Rev Irene Monroe

Another example of the black-white divide in our community

Filed By Rev Irene Monroe | July 29, 2010 8:00 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: boston, dan gorton, Donnie McClurkin, gospel, Prop. 8

Boston's Gospelfest this year featured Rev. Donnie McClurkin, the poster boy for African American ex-gay ministries, donniemcclurkin.jpgwho spews anti-gay religion-based vitriol at every public event he can get as part of his outreach ministries to gay youths. But at this event, McClurkin had to refrain from his usual homophobic diatribes. And it was not because the spirit moved him or any public protest, but rather because the mayor's office warned him. McClurkin's folks knew if Donnie got on his anti-gay soap box that he would never sing in this town again at a city-sponsored gospelfest, but also no place else.

MuClurkin is a classic example why homophobia is an ongoing problem in the African American community, and it must be challenged at every opportunity. However, the tactics and strategies needed must derive from the community itself and in cooperation with other faith and activist communities in order for the challenge and protest to be both successful and sustainable.

When Don Gorton, organizer of Join the Impact - MA (JTIMA), a grassroots campaign to promote LGBTQ civil rights, contacted me on June 25th offering his help in protesting McClurkin's upcoming appearance I thought the invitation was sincere.

"Great quotes in the Phoenix article. The Anti-Violence Project is on board with your call to action to protest Donnie McClurkin's scheduled appearance at GospelFest. I also expect support from Join the Impact MA and Truth Wins Out," Gorton wrote in an email to me.

When suggestions came from me, Wayne Besen, of Truth Wins Out, which withdrew from the protest, and also from JTIMA members that Gorton needed to keep in mind racial, religious, cultural and community sensitivities, he shunned them.

Gorton wrote back in two separate emails stating why. "FYI. I'm open to most any input on the M.O. for the protest, but determined to go forward despite the sensitivities we need to address." And in another one he stated, "I rejected a suggestion from a JTIMA member that we not carry signs--that would be tantamount to canceling the protest."

But in putting on this protest with racial, religious, cultural and community sensitivities in mind the following things needed to be considered:

  1. The demographics of the protesters. An overwhelming number of white protesters will not effectively get the message across. And for African American churchgoers who think being gay is white thing, an overwhelming number of white protesters will only corroborate their fallacious assumptions.
  2. Talking with a number of African American LGBTQ on a listserv from the community several suggested a dialogue with community leaders and ministers - black and white - about this event, stating that since Mayor Menino isn't showing up, it would be a ripe time to do a follow-up and open dialogue.
  3. With the Bible having an iconic image and importance in the African American community, all signage must have biblical phrases or references that resonate in the Black Church and in black theology. Negative messages will not resonate. Messages about Jesus and M. L. King, who talked about the Beloved Community asking why aren't LGBTQ in the fold, works.
  4. There is a movable middle of black ministers on LGBTQ issues. If messaging is ineffective and/or disrespectful, it sets back the work many of us African American LGBTQ activists have been doing and are doing with these ministers. And these ministers are the gateway to reaching the community.
  5. While clearly City Hall Plaza is a public space, black Christians who will gather for Gospelfest see the moment as an open tent revival of the Black Church. The Black Church functions as multiple sites - private and public - and defines itself as a "nation within a nation."

But Gorton felt that attacking McClurkin would not be attacking the Black Church.

Rev. Leslie Sterling, priest-in-charge of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Cambridge, an African American ally to the LGBTQ community, and the only person of color to show up for the protest, but took her collar off to not represent the church. She wrote Gorton telling him his thinking was wrong and his approach could be deleterious.

"I simply do not think it is possible to single out McClurkin tomorrow as if he were separate from discriminatory attitudes in the gospel music community and the black church as a whole... if your protest is effective and noticed, it is likely to cause hard feelings among people in those two communities because either (a) they believe as he does and you disrupted their Sunday praise and worship with politics, almost as if you had brought protest signs into a church service, or (b) they do not believe as he does and if you had approached them differently they could possibly have been your allies, but by starting the conversation with a slap in the face you will get the relationship off on the wrong foot."

