Alex Blaze

Recognizing our allies in the NAACP

Filed By Alex Blaze | March 05, 2009 4:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: African-American, California, gay marriage, legislation, marriage, marriage equality, NAACP, Prop. 8, same-sex marriage

The American Prospect has an interesting article up about the risks that the NAACP took to oppose Proposition 8.

For Pastor Amos Brown, the president of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP, opposition to Prop. 8 had serious consequences. Several weeks after the election, a significant number of donors had pulled out of the local NAACP's fundraising dinner because of his opposition to Prop 8. Brown was angry, but he wouldn't back down from his position.

They lost thousands in donations, the article implies, and I'm sure there were some that they lost from people who weren't at that dinner. But the article says that NAACP president Ben Jealous stepped in to support the California chapter of the NAACP and fundraise to replace the lost money.

While it might not sound like a whole lot of money, it's still a big risk. Large nonprofit corporations like the NAACP and HRC don't live on good will or progressive politics alone. They live or die by their donors, many of whom get turned off whenever the org even appears to be deviating from their mission. When an organization to take a stand against their main source of support and reach out to other groups, they deserve recognition and thanks.

The NAACP's moves against prop 8 - supporting legislation to overturn it and opposing it back during campaign season - weren't just idle word; they ended up being large steps and helped other orgs come out in our favor in California:

Jason Bartlett, deputy director of the National Black Justice Coalition, was excited by the NAACP's move: "It's the boldest thing I've seen in some time, definitely the boldest thing that they've done on gay rights. ... It's historic." Bartlett argues that the NAACP intervening on behalf of gay rights will give other black leaders and organizations cover to do the same. At a meeting of the Caucus of Black State Legislators in December 2008, Bartlett, who is also a state legislator in Connecticut, unsuccessfully tried to get the CBSL to take a position on gay rights. He was rebuffed.

"An executive board member said, 'We will not be the first mainstream black organization to take a position.'" Bartlett says. "In other words, we're not going alone."

While these are serious risks that the NAACP took that directly help us, it's part of seeing the bigger picture and recognizing that none of these issues stands alone. As Pastor Amos Brown, who ran the fundraiser mentioned before the jump, put it:

"We don't live in a theocracy," Brown told me when I spoke with him in November . Brown, who opposes banning same-sex marriage but also says he wouldn't perform a same-sex marriage ceremony in his church, says his dedication to civil rights and opposition to Prop. 8 come from a similar place. He recalls first seeing a picture of Emmitt Till, a youth who was lynched in 1955 for supposedly making a pass at a white woman.

"When I saw that picture," Brown says, "I promised God myself, never would I be mean to people who were different."

I know that there will be a few people thinking that, after the majority of African Americans voted for Prop 8 by anyone's count, this support isn't that deep, I'd argue the opposite: for an organization to know that the people they represent need to be moved forward on an issue and still take a stand in favor of it is actual leadership. It only makes the risk bigger and less likely to happen, but more important to recognize when it does.

Of course, I'd hope that this support will be reciprocated from major LGBT orgs.

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When ever I've heard a person in a leadership position at NAACP speak on the subject they have approached equality and humanity of lgbt persons from a very principled perspective.

I would hope that members of our communities would view them as an honored ally.

Michael Crawford Michael Crawford | March 5, 2009 5:23 PM

The NAACP should be commended for taking action in favor of marriage equality. After the passage of Prop. 8 some white gays went nuts and inaccurately placed the blame on Black voters.

The NAACP has been a longtime supporter of LGBT equality and it needs to be acknowledged.

I know that there will be a few people thinking that, after the majority of African Americans voted for Prop 8 by anyone's count, this support isn't that deep, I'd argue the opposite: for an organization to know that the people they represent need to be moved forward on an issue and still take a stand in favor of it is actual leadership. It only makes the risk bigger and less likely to happen, but more important to recognize when it does.

You know shit like this is exactly why people get pissed. While praising the NAACP, you somehow could not help but once again push the fallacious myth that we voted in overwhelming numbers for Prop 8. How many times does that have to be disproved? Seriously enough. When you are not appropriating our history you spin facts to make it look like the black community is uniquely homophobic. Homophobia is a terrible disgrace and I would appreciate it if the GLBT community could finally acknowledge that it spans across all races, culture, and ethnicities.

