••On Sending a Black Man to the White House

Shirley Chisholm remembered the faces.

About to address the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Chisholm—the African American woman whose attempt to secure her party’s nomination made her the first black and first female candidate in history to do so—stared at the sea of faces before her in the convention audience.  “What I noticed most were the older black men and women,” she wrote in her book The Good Fight.

Some were crying, and their faces were so full of joy that they looked in pain.  I thought I could read their lives’ experiences in their faces at that instant, and I know what it was they felt.  For a moment they really believed it: “We have overcome!”

Today, we elected Barack Obama President of these United States of America and I can’t help feeling the same way.  While I didn’t grow up in a time of overt and widespread electoral discrimination, segregation, or violence, I can’t help feeling the same way.  I know we have so much work still to do, as a nation and as a globe, but today, I can’t help feeling the same way.

Today I think of all the millions of lives who fought for a fraction of what has just occurred. Today I think of all the lives that were lost in the name of racial hatred and in the struggle for racial justice. Today I think of all their deferred hopes and dreams, the progress they knew could happen but they could not live to enjoy.  Today I am amazed at the victory of their words, of their ideas, of their blood.

Barack Obama is the president-elect of the United States. And while I know the struggle for equality, equity, and social justice is far more complicated than this, tonight, I just want to enjoy this achievement. Tonight I want to celebrate the majority of the American electorate who chose to distance us further from a bloody and painful past. Tonight I want to be hopeful and believe.

Tomorrow, the real work begins…


Race Traitors, Sellouts, and Uncle Toms: Thoughts on the Election of Barack Obama

Last summer, I came across this thought-provoking piece by conservative pundit Larry Elder.  In it, Elder responds to a letter he received attacking him for being, essentially, a traitor to his race by supporting John McCain.  “How can a fellow black American feel this way?,” his reader asked.  Elder goes on to attack the premise that the only way to cast a compassionate vote for “the underprivileged”–specifically, the underprivileged Black community–is to vote for Barack Obama.  He declares, “Compassion is not about making people dependent on government.”

Elder’s rebuttal provoked a tidal wave of responses from me, none of them, I suspect, the ones he intended.  Though he tried to make the case that the Republican party represented more potential progress for Black Americans, he did so by embracing the basic assumption of the letter writer.  He proceeded from the assumption that, in fact, Black Americans should be voting for candidates who support the broader issues confronting them as a people.  That the political awareness of people of color should include an awareness of “race” and the distinctive issues it frames for the nation.

In this post, I want to embrace this fundamental assumption as true yet as something more than the simplistic form of “race politics” as expressed in the above piece. I then want to use this as a first step in making sense of the (upcoming) presidency of Barack Obama.

To point you in the direction I am heading, I want to emphasize the importance of thinking about Tuesday, November 4th not as an end but as a beginning.  This is not a beginning of a new form of government, or even of a new day in race relations in the United States. It is the beginning of a new opportunity, if we will it. It is time for progressive people of color and our allies to begin the difficult work of transforming all the electoral energy and organization we see around us and refocus it toward nurturing the change we seek in our nation and our world.  This thirst for change fueled these electoral efforts, and now they have elected a new president. But that is not change in and of itself. In fact, unless we do something about it, this change in leadership will not bring about any of the meaningful transformations of public life we seek. Historically, that kind of change has only come with the realization of common purpose and the mass mobilization and organization of people.

This begins with a sober realization.  While Barack Obama will be president of the United States of America, his electoral victory is not “justice,” racial or otherwise.  This election–like all elections in this nation’s history–has not been about changing the nature or location of power in this nation but, rather, about who should manage it.

The Obligation of Racial Solidarity
The question at the heart of Larry Elder’s piece is: Are African Americans, and people of color more generally, “obligated” to vote for Barack Obama? Are they “race traitors” if they don’t?

You might think this question is simple. “Of course not,” you say. “People can vote for whoever they want.”  To suggest otherwise is, in the view of many, a kind of “reverse racism”–voting for him because he is black is equivalent to not voting for him because he is black.  But for people of color–especially those who are politically engaged–the question unleashes a host of complicated issues. In the end, the question is not as simple as it may seem, and the reason is anything but “political correctness” or the “policing” of people’s politics. Instead, it has everything to do with power.