One of the reason's for California's Proposition 8 passing is not due to the LGBTQ community's lack of passion for justice, but rather it was due to the continually recalcitrant and hubristic attitudes of some white LGBTQ activists not reaching out to communities of color; thus, pushing their agenda.

And Gorton proves he hasn't learned that lesson.


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I'd like to point out that despite the confusing reporting by Rev Irene Monroe, Join the Impact did have a very successful action, a good deal of positive exchange with Gospel Fest participants, and inspired many people to turn around and walk away from the event when McClurkin took the stage.

Join the Impact MA met with local representatives from some of the churches, agreed to have a silent and respectful counter protest at the back of the event instead of chanting and dispersion throughout the plaza, created and designed signs as per the recommendations from Irene and Rev. Leslie Sterling, and took all sensitivities into account.

Not bad for only having two weeks to plan the event on a weekend when Join the Impact already had three activities planned.

It's confusing when people ask for help, receive help and create a perplexing report on what could have happened instead of on what did happen. Irene, if you're reading this I would like to hear your thoughts. While I wasn't at the protest, I talked to those that were before and immediately after. Please share your thoughts on your reflections of how things went and what the response was to the festival participants of Join the Impact's presence post-protest.

Regards,

RJ

*applauds*

Bravo!

Your list of points is essential to anyone who wishes to deal in areas outside of the primarily white community that wallows in unearned privilege.

The same sort of approach is how one reaches any of the disparate communities -- not merely the African American community.

It requires that people start with the knowledge they they do not understand the cultural aspects of various ethnic groups within the United States.

This is why Boards and offices need to not merely be hued by sexual identity, but also by racial background, and the more different from each other they are, the better.

Well done!

Irene can you elaborate on this statement....

"McClurkin's folks knew if Donnie got on his anti-gay soap box that he would never sing in this town again at a city-sponsored gospelfest, but also no place else."

I was expecting some explanation of how the Mayor had the power to accomplish that.

Irene,

Was it a black/white divide, or are you simply claiming it was based on email exchanges while ignoring all of the work JTIMA did?

Can you please discuss the rally and perceptions afterward?

Regards,

RJ

One of the reason's for California's Proposition 8 passing is not due to the LGBTQ community's lack of passion for justice, but rather it was due to the continually recalcitrant and hubristic attitudes of some white LGBTQ activists not reaching out to communities of color ...

At this point in my life, I am not surprised that whites are so incompetent at representing or addressing problems in the black community, because the vast majority of whites are incompetent in their knowledge of African-American culture, and specifically the subtle family and social mechanisms that feature so powerfully within it. The Gordon guy you speak of sounds like a perfect example of this. One's knowledge of these mechanisms needs to be quite intimate in order to be effective at activism and changing attitudes among blacks --- and that seems unaccessible or simply too much work for most whites.

Generally, the two races over-emphasize their physical differences and under-appreciate the potent consequences of their cultural differences. And unfortunately, I don't have any easy answers, other than that most of us need to "talk" (word and deed) less and "listen" (observe with an open attitude) more.

Chitown Kev | July 30, 2010 9:17 AM

Amen.

I have to confess that I do get a little surprised when white gays display this...ineptitude about black culture simply because, in my experience, white gays seem to be in tune with black culture; at least moreso that straight whites.

I guess that's only on the surface of things, though.

Chitown Kev | July 30, 2010 9:28 AM

I mean, no lesser a writer than James Baldwin reminds us in 1985 in that dreadful (but occasionally illuminating) book-length essay "The Evidence of Things Not Seen" that The Black Church was the only institution within the black community that survived desegregation and integration. The church is really, really, important in terms of what a "black community identity is; there's no way around that.

That doesn't mean that "the black church" can't be criticized; indeed, there are many criticisms of the black church that come from within black culture itself; indeed, Rev. Monroe might be in agreement with me that "The Black Church" also as assimilated with other (read: white) churches and neglected its' historical and iconic role in the black community (the Rev. Ike's of the black community notwithstanding).

But black church folks ain't about to listen to white folks protest something that (presumably) they don't know a damn thing about.

Heck, even I (a product of the black church) might not listen to you.