Allow me to be completely fair here.

In other issues related to GLBT civil rights such as hate crimes, job discrimination, employment discrimination,DADT, etc. AAs DO poll better than most other ethnic groups with these other GLBT civil rights issues. So the do get the civil rights arguments and claims of the GLBT community, but with the marriage issue it is different.

co-sign! well said. it was a great post until the crap (one that has been disproved a bajillion times as Renee show) about "majority of Black voters." not surprised though.

I think a couple of points are in order. Alex was one of the 1st bloggers out there pointing out that this "blame the blacks" bullshit was, well, bullshit.

But the truth remains - and I think this is all Alex was trying to say - that the majority of California African Americans voted in favor of Prop 8. That's a true statement (it only takes 50% + 1). They're not the only group, by any means. So did white men, white women, the elderly, the poor, etc. But as far as this post goes, it's not the AARP standing up for LGBT rights.

It's the NAACP - which Alex is lauding.

Knowing him well after working with him for years, I know there's no way Alex would push the "it's black people's fault" meme. It infuriates him as much as it does womanistmusings.

whether you take the CNN exit poll or the NGLTF study, African Americans in California voted for Prop 8 at percentage higher than any other ethnic group (71% of AAs in Florida voted for the gay marriage ban in Florida, again, higher than any other ethnic group) . And yes, in some ways the homophobia as is unique to black communities (I have never heard of a "white" homophobe make a racial case against homosexuality, but there are many in the black community that believe that homosexuality is a "white" thing.

That's not to say that racism in the gay community isn't a problem or that it should be excused...far from it, but I am not discussing that here. As a gay black man this tears me apart but I am really not up to hearing the BS from either side.

I don't care what you are up to. If African Americans see a gay and lesbian identity as white it is because the the GLBT community is largely lead by whiteness and it continually refuses to take an intersectional approach to its organizing. This prop 8 debate is ridiculous and the stats have been proven to be wrong NUMEROUS times. I would also like to point out that even if I did buy your skewed data, that at most it would prove that a small section of people living in one state had a bias. It is not reflective of an entire community. Any statistician would tell you that you cannot infer from one election poll what the thought pattern is of a community as large and diverse as the black community. Keep internalizing the hatred my friend.

This coming from the person rationalizing the bigoted position that homosexuality is the white man's disease.

Internalized hatred indeed!

can you clear up where she said that? because i don't see it.

she said (at least what i interpret from her statemt) that black people don't support mainstream LGBT movements because they don't seem themselves represented in their leadership.

she then said that the mainstream movements fail because they refuse to be intersectional in their analysis of the issues that they purport to stand for.

i personally agree with both points.

I am certainly not surprised to see you twist my words. How exactly is it homophobic to demand that the GLBT community take an intersectional approach to its organizing? Intersectional would actually mean acknowledging that the community is made up of more than its white leaders represent it to be. In case you are not aware almost every single social justice movement in the western hemisphere is lead by whiteness because we have a tendencies to reproduce hierarchies of oppression. I am not claiming that whiteness is uniquely gay and lesbian I am saying that the power structures are. I am sure that you will once again find a way to twist this because the GLBT community has proven over and over again that it has no desire to confront the racism that it displays.

And you are reproducing those very same structures by your unjustified attack on Alex and myself. And I take that personally.

So defensiveness is the best that you can do. I pointed to pieces in Alex's post that were problematic..Not all of us want to play house negro and ignore racism because it makes some people uncomfortable. The point of the matter is that the GLBT community does not approach organizing or activism with an intersectional approach and being silent about it, is not going to bring about any substantive change. If your fee fees were hurt too bad, somehow I will manage to sleep tonight.

Sh-- like this? Skewed data? Internalizing the hatred? How about let's not make accusations without backing them up?
I love AAs. Always have. And I adore the massive contributions they've made to this society. But I've listened to enough of their opinions on gay folk to know that homophobia in the community is a problem. And the stats back up my experience.
If you want to pretend everything is fine, go to it. But you might lay off the insults.