As a person of color, (many) other people of color assume Barack Obama understands their realities of “non-white life in the U.S.” like no other candidate we have ever seen.  This is not because he is black.  This is because he expresses a sensibility that he understands what it is like to be black in the U.S.  You see, white candidates can (and have) also expressed this sensibility before.  Even the best of them, however, can only empathize–say they understand in the imaginary.  Another person of color can sympathize, express solidarity with and validation for your own personal and communal experience.  [It is the difference between saying you can imagine what it is like to walk in my shoes and showing me your own pair, looking and feeling just like mine.]

I say “can” very intentionally here because not all people of color do express this sensibility.  Not all people of color in the U.S. express a consciousness which is rooted in the same analysis of race.  Not all seek out political power that recognizes these.  And, of course, not all can therefore sympathize.  Barack Obama does.  This isn’t about the color of his skin, then, as much as it is about the life he has experienced because of it and the meanings he associates with and becasue of it.

Let me state, without hesitation, that certain basic assumptions guide my thinking on the following points.  In fact, these assumptions are the point I am trying to make.   I believe race (both “white” and “non-white”) continues to be a factor shaping people’s lives in the United States.  I believe white supremacy has been fundamental to this nation’s history and continues to operate in measurable ways as the de facto standard of most of our systems.

These assumptions are grounded in my own experience as well as the experiences of people I know.  They are complimented by the things I study for a living, a distinct process which nurtures my understanding providing me a context to the above assumptions.  Combined together, I see race not as anything biological but rather as a set of historic meanings assigned to biology.  I see racism not as people’s beliefs in racial superiority or inferiority but as systems of power whose rationals of allocation are based upon these.  [For the sake of space and time, let me say these beliefs are easily “provable” historically.]

All this is the context of most of the support of communities of color for Obama.  It is the hope, that for the first time in this nation’s history, a person who can affect profound change–DIRECTLY–is a person who understands your struggles.

Talking Race and Voting Race
So where does this leave “us”?  As Larry Elder and I are both suggesting, people of color bear a heavy responsibility in dealing with racial inequality (itself a reflection of that inequality) and one of the ways to do this is to advocate for “our” issues within the systems of political and economic power.

But the election of Barack Obama doesn’t necessarily bring with it the changes we seek.  Just as the election of McCain wouldn’t have, what we debated these months is the person most likely to be an advocate for those changes.  The first step is, of course, an ability to understand these issues exist but, also, to be a steward for them.  This is where Barack Obama defeated McCain for many of us.  It is the difference between (yet again) placing your hopes in the good intentions and effort of “white” politicians or in another person of color.  But those changes still have to be made into realities.  Those issues still require relief.

I believe the 2008 presidential election will be a watershed moment in the history of the United States with respect to “racial discourse,” that is, the way we think about and talk about race in this nation. In saying this I mean to suggest it will act as a moment for the society-at-large to consider what they really and truly think about race, and, more importantly, why they think it.

These moments have happened before, but not all that frequently. They are moments in history where the national focus revolves around race and/or the consequences of race. These are moments which almost force us to take pause and be reflective, just by their context.  Perhaps one of the first such moments in U.S. history was the conclusion of the Civil War, when Northerners and Southerners alike had to reevaluate the ways they thought and talked about race, even if it was only to reinvent and strengthen what they had thought before. The same sort of phenomenon occurred in the post-WWII era, when the Civil Rights Movement and a host of radical movements for change forced the nation to look at itself in the mirror and contend with what they saw.

Moments such as these are not inconsequential to the life of “race” in this nation. In fact, they are its flesh and its bone, its breath and its thought. That’s because “race” has very little to do with a person’s biology. It has everything to do with the way a society thinks about that biology.  That is where the election of Barack Obama is very important, in and of itself.  A black man ascending to the highest elected office in the land will unquestionably alter how some people think about African Americans and future elected officials.

But, on November 5th, the core of racial inequality in this nation will remain in tact. Big changes will come in how people think, in how they view the racial “other,” but this is but the pretext to an altering of the system of power and power allocation with which we live.

Our Work has Only Begun
I do not mean to sound as pessimistically as did George Will when he recently opined “The question we settle on election [day] is not whether elites shall rule but which elites shall rule.” While I do believe the two party system is often nothing more than competing factions of the same interests, there are tangible differences between the two parties and very real world differences in how we each experience life under their respective rule. I also don’t want to minimize the symbolic significance of a nation whose history is inseparable from the enslavement of millions of Africans electing as their leader a man whose personal history is also intertwined with these two continents.  This, too, will have real effects in the way we see race, and in the ways we racialize leadership.

However important these developments, they are both really just the context of change, not meaningful change itself.  The racial system is which we live (in which we are trapped) has existed so long because it creates advantages for its maintenance.  Its defeat will require what has always been required: active mobilization by people of conscience to create change.