Yes, Kev, you make a point I thought about including in my comment, but I decided to stop short of it: It is difficult for white gays to influence the attitudes of blacks if the whites appear to be "not tuned in" to the subtleties of black culture and the black experience. OTOH, there is nothing a white person can do to get past black people objecting, "You don't know what it's like because you've never been black!" This objection is certainly true, but we (whites) are able to anchor our arguments on the commonalities of the human experience --- which are enormous, even though blacks sometimes over-perceive their situation as unique, which in some ways it is.

"But black church folks ain't about to listen to white folks protest something that (presumably) they don't know a damn thing about.

Heck, even I (a product of the black church) might not listen to you."

Chiton, the problem here that Irene leaves out is that the protest was very successful. It wasn't targeting Mclurkin as a member of the black church, but his stance as an anti-gay/ex-gay. Many great discussions were had with those attending the Gospel Fest including some participants turning away and walking out of the plaza when he took the stage.

It was less of a protest and more of a subdued, respectful presence as to not interfere with the festival participants who were there to enjoy their day. As one of those "white folks" you're referring to, I've found the black Christian community in Boston to be very, very welcoming. I've been to their services and have always been welcomed with open arms.

Irene, despite being brilliant and highlighting a very real concern for many in the LGBTQ black community, is ignoring the product of the rally in order to emphasize a problem that simply did not occur/was not there to the best of my knowledge.

Chitown Kev | July 30, 2010 1:22 PM

And what Rev. Monroe is arguing (and I'm assuming that you know her personally) is that some...many black church folks won't differentiate the the anti-gay position from the black church position no matter what you do.

You are correct, however, in stating that once the problem with a performer like McClurkin is explained, black church people do get it but then again I don't know too many black church people that really believe his "ex-gay" BS story anyway, if you want to know the truth.

And...yes, I am acquainted with quite a few older white gays who had the same experience that you had at a black church. I would never exppect black churchgoers to treat you with anything other than the utmost hospitality (and of course, that would include a hefty plate of fixins from the church kitchen...and ya better eat everything on your plate our you will have some mad church sisters on your hands, lol).

FurryCatHerder | July 30, 2010 2:54 PM

It's one thing to be welcomed -- I attended an all-Black (except for me) congregation my last semester in University because they had a van that picked us up from the dorm when the weather stank and I couldn't ride my motorcycle to the church I attended further up river (New Orleans -- all directions relate to water, strip clubs or food) -- and another to grasp its role within the community.

Understanding the role of the Church in the Black community takes more than just going to church, though it helps. There have to be people in that community whose children refer to you as "Auntie" or "Uncle", and whose parents invite you to dinner and birthday parties and into their homes for no other particular reason. I don't see a lot of White Queer Activists getting that far into the Black Community. Much more like a Vacation Destination than a part of ones Extended Family.

The Black Church is a Political, Social and Economic entity as much as a Spiritual one. The intersection of Queer Politics and the Black Church needs to include those things, not just focus on what Jesus did or didn't say.

I gotta agree with FurryCatHerder here. In fact, RJ's comments about the black church community being "welcoming" is just another example of white people not getting it. Actually, it's about more than just race and cultural differences - this is another example of white queer activists not getting religion.

So, to RJ & other white queer activists who might rebuff calls for racial sensitivity with "but they're so nice to me" comments:

Dude - they're Christians - it's their *duty* to be welcoming. One of the ways they live out their faith is by welcoming you, being nice to you, and loving you - even when you're being an arrogant carpetbagger who's coming in all high & whitey like you've got something to teach them. Do you really think most attendees didn't know about this whole ex-gay thing? If you really cared about what they think, you'd be building real relationships with them, and working just as hard on the social justice issues *they* care about, as on the ones you care about.

So, RJ & the Boston-area Join the Impact crew - some constructive criticism: a really simplistic way you can show your support for the black Christian community in Boston is to at least show up for Boston's MLK Jr. breakfast. Yep, it's a tokenistic, least-you-can-do kind of gesture, but I've been to the last four, and I can't recall any GLBT rights org buying a table or putting an ad in the program booklet (peeps: please correct me if I'm mistaken). And for the white queer activists who object to supporting anything that might have the faintest hint of being anti-gay: one of the two sponsoring churches is officially on record as being GLBT-inclusive.