With all due respect, I even took prop 8 out of the equation. I suppose that I could throw in the Michigan poll for Proposal 2 in 2004 where there was no difference as far as ethnicity was concerned (59-41) and, in fact, the difference in 85-90% Wayne County was 54-45%) But you would jump on that one poll from 4 years ago as proof of your thesis.

I would also point out a number of black nationalist work from the 80's that attempted to state that homosexuality was not innate to black people (e.g. Frances Cress Welsing). Reading that stuff then was frightening.

The African American community knew that some gay black men had AIDS in the 80's but refused to do anything about it as a community but condemned it as a "gay white man's disease" and to some extent they still do.

Mam, with all due respect, I don't have any internalized hatred. For the most part I choose not to prioritze my ethnic identity over my sexuality and vice versa. I understand that some people have a problem with that but I make no apologies for it. It's a principle that I attempt to live by. I don't do it perfectly and increasingly the gay part is taking priority for a variety of reasons.

Ah, but then she made an unnecessary personal attack on me, accusing me of "internalized self-hatred." As far as what black communities think, I can only go by what I read and what I was told by my family and my community.

Now Alex was one of the first people in the blogosphere condemning the backlash against African Americans after the passage of Proposition 8, go back and read the archives.

Even this one sentence that is lasered in on says, "I know that there will be a few people thinking that, after the majority of African Americans voted for Prop 8 by anyone's count, this support isn't that deep,..."

Meaning that he (Alex) doesn't believe this (and Alex states this explicitly) but he is aware that many do. Yet she zeros in on this one comment and accuses Alex of racism. That is wrong. But Alex is white, of course, so he must be another one of those "elite rich white gays" too (and Alex has written an essay on THAT too, I believe) me, jumping to that conclusion is racist, in this isolated case, I don't know what else to call it.

Simply because someone has made a favourable statement in the past does not make every single word that issues out of their mouth the gospel truth. People are imperfect and if we do not call out mistakes exactly how do you expect change to happen?

While it might not sound like a whole lot of money, it's still a big risk. Large nonprofit corporations like the NAACP and HRC don't live on good will or progressive politics alone. They live or die by their donors, many of whom get turned off whenever the org even appears to be deviating from their mission. When an organization to take a stand against their main source of support and reach out to other groups, they deserve recognition and thanks.

This shit in particular is disgusting. It makes it seem like the NAACP is dragging backward black people out of the darkness of our sins. I call bullshit. There are plenty of blacks how have openly advocated for gay rights for YEARS..that's right years. I am sick of the "blacks are uniquely honmophobic meme". This is about power. This is why you find those operating with white privilege continually denigrating the black community. How many times does it need to be said that homophobia is not race specific and furthermore blacks do not exist with the social power to change the laws that are causing the imbalance.

"I would also point out a number of black nationalist work from the 80's that attempted to state that homosexuality was not innate to black people (e.g. Frances Cress Welsing). Reading that stuff then was frightening."

And at the same time that this is true there have been plenty of Black women activist/scholars decrying this idea. (Barbara Smith, Michelle Wallace, Cheryl Clarke)

My issue is not with you acknowledging the homophobia in the Black community. I think that as a community we have to call ourselves on our shit in order to progress and grow. My problem is the way that legitimate criticism of said homophobia is then taken up as some kind of indicator of how much more homophobic the Black community is than any other community. I think that is patently false. There were plenty of groups of people *besides* Black people who voted in support of Prop 8. Why is our community singled out as the deciding factor in the loss on Prop 8. (Not saying that the last sentence is your intent to suggest but it is how the argument seems to be skewed in discussions that I have seen.)

That was why I put the Michigan numbers out there, most of which are the actual election returns. Wayne County is 85-90% black (a point I forgot to add). So no, the "AA vote" is not monolithic at all. It's very regional, for one, and very class-based also.