Many people are beginning to express a concern for Barack Obama since they 1) believe he will seek to ameliorate “their” issues, and 2) they know he will face opposition from a system of power opposed to progressive (racial) change.  While this may be true, I think it is far more complicated than that.  The maintenance of white privilege doesn’t just create incentives for its protection and nurturing for “whites” but for everyone, Barack Obama included.  He will require no less pressure and effort by “us” to make the changes we seek (and, after all, he never ran on a fundamental altering of the system of power in question).  But he, alone, is not the source of change.  Racial injustice is far bigger and diverse than saying what the color of the president has to be.  Accordingly, we shouldn’t read too much into that change, or expect too much from that person to create change.

This also sheds light on the obligation many of us felt (feel) to vote for the first black president.  We have never before been presented with the opportunity to cut through so much of the struggle toward power–that is, having to communicate your “reality” to a politician.  This also sheds light on the idea of a racial “sell-out.”  The inequality of the system has placed the cause of racial justice in the hands of people of color instead of where it should belong, in the hands of those who have historically most benefited from it. Regardless, what do we do?  We advocate for the change we seek by representing the issues of our experience and those of our communities of solidarity as best we can.  To ignore this, smacks of working to maintain that system of privilege rooted in the past.  If you read Elder’s piece carefully, you will see how even he works from an awareness of this.  The notion of a “race traitor” or “Uncle Tom” is far more complicated, then, than merely violating the rules of the “thought police” or a breech of “political correctness.”  It is rooted in the numerous historical examples where white supremacy has sustained itself on the backs of people of color and, sadly, often due to their effort.  Right or wrong, it comes from a very nuanced understanding of the system of racial inequality in which we continue to live, one which encourages people of color to ignore the specificity of their own experience.

In the upcoming months, progressive people of conscience (“non-white” and “white” alike) will have to begin the difficult work of checking their own assumptions.  Many have this belief that because a black man will be in the White House that everything will magically become better.  Many expect Barack Obama to take a leadership role in transforming the political system in meaningful ways.  But why?  Why should this special burden be placed on Barack Obama when it has not been evenly placed upon all politicians?  Of course, he does have a special obligation regarding race, but that is the same responsibility we all share–white, black, or otherwise.

This week can be the beginning of a new course for our nation.  Barack Obama may be a big part of that but, if it is to be true, we must be.  The brilliant James Baldwin said it well, in his 1960 speech titled “In Search of a Majority”:

“…the majority for whch everyone is seeking which must reassess and release us from our past and deal with the present and create standards worthy of what a man should be–this majority is you.  No one else can do it.  The world is before you and you need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.”

NO on Prop 8: because it’s the right thing to do

This is the fifth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, three, and four appeared earlier in the week.


In this final post on California’s Proposition 8, I want to urge those of you who are gay, lesbian, transgender, or allies of the same, to do what you can do to assure this measure is defeated in November.

For those who do not know, Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. It is an attempt to overturn the May 2008 decision of the state Supreme Court which legalized same-sex marriage.

As I wrote last July, the coalition of groups against same-sex marriage is diverse in it potential reach. Composed of religious and conservative groups, they also reflect some of the broad racial/ethnic diversity of the state of California. As a largely grassroots organization (or, more appropriately, a coalition of grassroots organizations), with exceedingly deep pockets, they have been poised for some time to whip up fear and support among traditionally ignored voting blocs and get them to the polls in November. Among these constituencies are poor and working-class people of color whose sole regular institutional participation ins usually within their local church.

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?

My hope is that they vote to reject this measure out of a clear recognition that it is the right thing to do.

Those of us from marginalized communities are intimately familiar with the daily kinds of pain (physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual) inflicted upon those who are not regularly considered part of “we the people.” For the immigrant who chooses to come to this country in search of economic survival, this realization is often expected but no less tragic. For them, the thin veil of American’s image of themselves is nothing but that as they are faced with a daily existence marked by regular forms of discrimination and the feeling of being on the invisible margins. But their participation in this society can have a healing effect.

I remember when my grandmother became a citizen of the United States. An immigrant from Mexico who had lived and worked in the U.S. for her entire adult life, the decision to become a citizen after five decades of being a green card holder came, partially, from a recognition that she wanted to have a voice in the political machinations of this country. While it had become “home” to her long ago, the organized anti-immigrant and anti-color campaigns of the Pete Wilson governorship were too reminiscent of earlier times in the state for her to sit by without some (however minor) political role.