Chitown Kev | July 30, 2010 3:22 PM

Correct.

Black people want to get to know you and to become familiar with you; after all, we have trust issues esp. when it comes to white folks.

And as far as queer equality is concerned, black people, for example, want to know who your peeps are.

Thing is, all of that takes time and time seems to be something that the white gay community really doesn't want to spend with the black community (gay, straight, and trans).

This is a very good discussion here and thank you everyone. Until relatively recently, I have always considered myself completely color blind. In attending many churches in the greater Boston area, I didn't attend as a white, gay man. I attended as a man - often by invitation. The sense of community and togetherness in the churches I did visit was awe inspiring - they really looked out for their own.

What I propose, then, is a stark cultural difference that has little to do with skin color (in Boston and today at least) and more to do with history. Churches that are predominately white don't generally correlate with a sense of protection of one's own.

Still, claiming that I don't "get religion" is a stretch. I understand more about religion and its role in individual societies than I sometimes care to. What does come into play, however, is worldview. I was raised in a rural area where the only two people I knew of a minority race were my adopted sisters. Until I came here nine years ago, my worldview was rather molded to my surroundings.

So rather than be angry at misconceptions and gross generalizations, I would say that the door swings in both directions.

My difficulty, then, comes in not knowing why I should approach anyone differently because of their skin color. I simply do not understand why skin color is an issue for those of us who are otherwise color blind.

That is a concern that I have in lacking exposure to the worldview where it does come into play. Someone please explain it to me.

-RJ

Awesome question.
I think it can be broken down two ways:

1. You want to be colorblind - but you aren't. None of us are. Those of us who were raised in the U.S. were socialized into a whole nasty swamp of race and ethnicity based put-downs, stereotypes, and oppressions. Sure, they vary a bit by geographic region and over time, but they're so deeply ingrained into our national consciousness that we're often playing out racist scripts even when we don't realize it - or mean to. For example, in most parts, talking about being "gyped" or about someone who's "gone off the reservation" doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

2. Even as some of us struggle to unlearn racism - a whole lot of people aren't. People of color encounter overt and subconscious racism every day. Some cultural practices, like the ones various commenters have raised, are responses developed over time to help communities deal with the racism and oppression they encounter. So if we really want to interact with people in ways that *don't* (unintentionally) support the racist status quo, then we need to educate ourselves about these kinds of cultural differences and respond accordingly.

Here's an example that shows the two are linked. Remember Chitown Kev's comment about assuming you know Rev. Monroe personally? You referred to her as "Irene," and for a lot (not all) of white people, that's a sign of a friendship, of respect, of warm regard. In fact, for a lot of white people, to call someone "Mr. Smith" or "Ms. Jones" is to send a subtle signal that the speaker doesn't like them or is about to disagree with them.

But for a lot of people in black communities, to call someone you don't know by their first name is a profound sign of disrespect. Think of the long legacy of slavery and racial inequality, and how whites refused to give linguistic signs of respect - never a "Mister," just "boy." Think of the sexism of the U.S. in general, and (too often) of the black church itself - think of how long and hard women had to *still) fight to be allowed the title "Reverend." So titles - and last names! - become powerful ways to affirm dignity in the face of the indignities of an enduring legacy of racism and sexism.

RJ, you asked this question about colorblindness with sensitivity and vulnerability, which is brave & awesome, especially in a blog setting. But the "colorblindness" that leads a white person to use first names, instead of the "Rev. Irene Monroe" that's her byline, could be interpreted as ignoring (and therefore disrespecting) her training, skill, experience, and status - all of which, in a post about a gospel singer, adds to the authority and strength of Rev. Monroe's analysis. It makes her more of an "expert" than I assume many/all of us commenters are on this topic, but the first name thing sidesteps all of that.

Anyway, it's clear to me you didn't intend to knock her down a peg - this is just an example of how being sensitive to different racial/cultural practices can reduce the likelihood that others will see racist patterns at play that we don't mean to be enacting.

