The racial fallout of Prop. 8

This is what I wrote last July:

My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

Last month, I reiterated my analysis:

Last summer my fear was that the “No on Prop. 8″ movement would not reach out effectively to these groups, leaving them with no other channel of information than the steady stream of fear from intolerant zealots. I continue to have this fear. Poor and working-class immigrants and people of color are often ignored in political campaigns. It is not surprising, therefore, that they also tend to vote in lower numbers. In an ironic twist, the state of the economy and the campaign of Barack Obama are both contributing to a projected increase in these groups’ participation this fall. Where will they fall on Prop. 8 in California?

Sadly, my prescient words seem to have come true, with California’s Proposition 8 passing this past week with the support of Latinos (about 52%) and African American (about 70%) voters.  Also sad is the growing racial fallout of these numbers.

I want to make three points about what I see to be a troubling development in progressive/liberal politics, namely, the divide between race and sexuality:

ONE. While we may be conditioned to think in terms of race/ethnic voting blocs, the notion that there is a “gay vs. Black” problem is ludicrous and, itself, a little white-centered.  While “whiteness” often carries with it the notion of exceptionalism, let me assure you, queer folk come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.  White folks aren’t the only gay and lesbian folks, making the sensibility behind (for example) the L.A. Times’ article “Gays, blacks divided on Proposition 8” as silly as saying “Gays, whites divided on Proposition 8.”  The analysis of “us versus them” in gay/straight and left/right terms, being merged with a white/black dichotomy, is very troubling and artificial.  The divide is really between queer rights advocates and their allies and a rabid, homophobic religious movement seeking to legislate their “morality.”

TWO. The “No on 8” effort was nothing like the organized, grassroots movement of the other side.  They had funding, organization, mobilization, and a host of messages to appeal to voters fears and ignorances while distracting them from the way this issue is about equality.  On top of that, the “No” side ran a poor ad campaign, always having to respond to the other side instead of running proactive messages on their own terms.  And, as I mentioned above, they did little to mobilize working class, uncollege-educated voters of color.  They did almost nothing to reach out to Spanish speaking voters in the state.  They gave up on the “religious vote,” despite the support from a number of progressive churches.

THREE. Homophobia is not any more part of Latino or Black cultures than it is part of white culture.  A majority of white voters in California voted against discrimination, but it wasn’t a huge majority.  And white folks voted the other way just eight years ago.  To suggest the 51 or 52% of white voters who voted against Prop. 8 are a reflection that homophobia is no longer a problem among whites is, well, stupid.  Just check out Florida and Arizona this week, and Ohio and 10 other states four years ago.  For those of us familiar with either (or both) Latino and African American cultures and the place of queerness within them, we know of many examples of loving, unconditional acceptance.  That is not to say that there aren’t examples of the opposite, but these are also well known to us no matter what our cultural background.

There are lots of ways to make sense of the passage of Proposition 8 (that include homophobia) without replicating the kinds of racist divisions we are beginning to see.  For the sake of justice, I hope we remember that.  And anyway, same-sex marriage will be legal in California again, someday, as it will be in this nation as a whole.  If there is a bright side to the passage of Prop. 8, it is the loud, visible, angry, and diverse movement now representing the cause of queer equality.  I wish it would have been here a few months earlier…

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