I am glad she will be voting against Prop. 8. Though she is a naturalized citizen, though she attends church every week (and sometimes more), she know there is nothing gained in a society marked by discrimination. She know this makes us all weaker in the fight to make this nation live up to its ideals.

In reality, a vote against Prop. 8 is a fairly conservative move. Same-sex marriage rights still uphold the socially-constructed and politically-sanctioned valorization of marriage as a social institution. It doesn’t challenge that fundamental bias, instead opening up more of the population to nurture it. I suspect someday our society will begin to question whether or not civil authorities need to be in the marriage incentive business at all but for now, that is the dominant model.

I say this to highlight the fact that for many, support of same-sex marriage is not stretch, even if they “morally” disagree with being lesbian or gay.  Many people understand the difference between a law that forces a discreet morality on people in a free society versus one that allows for people to choose their own morality.  A classic argument of the civil rights era was that racial integration was being legislated and that it was bound to fail since you can’t force people to not be racist.  Even so, an end to segregation did not compel anyone who was racist to not be.  They didn’t even have to tolerate “mixed” settings.  They could go on in their daily live keeping themselves and their children in a white bubble.  But, over time, by society stopping to valorize this morality of a few on the majority, its contradictions became increasingly clear.  It is time for us to do the same with homophobia.

This week’s worth of post were not meant to convince the fervent supporters of the ban on equal marriage rights. Such a debate is largely impossible to have. But they are not the majority of this state. The majority are fair-minded people who place social and political equality on the level it deserves. They want us to be a healthier, more just, more equitable society. They only need to be reminded, when they are faced with the opportunity to do so, how important it is to take that step.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s homophobic

This is the fourth in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one, two, and three appeared earlier in the week.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Such an addition to the state Constitution would discriminate against gay and lesbian couples because they would no longer enjoy the equal rights they now share with heterosexual couples, namely, the ability to marry in civil ceremonies, have that marriage recognized by civil authorities, and enjoy the public recognition and benefit of being married. This is, of course, the rub. People who support the measure do not want parity between gay and lesbian couples and heterosexual couples. They “celebrate” the “legal equality” of the state’s domestic partnership regulations with the state’s civil marriage ones, but still disagree with the legality of same-sex marriage, an even “more equal” move. What is beneath the seemingly contradictory stances?

Simply put, support for Pop. 8 is about homophobia. It is about a largely irrational fear of gay, lesbian, and transgender people in our world.  Its supporters are engaged in a move to maintain a social system which embodies homophobia, what many call heterosexism.

When it comes down to it, this is the basic position of the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort. They view the increasingly public visibility of homosexuality and its accompanying rising levels of tolerant acceptance as an attack on their vision of a society based on their conceptions of right and wrong. And for once, they’re right. Unlike those other moral questions (like murder or crime, like democracy versus fascism) this one does not threaten the larger social contract, except when we do not preserve equal marriage rights.  When your vision includes having to dictate “morality” for other people rather than protect their freedom to decide for themselves what is “moral,” then history shows your vision will, eventually, be dismantled.

Where they’re wrong is not in their analysis but in their chosen position, a reflection of the some of the most destructive kinds of cultural arrogance and fear which have marked our history with pain, death, and oppression instead of fostering in it freedom and equality.

I will be among the first to say there is a contextual and historical difference between being nonwhite in U.S. society and being lesbian, gay, or transgender. That isn’t because of biology or levels of oppression (what Chicana writer Cherrí Moraga called the “oppression olympics”). This is an analysis based on the role played by whiteness in U.S. history and in the way it continues to work as a definitive element of both our national culture and social formation. Racism and homophobia have differences, rooted in the past and present, which are worth understanding.  That said, the tactics of oppression, inequality, and discrimination used in a system of racism compared to those used in a system of heterosexism are like different instruments in an orchestra, each playing their own part of a grand symphony. They are connected, and often reliant upon on another, building with each other in one common cause.

The eloquent and critically sophisticated Martin Luther King expressed this in the previously quoted “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” when he wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” His sentiment was itself a reincarnation of the sense of unity and common struggle expressed in the slogan “An injury to one is an injury to all.” That mantra came from the International Workers of the World (IWW), one of the most radical labor unions in U.S. history, who first worked to mobilize all workers despite their job or job status. One was rooted in Christianity; the other in labor theory. Both are a bold recognition of mutuality–of the ways in which all of us, our hopes and our struggles, are interconnected.

