Editors' Note: Guest blogger Cindy Rizzo is a long time Projector. She blogs at Personal=Political=Polemical.
Losing California has been a major demoralizing event for our community and there's no way to minimize that. Frankly I feel robbed--robbed of the opportunity to bask in the Obama victory, robbed of the opportunity to be excited about the Democratic majority in the US Senate and in my local New York State Senate, and robbed of the belief that there was real momentum building for a widespread progressive renewal in the US.
On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, I felt hung over, exhausted, depressed, angry, marginalized. And I knew that if I wrote anything about the election that day, I might regret it after I'd had a good night's sleep.
Not so with many in our community. Blog pieces and listserv posts were littered with angry invectives about the African American vote in California. These writers actually wondered aloud why they had to be accountable for their own attitudes on race when clearly African Americans were not equally accountable for their views on homosexuality. Ignoring over a century of historical context, they seemed to be saying, "Now, see, here are the real bigots."
I cringed when I read this stuff. I couldn't imagine a more damaging position to espouse. I hated that Dan Savage felt emboldened to talk about the black vote in this manner even though, as he joked, he'd no longer be invited to speak at NGLTF events because of that organization's commitment to anti-racism.
One of the only voices of reason in the blogosphere came predictably from Pam Spaulding, of Pam's House Blend, an African American lesbian who tried to explain how the African American vote, as lopsided as it was, did not cause us to lose Prop 8.
But really, what I find important here, beyond questions of cause and effect, is the fact that seemingly smart people in our community think that their careless emotional venting about race and homophobia is a good idea. At this time, I can't imagine anything that's less productive.
Instead of mouthing off capriciously to make you feel good, and to feel the righteous anger of the underdog, how about we look at this issue and we start to address it? What is it necessary to do to turn this around? Where do we begin?
Here are some modest suggestions:
- Strengthen the movement of LGBT people of color. Why? Because we need to support the multi-issue work that is at the core of the lives of people of color in our own community. People like Pam Spaulding or Alexander Robinson don't have the luxury of being gay one day and black the next. They live both realities everyday, and one of the most important things the LGBT movement as a whole can do is to lift up the individuals and the organizations that bridge both communities.
- Strengthen and support our straight allies in communities of color. We need to build on the good work of people like Alice Huffman at the California NAACP who took a courageous stand in favor of marriage equality early on. Some LGBT community leaders are already engaged in doing this, but more of us need to do more of it. We have to raise the level of visibility and support for our allies of color.
- Become a movement that stands for racial justice. Dan Savage can joke all he wants, but the work of NGLTF on race is critical. If we are not good allies ourselves, then LGBT people of color will walk away from our movement (many already have; witness the blogger, Jasmyne Cannick, who has been publicly critical of the gay movement in a way that is not usually that productive). And there will be little incentive for straight allies to speak up on our behalf. Yes, that means we have to talk about affirmative action. Yes, that means we have to talk about immigration, and not just the LGBT aspects. Yes, that means we have to talk about poverty and the legacy of Hurricane Katrina. I'm sorry, we are long past the era of gay tunnel vision. If we want allies, we have to be an ally.
Finally, let's get some data (some of which we may already have) about what this attitudinal divide is all about. Is it pure homophobia or are there underlying beliefs and issues that we can constructively address? Let's then put our best minds to work on education, message development and on cross-movement work. Sure, there are bigots of all kinds in every community. We saw that at the McCain/Palin rallies. But carping about black homophobia in a reckless and unhelpful way won't change anything. It just digs us deeper into the hole.
I'm sure there are people who will criticize me as just another voice on the left talking about racism, like Dan saw the Task Force as an easy target. But again, how productive is that? If we do nothing but vent, we can just expect the same results next election day.