And I don't think I have ever said that homophobia in the black community is more virulent than in any other ethnic community but I am saying that it at times does take on a bit of a different form than in the wider culture. And I could cite those odious comments from Eldridge Cleaver about James Baldwin and Baraka's statement about, "all white men are faggots." (was he still LeRoi Jones at the time?) that predate Stonewall, so the meme was out there already...and yes, Huey Newton did speak out about homophobia at that time.

My issue with womanistmusings in this instance is that she cherry picked a quote of Alex's and painted him with a broad brush that seems racist to me. Then she goes into "refusal" about what the stats and polls show. A dialogue does not consist of pointing the finger at "whitey" any more than pointing a finger at "homophobic blacks" does. Alex is someone whom she could enter into a dialogue with but...she attempted to preach, instead. Take the preaching back to the church.

Right, here we go again, don't challenge the anointed one. No one is above challenge. Tell me when do black people get to speak? It seems to me that part of the emancipation proclamation and the civil rights movement was so that I could have the right like any other to speak my mind. I would further point out that it is extremely telling that whenever WOC speak about racism in the GLBT community we are immediately silenced. The experience of Monica from transgriot on this blog alone is all the example I need. The way that people have treated her has been atrocious. The constant attack on Jasmine Cannick when she speaks about the divergent needs of POC that identify as GLBT also stand as testament to the communities desire to silence dissenters.

I further find it interesting that you claim I should return to the church because I dared to shatter your comfort. Not once in any statement that I made did I speak in defense of the church or imply support of any religious organization in any way. More twisting.

The point here is that speaking about racism and privilege makes people uncomfortable and rather than deal with it, you would rather get defensive and attack. This is not going to build any ally support and will in fact turn off people who are already offering support. Never in any of my comments did I emphatically state or imply that I did not agree with gay rights, I simply do not believe that your rights should mean that you can engage in racism at the drop of a hat.

No, but I know preaching when I hear it.

Do you have anything positive to say about Alex's analysis or not? I mean, anything?

May I point out that one of the counties in which Prop 8 didn't pass was Alameda County, which contains the City of Oakland.

Using the data from the flawed survey would mean that Prop 8 should have passed there since the county is MAJORITY AA.

But once again, I must point out that the people who sponsored Prop 8, collected the signatures, fronted the money for it, pushed that campaign and voted for it were survey says, overwhelmingly white.

So since when did 9% of the state's population get that much juice?

I was aware of the Alameda County numbers, there would be another exception.

My problem has little to do with Prop 8, it has to do with the unjustified attack on Alex by womanistmusings.

No, actually, the NAACP has been out front on this for years, and as I stated, black communities in general consistently poll better on GLBT issues BESIDES marriage. But marriage does seem to be the #1 issue that is being pushed right now and there are plenty of critics in the LGBT community of that.

I'm simply suggesting, don't simply point the finger and preach, right now it seems like can dialogue. Me personally, I don't like preachers.

Not only am I not silent about it, I am actually doing something about it in both the black and the gay communities in my local area. I have worked with minority LGBTs in a job program, I will do that again this summer. It was my work with young LGBTs of color that inspired me to become more active.

I also work with an activist organization that goes beyond simply GLBT issues and include other issues of social justice such as war, wrongful imprisonment, etc. The activist thing is new with me, to be honest, and Prop 8 was the other lighter of my fire.

I do have an animus against working with churches and religious organizations within the African American community, yes, particularly given the treatment of gay black men during the AIDS crisis in the 80's (I mention that because we spoke before on another issue at another blog and nothing raises my ire like the church, for a lot of reasons, not all having to do with sexuality).

I negotiate the different locations of my oppression (and others) as best as I can, not at all perfectly. Again, it's not the criticisms that I mind as much as the tone and the balance (both of which can be admittedly difficult). None of the taunting as "the house negro" really helps matters much either. And that talk of racism goes both ways

Ugh. This comment thread got really gross and tragic.

Where the fuck is Alex?

Tragic is right.

My impression from Alex's article is that the NAACP opposed Prop 8, and lost donations and supporters as a result. Alex indicates that the LGBT community needs to acknowledge the favor and to repay it.

I think those are important points.