This same fundamental analysis is reflected in the grand narrative of the U.S. past, but in its inverse. That story has been expressed as one of increasing and expanding liberty and freedom for all, from the extension of voting rights to the end of legal sex/race discrimination. At the heart of this narrative structure is the assumption that “democracy” can only be real if it truly involves those who are governed. When the U.S. began as a nation, roughly 15% of the population had the right to vote. That’s it. Restrictions based on wealth/property, gender, race, and age, to name a few, made this the case. In time, this became proof of the lack of democracy in the nation. Accordingly, in this framework, the extension of rights to African Americans, to women, to Native Americans, were all connected, even to the rights of the landed, white male. The vote of one made the vote of all the others more real, more meaningfully democratic.

What we are faced with in the proposed measure is the antithesis of this humanistic truth, observable in the struggles of our past. Homophobia–like all fears–is isolating and reductive where humanism is expanding and interconnecting. It rests on the rejection of our commonness and mutuality. It requires a person to define those whom they fear as so different from themselves as to be “other,” foreign, dangerous, or immoral. Their threat is that they are not you. Conversely, the homphobe selectively defines their “self,” as well, choosing a set of ideas and constructs that make them who they are, facilitating the delicate game of identifying “us” and “them.”

This homophobic measure forces an historical comparison with the other kinds of oppression which nurture it and, in turn, which it nurtures. The most obvious is with the diverse and sustained effort in our shared past to maintain racism as a system of exclusion and inequality. Towards the end of its institutional decline, the supporters of racial inequality had reached a point where they recognized their cause was no longer popular enough to assure its blind support by the public at large.  The United States has become increasingly “infected” with the notion that black people were as equal as whites.  They had also become increasingly conscience of the ways racism, as a system of exclusion and oppression, ran against the idealized tradition of this nation.

At that moment, the historical record is increasingly filled with examples of racists trying to justify racism on grounds other than race.  They used arguments about state’s rights to say it was the will of the people in th South for Jim Crow to be the law.  They celebrated “separate but equal” saying it was not about inferiority, just difference.  They accused the federal government of trying to force social change when “the people” were not ready for that change.  They did what they could to make the rational argument for their irrational fear, all the while strategizing to sell it to the larger public.  Does any of this sound familiar?

One of the topics I cover each year in my introductory Latino history class is the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first federal law effectively barring a racial group from immigrating to the U.S.  After its passage, people from Latin America continued to immigrate to the U.S. and had no legal impediment to their movement.  So why is it important to Latino history?  Well, in short, it was the first legal step in a course that nurtured racial hatred and violence against all workers of color; that led to outrages like the deportation of over one hundred thousand United States citizens because of their Mexican heritage; that even, in many ways, fostered the kinds of draconian ICE raids we suffer today.

When the irrational fear and hatred of homophobia is allowed to continue to exist in institutional and systemic ways, then we are all inured by it, whether we be gay, lesbian, transgender, or straight.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because the other side are liars

This is the third in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot. Parts one and two appeared earlier in the week.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

The coalition of religious and conservative groups who are aligned with the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort are bold-faced, unethical liars. There. I said it. It’s that plain and that simple.

We are near the conclusion of a presidential election cycle which means most of us are awash in a sea of “spin.” The daily barrage of half-truths and outright lies is almost too much to bear. At some point, we just kind of turn it off and tune out. But it’s worth remembering that this is exactly the kind of campaign being waged right now with respect to the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort.

Here’s an example. The short paragraph I began this post with is the entire text of Prop. 8. That’s it. The measure has nothing to do with education, adoption, or economic policy. It has nothing to do with a church–any church–and its rights to do whatever they like. Nothing.

Yet you would not know that from the “Yes on Prop. 8” campaign. Their website (which I won’t link here but is really easy to find) describes the California Supreme Court decision which made same-sex marriage legal as overturning “the will of California voters.” This might seem like simple truth, since California voters passed a proposition in 2000 defining marriage as between “a man and a woman.” But it’s spin. As discussed in the previous post in this series, the process the court performs has nothing to do with “our” consensus as voters on a given position and everything to do with our consensus on a constitutional government. We demand that it is their job to make sure our government respects the laws and values as reflected in our Constitution. That’s what they did.

