by Jasmyne A. Cannick
By now, I am sure that you are aware of the fallout over the Nov. 4 election results that passed Proposition 8, an amendment to the state constitution to make marriage legal only between one man and one woman. And I have no doubt that many of you reading this op-ed were a part of the 69 percent of Blacks who supported the measure.
In the days since then, Blacks have become the scapegoat for a poorly developed and executed campaign. From protests in Westwood that saw Blacks being accosted in their cars and called the n-word, to Black gays and lesbians themselves being targeted and told that it’s because of “your people that Prop. 8 passed” – much like the racist comments from members of the Democratic Party upon the realization that Sen. Hillary Clinton wasn’t going to get the nod – the gay community showed America how they really felt about Blacks and it didn’t matter if you were gay or straight.
While I am aware of the racism that exists within the gay community, I am not blind to the homophobia that exists within the Black community.
Look – we really need to get over this issue of gay marriage. I mean really, at the end of the day how does the fact that two people want to get married affect your life? Is it taking food off your table and out of your mouth? The roof from over your head? Is gays getting married the reason why Black men are being incarcerated at a rate higher than any other race? Is it the reason why more Black kids are dropping out of school and picking up guns? Is it the reason why you are unemployed and without healthcare? No, I didn’t think so.
Once again, we allowed others to come into our community and dictate to us what our agenda should be. We allowed white conservatives to purchase our pulpits and then dutifully volunteered to spread their message of divide and conquer. But what’s really baffling and equally troubling to me is that Black people collaborated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) who for nearly 150 years through the Mormon Church taught that all Blacks were cursed, uncouth, uncomely, wild and “seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind” … among other things.
As with the Minutemen and the issue of immigration, Black people once again made alliances with people who on any other issue we are usually standing opposite … polar opposite. Simply put – we were used.
On Nov. 4, 70 percent of the 6 percent that Blacks make up of California’s population went to the voting booth and voted for Sen. Barack Obama for president and Yes on Prop. 8, while in the booth next to them, their white conservative counterparts voted for Sen. John McCain and Yes on Prop. 8.
The same energy we put into getting out the yes vote on Prop. 8 would have been better spent on getting Black people organized to push for better grocery stores in our neighborhoods and better schools for our children. How come we can’t collectively demonstrate the same kind of organization we had for Prop. 8 when it comes to the issues we actually have control over and that have a much more profound impact on our day to day lives?
If your reasons for voting yes on Prop. 8 had more to do with your moral values and religion, I want you to consider this. If you think I am going to hell for being a lesbian, then let me go to hell. God doesn’t need your help and voting yes on Prop. 8 isn’t going to get me there that much faster or stop me from being a lesbian.
If your children can walk past crackheads, prostitutes and gangbangers on their way to and from school every day and not be pushed into taking drugs, finding a pimp or joining a gang, then why would you think that allowing gays to get married would all of a sudden make you susceptible to being gay? Your child has a better chance of picking up your habit of smoking cigarettes or overeating and being obese and diabetic than all of a sudden becoming gay.
What voting yes on Prop. 8 did do was allow white conservatives to divide our community at a time when we barely make up 10 percent of the electorate in California. It showed them that they can still pull our strings and that money talks – no matter what the issue. You might not have gotten paid for your yes on Prop. 8 vote, but believe me when I tell you millions of dollars were poured into Black communities on this issue.
It is not a good feeling for Black same-gender loving people who stand side by side with the Black community as a whole on any other issue to wake up to the fact that their friends, neighbors, co-workers and relatives voted against them, nearly 2 to 1. Especially when you add the fact that we’re fighting the white gay community’s racism as well.
I for one am tired of being in the middle. I am tired of working my ass off for and in a community of people who I love but who at the same time may respect my work, but not my person or my right as a person to love who I want. I don’t live in West Hollywood; I live right here next door to you, and that’s the case for most Black same-gender loving people. We are not only your hairdressers and choir directors. We are also your teachers, doctors, lawyers, lawmakers, activists, neighbors and co-workers. We are your daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles and cousins. We are your family. We are the tennis players on the court next to yours who have to listen to you call our brothers faggots and sissies. We are the listeners on the other end of the radio who wake up to hear the same person who smiled in our face yesterday talk about how our lives are immoral.
Look, no one is telling you want to believe in. If your religion or moral values dictates to you that marriage should be between a man and a woman, that’s your business – don’t make it mine. Because the same book that you use to condemn my life and justify your voting for Prop. 8 is the same book given to Black people by the Massuh that validated his mistreatment of his slaves. Keep it real. It was the Bible that white people used to tell Black people that they were to be treated as property rather than human beings.
I am not asking you to like the fact that I am a lesbian or even agree with it. What I am asking you to do is think about the fact that discriminating against lesbians and gays affects the Black community as well. It affects me and people like me – people who have been and will continue to be an essential part of the Black community. To the extent that my words have any influence at all on you, please remember that today it’s my life that’s up for the popular vote and tomorrow it could be yours. When tomorrow comes, where would you want this Black lesbian to stand – with my white gay counterparts or with my Black family?
Celebrated Black author Zora Neal Hurston, who was also a lesbian, once said, “Not all my skin folk is my kin folk.”
I need for my skin folk to be my kin folk and so do other Black lesbian and gay brothers and sisters.
Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality and politics as it relates to the African-American community. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times and Ebony Magazine. A regular contributor to NPR’s News and Notes, she was chosen as one of Essence Magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.