The original point was great. We should cheer NAACP for crossing some of their donors. But the attack was beyond the beyond. It so gets on my nerves when we call racism or bigotry where they don't exist. We're so used to being victims, we don't see our friends. Plenty in the GLBT community hate and despise liberal christians, one of our most important allies. Now this: the idea that admitting that some AAs are homophobic is racist. Please.

I think Alex Blaze is well-intentioned, but I'll give him another five years until he wises up enough to stop trying to push push push this idea that it's all-minorities-united against the big evil heterosexual Caucasian Christian man. We're not in college anymore, Alex! we're dealing with the real world now.

Julian Bond is one of my heroes and I have great respect for NAACP.

Well, yeah, that was the point that I got, and NAACP's support of the GLBT community was announced on all of the major GLBT blogs. It was announced on a few GLBT blogs before the passage of Proposition 8, in fact. That's at least a start.

Then the other poster came in with what I felt was an unfair and bullying rant that was inappropriate to the conciliatory "hat-tip" nature of Alex's essay with the barest acknowledgement of what he was saying.

It's almost like both sides in this gay-black tussle (or whatever you want to call it) have their fist clenched, to use Hillary Clinton's analogy. I mean, if we can't unclench our fists Clinton style then let's do a fist bump Obama style and move on because both of our communities really have a common enemy.

To answer Nick's question: I'm visiting my boyfriend's parents in St-Etienne and don't have regular internet access. I really didn't expect to see this post getting so many comments.

I have a few points in general, and I'm really glad that people engaged, read what I wrote closely, and have responded/critiqued at length. Here are some responses, directed at no one in particular:

1. I'm personally unaware of any data that disproves the fact that a majority (one more than 50%) of African Americans in the state of California voted for Prop 8. The Task Force went over those numbers again, and I believe ended up with the "Yes" column in the upper-50's. The CNN exit poll (one of the worst to go by, considering the small sample size) was also above 50%.

None of this is meant to say that African Americans are particularly "behind" anyone else (as if we assume, for whatever reason, that thinking of sexuality as a stable, monolithic identity that ought to be respected as another "culture" is somehow more advanced than other modes of conceptualizing sexuality... but I guess a discussion of the orientalism/Western superiority assumed in those statements should be left for another day).

In fact, corporations like HRC and NAACP usually wait until 90% of their "communities" move to the liberal side of an issue before taking it up, so an org moving faster than that is comething to be grateful for.

Also, a majority (again, defined as 50% plus one) of Californians in general voted for Prop 8, so it'd be hard to say that any one group that repeated those numbers would be particularly "behind."

Of course, if anyone knows of a study that says that the percentage of African Americans who voted Yes was lower than 50%, please link instead of just saying that it exists. I'll be happy to put it up on this site!

2. My mentioning the statistic was meant to show the risk that the NAACP was taking, in a barely-veiled slight directed towards HRC. I can see how, without any context for mentioning the statistic, it might not sense.

I've been bothered by many progressive LGB and trans people who, two years ago, were upset with HRC's position on trans-inclusion in the ENDA. The anger was often directed at HRC and only HRC, as if they were acting in a vacuum. Organizations, like HRC and NAACP, live on donations, and are often afraid to put off their donors by engaging in coalitional politics, which their donors might see as a frivolous "extra" that strays from the mission.

What HRC did wrong there was not take the more courageous position and risk putting off their donors, the majority of which (demonstrated by HRC's real actions) either wanted to get an SO-only ENDA more quickly than would be permitted by forcing trans-inclusion or were simply transphobic. NAACP here could have very easily taken no position on Prop 8, not help out the coalition for LGBT equality, and probably not have lost the thousands of dollars mentioned in the Prospect article. (Again, if anyone knows of any factual error in the Prospect article that might prove that NAACP's California branch didn't lose donors because of their position on Prop 8, please link!)

In other words, what I'm getting at is that the percentage of folks who might donate to NAACP who voted "Yes" is much larger than the percentage of folks who might donate to HRC who voted "Yes," at least by my observations of the data.