If we relied on the “will of the voters” to be our standard of Constitutional interpretation then segregated schools would still be the norm. When the U.S. Supremem Court issued their famous decision in Brown v. Board of Education, the vast majority of Americans supported segregated schools–and not just in the South. The point of the courts is to make their decision apart from all that, and the “Yes” folks know that. They just want to piss you off. And anyway, when did the “will of the voters” become such a static thing? Rather than just ask people how they feel about same-sex marriage, they have to make sure you don’t think about it and instead think about how much you don’t like so-called “activist courts.”

Isn’t what we’re doing in this proposition voting on whether or not it is “our will”? What sense is there in opposing a measure whose consequences you support because you don’t like how those consequences were arrived at? Why can’t we discuss the values of same-sex marriage without resorting to tactics of fear?

And that’s what helps us see the truth of the effort. The one overriding reason this side lies in order to mobilize support for their cause is that their entire cause boils down to one simple position: gay and lesbian Californians should be discriminated against in the law. They need people to turn off their commitments to equality, to decency, and to common sense. They need people to ignore the months of legal same-sex marriages in the state with no other consequence other than happy, married couples. Most Californians don’t agree with their belief, but they can be moved to vote yes if they are inundated with enough lies and half-truths to obscrue the truth of the measure. And that’s exactly what is happening.

The ads funded by the “Yes on Prop. 8” effort communicate a steady stream of bullshit meant to incite fear, hate, and some of the worse tendencies in the electorate. They say that legalized same-sex marriage means “schools will now be required to teach students that gay marriage is the same as traditional marriage.” (It should be, and I hope it is, but this proposition will not be the nail in that coffin.) They say churches will loose their tax exempt status. They say a lot, but none of it is true. Californians already know that when same-sex marriage became legal, the sky didn’t fall, the earth didn’t open up, and soceity as we know it didn’t begin it’s decline.

They are joined by more “academic” efforts as well. Groups like the Family Research Council (FRC) issue regular mailings filled with the most biased and least truthful form of dissemination of academic work, all in the name of promoting discrimination. A visit to their website shows a list of reasons to oppose the measure–all relating to adoption and the rearing of children. First of all, whether you like it or not, same-sex couples can adopt in the state of California (but not without some forms of local discrimination). If you don’t like that, try working in some public social work capacity and see what conditions tens of thousands of children are living in. You should read the research on what makes a good home for foster and adopted children, often the solution to this anti-child society. It has NOTHING to do with whether or not the parents are of the same gender or not and everything to do with the kinds of love and support they can give.

The FRC uses very specific research which studies, for example, children who are raised in single-parent households without a father, and then extrapolates it to form conclusions about two-parent households where the parents are both moms. If they were in my class they’d get an “F” for that kind of work. It’s an unfair use of research, and an unethical tactic in a political campaign.

The worst part of all of this is that these groups are supposed to be the moral and ethical ones in society. Many of them are religious and religiously affiliated. In the real world classroom of our society, they are all earning an “F” by allying themselves with a cause that is so discriminatory it can not face the substance of its very narrow stance. (I’ll say it: if Jesus were around he’d be for same-sex marriage, too!)

By spinning a campaign based on everything but the direct issue at hand, these groups are signaling voters that there is something wrong. That something, is the “Yes on Prop. 8” campaign.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s unequal

This is the second in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

Currently, same-sex marriages are legal in the State of California. They were made legal after the organized and individual struggles of many people found some resolution in the courts. On May 15, 2008, in a decision relating to a number of cases consolidated before the State Supreme Court, the justices decided by a 4-3 decision that the Constitution of California required people to be treated equally with regard to the “right to marriage.” The majority decision reflected the widespread rejection of the premise “that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples.”

Even before this court decision, California had made same-sex unions legal via the designation “domestic partnership.” While this legal designation provided same-sex couples numerous benefits and responsibilities associated with legally-defined “marriage,” it did not do so fully. There remained a legal difference (as well as a social difference) between “marriage” and “domestic partnership.” This difference, this lack of equality, proved the deciding factor for the court. It should provide the same for us as a society.

To oppose the decision of the court, and seek to reverse it via the method of a voter initiative, is to stand against the principle of equality as embedded in the laws and culture of the United States. Furthermore, it is an opposition that can not, in the long run, succeed.