Chitown Kev | July 31, 2010 9:39 AM

Yep.

I was about to explain this but...then again, I do get tired of explaining things to white folks, especially those that act as they know as much about the black community as RJ claims to based on the fact that black churches are so welcoming; this little thing regarding titles should be obvious to anyone who knows even a little bit about the black community.

For example, my brother posted recently on Facebook that he was pissed about the fact that so many journalists felt free to refer to President Obama by his last name only as they were covering him. This complaint occured right after the liberal MSNC commentators were slamming Obama's speech on the BP oil spill. Given this cultural tradition that ryou refer to, Sammy, and the fact that the Olbermann, Maddow, and the other were slamming President Obama about it, my brother and many other black people took this as a sign of profound disrespect and, yes, even racism.

As someoneo has studied journalism and knows the various stylebooks pretty well, I had to explain to my brother that it was typical journalistic style that the first mention of a president __________ in any story, it is standard to refer to him as President ____________ and then after that first mention that it's OK to refer to the President simply by his last name; I provided my brother with examples of this style going back to FDR.

Chitown Kev | July 31, 2010 10:06 AM

That's "MSNBC" commentators.

For example, in most parts, talking about being "gyped" or about someone who's "gone off the reservation" doesn't even raise an eyebrow.

This is so true --- white Americans, particularly those of the Baby Boom generation and earlier, were raised in all sorts of racism that we didn't even recognize as racism, not only against blacks but other groups, too.

I was in college and had a very embarrassing moment when I mentioned to a progressive friend that I had made a bad purchase, and said I had "gotten Jew'd" --- with eyes as big as saucers, he said, "I hope I didn't hear you say what I think you said!" and for the first time in my life I realized that that expression refers to the prejudice that Jewish businessmen are fast-talkers and swindlers. I don't now and never had that view of Jewish people personally, and it only took that one confrontation with my friend to get me to resolve that I would never use that expression again.

Sammy,

Regarding your first point, I understand that our society contains a great many number of different and distinct cultures, developing unique characteristics based on their history. I can't say I have never used the term "gyped" or "gone off the reservation" (never heard that last one before). I've always embraced differences. Having sisters of a different race than me and raised in such a family as I have been raised in has protected me from underlying racial sentiments that you refer to.

I've learned that the best way to respond to cultural differences is to set aside cultural differences. To me, said differences only testify to how unique and brilliant we all really are.

Regarding my referring to Rev. Monroe as Irene -

My background reserved calling someone by title exclusively out of child-adult respect OR to Roman Catholic clergymen and religious life. Whenever I meet or am referring to someone, I am of an age where I generally wouldn't refer to them with a formal title. This occurs in both my workplace and in public.

I approach everyone in this regard - on a personal and first name basis first unless otherwise corrected by the person I'm speaking to or referring to. Does calling Rev. Monroe Irene belittle her in my eyes? No. Given her profile she is a very beautiful and obviously brilliant and powerful woman.

I can see, however, that my referring to her by her first name can create or allude to a pattern of racist undertones. It is a shame that we as a culture are still at that point - how far we have to go.

My approach to people has always been one to one. I still have trouble understanding how being sensitive to differences should hold weight over ignoring differences when two unique people interact.

I do agree that there is merit, here. Just as I recognize a social stigma whose basis is homophobia, there is a very real and present one whose base is racism. Still, it would seem to me that this is sometimes self-perpetuated through lumping together Caucasian men and women into one group ("white folks").

Perhaps my worldview is one of innocence. I treat people the same unless they would treat me poorly or unless they personally correct me. I would hope that we get to a point where the same can be said for everyone. That's my vision, at least, where every person treats all other people with the very same respect, dignity, and admiration despite immutable characteristics like skin color, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. etc.

My original question to Rev. Irene, however, is that she correct and adjust her original article not on what could have happened, but on what did happen at the JTIMA presence at the gospel fest.

I'm not saying any of this as a white, gay man. Rather, I'm saying these things as a man whoso happens to be white and gay.