That's not a criticism of NAACP or black people in general, that's simply putting their actions on Prop 8 into perspective and to remind us all that one day white LGBTQ people are going to have to reciprocate.

3. I'm really, really bothered by attacks directed towards Kevin about him being "self-hating," etc., just because he might not agree with others of his race. It reminds me of:

a) Criticisms of "internalized anti-semitism" directed at Jews who oppose US policy in Israel/Palestine
b) Criticisms of "internalized homophobia" directed at gays and lesbians who question the marriage strategy (and, yeah, those accusations happen a lot on this site)
c) Criticisms calling trans-people who work with the LGB activist community too ignorant to know that their work is in vain

Without getting too much into the ins and outs of the discussion, it appears as nothing more than a silencing technique, pulled out to cut someone out of a discussion and pretend like he or she doesn't have a place to discuss a matter that, under our current paradigms on race, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexuality, etc., she or he definitely does.

It's been directed at me as a gay man and those around me as LGBT people often enough to realize it just means that some people don't want to engage and want to continue in their assumption that their worldview and experiences can override others because they're simply more authentic.

4. As has been mentioned above, just because I said some nice things in the past (thanks, everyone!) doesn't mean that I'm anything more than a jackass now.

Although I would hope, and generally blog about this, that what people's words should be taken in context. That is, Dan Savage's statements when he went on CNN and Stephen Colbert about race and Prop 8 were good, but considering his words right after the election on his blog, it was obvious what he was really trying to do. I don't see why that shouldn't work in the opposite direction.

Since it seems that there's some confusion about what I wrote, considering that some people are creating words out of whole cloth and putting them in this blog post. I'm referring to statements that I said that "overwhelming numbers" of African Americans voted for Prop 8 or that African Americans are "uniquely homophobic."

And while I can understand the sensitivity around hearing a white-skinned gay man discuss race and Proposition 8, what with the explosion of racism from the gay community after Prop 8's passage, and examining what I wrote here in that context, I can't help but wonder why the context of me, i.e. my previous blog posts, is so easily discarded. Either we take this in isolation (which I don't recommend), or we look at everything.

Either way, though, there doesn't seem much of a way of talking about these issues at all if criticism is coming from folks who rewriting my blog post against my will in the comments here. That's not saying "If you don't agree with me, we can't have this conversation"; rather it's "If you're not even going to read this post before you criticize it, then I don't think your criticism is coming from a place of good faith."

OK, back to the real world. I might not respond for a while, but that doesn't mean I'm avoiding the thread.

This is a tad off topic. But I've used 'internalized homophobia' to account for bad gay strategy, unfairly you may think. And I've watched gay folk shoot themselves in the foot in so many venues, that I can't help think that self hatred might have something to do with picking so many fights they can't win, instead of choosing battles they can. Or maybe it's the victim complex. Maybe the extreme selfishness of mass culture. Maybe the self righteousness of the left. Who knows.
The original comment was not meant to shut anyone up, but to make us all think more carefully about our own motives.

I don't know. I mean, when it comes to strategy, that's another consideration (especially with a lot of these closeted campaigns we keep running).

I'm not saying that internalized homophobia/racism/etc. don't exist. They definitely do. I was just saying that ascribing another person's experiences or thoughts to internalized racism instead of engaging them is often just a way to avoid discussion.

Like when a gay man says that civil unions are better than nothing and another gay man responds: "You've just internalized your second-class status!" Um... yeah.

I'm not angry, I just expected more from those who have experienced prejudice and discrimination first hand.

I'm disappointed that AA's - who have endured unspeakable horrors throughout American history - didn't stand up in huge numbers to oppose the bigotry and prejudice that justifies those horrors.

Perhaps, that makes me a racist, a bigot, or whatever.

Perhaps, AA's who oppose equal human and civil rights for all people should consider that they wouldn't have the civil rights they now enjoy without the support of many who were not black and many who were not straight.

Perhaps, they should ask themselves why Bayard Rustin doesn't deserve the same civil and human rights they enjoy, at least in part, because Rustin was on the front lines fighting for AA civil rights - knowing full-well that many who benefited from his work would kick him to the curb at the first opportunity.