As a historian, I’ve always been kind of irked by the ubiquitous tactic of the radical right labeling all court decisions they disagree with as the product of an “activist court.” This is convenient, to be sure, but it is also so hypocritical. The political system in which we live and enjoy our rights is one reliant upon the principle of judicial review. We trust the courts to be the arbiter of what is and is not in line with the constitutions of our states and our nation. This role has been played by the courts for almost as long as there has been a United States, and certainly for as long as there has been a State of California. A consequence of it is a periodic change in the law that is expansive. To object to the court’s processes by labeling a some changes as “activist” is to really object to the role they play fundamentally. It assumes the court should do nothing because they can never make a decision with an impact on the law or society, or that they can make no decision that is not popular or driven by the consensus of the people

Of course, courts are not infallible. Segregation and other forms of systemic inequality were legally protected by the same judicial system now upholding same-sex couple’s right to marry. I am not arguing that since the California courts decided in favor of same-sex marriage we must support the issue. I am far more concerned with the ways a court makes its decisions, the principles it applies and uses to frame it decisions. In this case, the overwhelming force in the court’s decision was the principle of “equality” and non-discrimination. That principle–when protected by the courts and reflected in its decisions–should also serve as a suggestion to us that they succeeded in their Constitutionally-dictated role.

Equality is fundamental to our society. We are a culture which firmly believes in the obligation of the state to treat each of us the same way as the other. Our legal history has been, in part, one of an expansion of the notion of equality. Most notably in the realm of race, our judicial system has played a primary role in communicating an evolving sense of what equality means in our nation, of who is deserving of it, and how it can go from an idea to a lived reality.

Equality has also occupied a fundamental place in the history of struggles for social justice. In almost every way, movements of people seeking a more just world have been the pretext of any court decision expanding our notion of equality. Perhaps this nurtures the “activist court” critique, but it also speaks volumes about the court system being something of a follower more than a leader in the crusade for justice and equality. As a cornerstone of movements for justice, equality has also been expansive and interconnected. The struggle for legal equality of Blacks and Whites is directly connected to later struggles for educational equality for Asians and Latinos, to marriage equality for all races, to gender equality in voting, and so on.

This interconnection makes the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender equality intimately part of all struggles for equality. With respect to rights, a society can not thrive for some as it flounders for others. Much like a fire, which must be fully contained if it is to cease posing a threat, injustice must be defeated everywhere if it can exist anywhere. We are all diminished in a context of inequality, as we would be with the passage of Prop. 8, whether we are within or without the LGBT community

The thirst for freedom from discrimination and for real equality is something that can not be denied, historically speaking. As Martin Luther King said in his Nobel Peace Prize address in 1964, “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.” The condition of the denial of freedom and equality helps to nurture that thirst, as it demands mass struggle to quench it.

For more information, click here.

NO on Prop 8: because it’s bad policy

This is the first in a five-part series on the “California Marriage Protection Act,” Proposition 8 on the November 2008 ballot.


California’s Proposition 8 seeks to amend the state Constitution by adding a section which would read: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

One of the fundamental problems with the so-called “California Marriage Protection Act” is that it is equally an attack on the right of same-sex couples to marry as it is on this nation. Let me be clear about what I am saying: in their attempt to deprive gay and lesbian couples of the right to marry, supporters of Prop. 8 are willing to kill what this nation stands for and, at its best, what it is.

We would be ignorant to believe the political project of the United States began in a state of purity with respect to individual and collective rights. Our “perfect union” was a system with far too many instances of legally-sanctioned imperfection—slavery, unequal voting rights, no recognition of the rights to free speech, assembly, religion, and so on. In the two centuries since the founding of this nation and the ratification of its Constitution, the best course of our history—broadly conceived—has been one of increasing liberty. Beginning with the adoption of the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution) and continuing through to the present day, when we have truly been the global symbol of democracy and progress, it is when have moved in both small steps and great strides to assure the promise of freedom and liberty is one guaranteed to all.

This is, I hope, the heart of our nation. This is the dream of something better, of something “more perfect.” This is the foundation of our bloated self-conception as something great and yet, at the same time, of those instances of fact when this greatness thrives. If we do not continue to move forward in our laws and customs, if we do not strive toward greater freedom and liberty for all, we threaten the very future of our nation and disrespect the struggles of the past.

This pattern has been anything but natural, and certainly not without exception. As Martin Luther King wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (penned in 1963 while the civil rights leader was jailed for protesting segregation) “time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.” Indeed, there are as many examples of the former as there are of the latter in our shared past. (I think of the forced removal of Native Americans even while the Supreme Court upheld their rights to their land; the imposition of Jim Crow after the abolition of slavery and the end of Reconstruction; or the illegality of Chinese immigration while all other migrants retained the right of free entrance, just to name but three examples.) What has shaped the broader pattern is NOT our natural tendency toward expanding freedom and liberty but, rather, the morality of groups of people engaged in organized movement. As King wrote in the same essay, “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” This pattern to our history I discuss (however delicate and selective) is the legacy of the ethical decisions of generations past to take action against injustice and immoral excess. This is the soul of our nation.