Am I personally aware of the social issues and problems faced by LGBT people of color? No, not intimately at least. But I'll be the first one to admit that I may be a fish out of water AND that I don't raise any defensive barriers in open communication. To me, we're all just people trying to create a world where cultural differences don't spark conflict.

-RJ

Chitown Kev | August 1, 2010 10:22 AM

Truth be told, RJ, I don't lump "white folks" together at all because I understand how very limiting the term is...for example, I understand how and why a American man of Italian and Greek descent would use the term "white folks" (I encountered this person nearly a week and a half ago) and we actually discussed it.

My friend used that term in the same sense that I do; it has very, very, very little to do with the color of someone's skin and much more to do with the state of someone's mind as it relates to color privilege (and I, myself, have not been immune from the criticism; black folks tell me that I act "white" all the damn time...but that's another issue entirely).

And...again, having read my James Baldwin very carefully, I will say it's the very idea that you have the privilege to have "a worldview of innocence" that constitutes an injustice, if not a crime.

At least now in some respects, you can no longer make the claim of innocence ("who, me?").

Chiton,

I understand what you mean and do recognize a very real and present skin privilege in this country (and in the world).

Still, I can't help but feel grateful in being raised by the family I have. I could have so easily been raised as a young gay man to a 14 year old mother. Who knows where my life would have been should that happen. I don't see being raised in a household where I was protected from the world as an injustice or a crime UNLESS you consider it to have been one that has occurred to all different groups of people throughout of all of human history - from the Jews to the Christians to the pagans and onto racial minorities. Is it a crime that some people are born in such a way as to be on better footing than others? Perhaps, but it is a long standing one.

Still, the idea of perpetuating an attitude where one is accused of "acting black" or "acting white" repulses me. When it comes to my interaction with everyone, that's not the type of world I wish to envision. In fact, any world where there exist buckets to classify people by way of profiling and/or stereotypes only serves in creating division and conflict for often unnecessary reasons.

Correct me if you feel I'm wrong or if you feel I'm misguided in refusing to classify people.

-RJ

It's important to keep on trying to dialog, and this really shouldn't be so hard. We LGBTQ people have members in every race, ethnicity, religion, etc.

Tollendyr | July 30, 2010 3:42 PM

You should have made this about Don Gorton, and not Don Gorton, White Gay. Otherwise you're just fueling the fire from the other end.

Wow.

It's the "I'm not racist, I've got black friends" argument!

*sigh*

As a trans gal, of mixed race, who has tried to do a lot to cross that cis/trans chasm and knows all to well about the rest of the chasms, I'm going to step out and say something fairly obvious to anyone who's got any kind of intersections going on here:

Until the white leadership of orgs publicly steps out and admits they don't know a damn thing about any of this stuff (which they won't do, for whatever reason), really good posts like this one are going to be ignored and treated as if they are attacks on individuals, instead of attacks on a social issue.

just like some folks have done here already.

I understand what you say, Antonia --- having black friends does not cleanse us of racism. However, a racist who has black friends can't be as extremely racist as some white racists who won't have anything to do with a black person --- so having genuine black friends does count for something, and it is a very decent first step in confronting one's own racism.

Also, a white person attending a pre-dominantly black church counts for something. In my experience, it was difficult to return to the all-white congregation: how can one tolerate the whites in-fighting about whether the kitchen in the new recreation hall should have granite countertops or Formica countertops, after you have gone to a few funerals and watched black mothers grieve their teenage sons who got shot by a neighborhood rival or a cop. (I am not making this up; in fact, while I lived in Los Angeles, I was attending a black church at the time that [the grand-daughter of Bernard Parks], then-LAPD Police Chief, got shot and murdered just down the street.)

Having said that, I'd like to add, Antonia, that your last two paragraphs above were particularly right on the mark. The best thing that white queer activists could do is publicly admit that they know next to nothing about how to represent or help the black LGBT community, and then be willing to listen and learn, starting on Page One.


Chitown Kev | July 31, 2010 10:42 AM

I want to add to this that it's the assumption that white gay leadership "knows" this stuff that's so irritating to me.

Black people don't mind an admission of "not knowing" and asking questions AT ALL.