It is fair and necessary to ask, what kind of movement is Prop. 8? Is it an instance of expanding or contracting freedom? Is it a move toward conscience or toward fear?

We must remember that, in the case of California, same-sex marriages are currently the law. Gay and lesbian couples enjoy this right at the current time and, if the proposed measure passes, they will not. How many instances are there in our past of an overt move to take away rights presently enjoyed? Jim Crow is perhaps the most memorable. After the period of Reconstruction had instilled in some the hope of a truly multiracial democracy in the South and North, the victors in the Civil War abdicated their management of democratic development as the Southern states found ways to legislate slavery by other means. Rights which Black Americans enjoyed were taken away, a clear example of legal regression. And how do we view this “movement” today?

Perhaps our thoughts turn toward Constitutional examples, when rights enjoyed were taken away via revisions of the legal blueprint of the polity. The most famous example of this is, arguably, the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1919. For those who do not remember, this effectively made liquor illegal in the U.S. Legendary for its failure, it was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment. By that time, Constitutional temperance was regularly criticized as an attack on individual rights orchestrated by a bunch of religious zealots.

History shows that we can never fully move backward in the struggle for freedom and equality. Such efforts are inherently flawed, and affront to the struggle for human progress. They merely create the context for new struggle, movement nurtured by people of conscience, movement which must succeed if the promise of the nation is to remain in tact. But what is the cost in the meantime?

Simply put, Proposition 8 is bad policy because it represents a taking away of rights currently enjoyed by our society. Such a movement is an affront to the promise embedded in our nation and, clearly, a setting of the stage of a future movement which will, with time and effort, emerge victorious. Such a middle ground—a time of struggle to regain lost rights—is a time of pain, of oppression, and of great human cost, not to mention a waste of public resources. To support this measure is to stand with the follies of past generations (of racists and xenophobes and zealots), people who history has judged as nothing more than human impediments to freedom, tests of our will to be this nation of liberty.

For more information, click here.

The “Border Beat” (October 13, 2008)

Today is the United States’ official observance of Columbus Day. I encourage you to take pause and think about the millions of lives lost in the brutal processes of global imperialism. These were human lives, human cultures, confronted by a European tradition that saw their culture and religion as better, their racial composition as supreme, and their economic needs as a justification for their abuses. How far we have come!

This week, LatinoLikeMe will be focused on the issue of California’s Proposition 8, the measure seeking to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry. In recognition of this, today’s “Border Beat” is featured in abbreviated form.

“Civil Rights Group Stays Puerto Rican at Heart, but Now Has a Broader Reach” (New York Times)
“In N.C., Pro-Immigration Hispanics Face Threats” (NPR)
“McCain, Obama seek to avoid fray on immigration” (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Enforcement Policy For Illegal Immigration Raises Ethics Questions” (Washington Post)
“Experts compare current immigration situation to deportation of Mexicans in 1930s” (Dallas Morning News)
“It’s time for Latinos to reach their voting potential” (La Prensa-San Diego)
“Growing Latino Population Redefines Small Town” (NPR)

FULL TEXT: Rep. John Lewis calls McCain a hater

Perhaps you’ve seen today’s story of the bold and truthful words of Representative John Lewis of Georgia. The veteran of the Civil Rights Movement called out the McCain-Palin campaign for their recent tactics of fostering fear and hatred.

Here’s the full text of his statement today. [As a sidenote, McCain waved his enormous white privilege wand almost immediately, condemning Lewis and demanding the Obama camp do the same. True to the power Lewis analyzes, the Obama campaign issued its own press release doing just that.]

Rep. John Lewis Responds to Increasing Hostility of McCain-Palin Campaign


As one who was a victim of violence and hate during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, I am deeply disturbed by the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. What I am seeing today reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse.

During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who only desired to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed one Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama.

As public figures with the power to influence and persuade, Sen. McCain and Governor Palin are playing with fire, and if they are not careful, that fire will consume us all. They are playing a very dangerous game that disregards the value of the political process and cheapens our entire democracy. We can do better. The American people deserve better.


Here is the full text of McCain’s response. He gets to take the position that Lewis’ analysis is divisive and inappropriate. Privilege!

Statement By John McCain

October 11, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain today issued the following statement:

Congressman John Lewis’ comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale. The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama’s record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I’ve always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.

I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America.