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November 5, 2008

RE: Dan Savage on Blacks Voting for Prop 8
By Trevor

So let me try to contextualize the comments that Dan Savage has just made about the data suggesting that Prop 8's success was cemented by a whopping 70% of African-Americans voting for Proposition 8 in California. Generally, I disagree with Davage on just about everything. He's incredibly conservative when it comes to sex, despite penning a nationally syndicated column on the topic, and generally his analysis sucks.

But I have to give some credit here for Savage daring to attack the way that "white gay men" categorically have been framed as racist sexist assholes by a reactionary feminist/queer/anti-racist movement that has spent a great deal of time attacking LGBT organizations for their lack of diversity and/or racist/sexist policy positions (see Judith Halberstam's essay, "Shame and White Gay Masculinity," for a perfect example of this). Now, I want to be clear: These folks often have a point. Our LGBT organizations often do lack diversity, and at times some may in fact be contributing to racist/sexist policy efforts. But to blame that lack of diversity simply on racist individuals within the organization, I think, is misguided and misses the important historical ways that sexual identity constructions have varied for white folks and non-white folks (that is to say, white folks may be much more ready to join a self-titled "Gay" organization than others). I get especially upset when I'm sitting in a room full of folks of color and this argument get's lazily brought up. Seriously I've been in meetings with over 50% folks of color and someone (usually white) will angrily complain that "There are no people of color here!" Um... right. Even in a room with 1/3 folks of color, I think that's a disingenuous accusation; it outright erases the importance of those folks' presence.

But I digress. So Dan Savage wants to say -- based on this Prop 8 data -- essentially, "eff you" for spending so much time blaming "white gay men" for their racism and sexism, while being wholly uncritical of the homophobia that exists within African-American communities. And I think he's exactly right. I think that some critical self-reflection on race and racial diversity in our movements is a worthwhile effort. But unfortunately I see that too often as spiraling into a cycle of white guilt that paralyzes organizations and movements. That should not be the goal, yet I've seen it happen time and time again. Because it requires such politically charged and emotional discussions, moving past an accusation of racism or sexism (founded or not) can be incredibly difficult.

But while self-reflection is key, working with other communities of color that have homophobic views has got to be on our agenda. I think we've often resorted to a kind of "moral relativism" argument in regards to this -- along with a kind of discomfort with missionary-style norm-reshaping efforts. But c'mon. That's what LGBT activism has always been about. Going into communities you aren't a part of and asking for change.

I understand Savage's pent-up frustration over often what seem like lazy and/or mean-spirited attacks on "white gay men" uniformly. How many stigmatized minorities exist for which it's seen as perfectly acceptable to rub their reputations through the mud? Imagine substituting "Jewish" for all the claims that are made in these circles about "white gay men!" (in fact, this idea comes from a friend of mine, who suggested doing just that with every reference to "white gay man" in the Halberstam article previously mentioned -- try it and you'll see the point).

Anywho, I'm wandering. These are thoughts I've been brooding over for many years now. I expect that not everyone agrees with me here -- and I encourage you to respond critically. I used to be one of those feminist/queer/anti-racist angry activists, so I'm certainly open to the lines of criticism that get made there. Without further ado, here's Savage's comments:

African American voters in California voted overwhelmingly for Prop 8, writing anti-gay discrimination into Californias constitution and banning same-sex marriage in that state. Seventy percent of African American voters approved Prop 8, according to exit polls, compared to 53% of Latino voters, 49% of white voters, 49% of Asian voters.

Im not sure what to do with this. Im thrilled that weve just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I cant help but feeling hurt that the love and support arent mutual.

I do know this, though: Im done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out thereand theyre out there, and I think theyre scumare a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.

This will get my name scratched of the invite list of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, which is famous for its anti-racist-training seminars, but whatever. Finally, Im searching for some exit poll data from California. Ill eat my shorts if gay and lesbian voters went for McCain at anything approaching the rate that black voters went for Prop 8.

UPDATE: Angie has just posted in the comments this very helpful analysis (from DailyKos user shanikka) of the Prop 8 data and California census data to argue that there is just no way that Blacks' 70% support for Prop 8 was a deciding factor in the measure passing. They equate it to scapegoating, which indeed it very may well be. Tony in the comments also points out that it eclipses the vast financial support given by Mormons and other predominantly white religious organizations. So it sounds like we can put this to rest for good.

PERMALINK | Posted at 4:50 PM | Post a Comment (20)

20 Comments

I think with what happened in California is an unfortunate anecdote of what the queer community has to do from here. Prop 8 supporters really reached out to the Mega Churches, and knew they could count on the surge from Obama to help them, and there in lies the problem; and I think No on Prop 8 supporters did not reach out to this demographic (I did see some ads) enough to combat it.

I would be first in line to admit that the African-American community itself presents one of the biggest hurdles to queer people of color or otherwise. But I think now that this is over we have to ask ourselves, did we expect anything else?

Everyone knows that the Black community tends to be too socially conservative to handle; and queer people of color are pretty non-existent as far as it comes to some African-Americans. I have relatives who have told me that "it does not exist in Black people". The obvious result is that they would not see how Prop 8 effects those in their community. While many Whites and others might have been able to say "Hey, this would effect my gay friend Bruce?" or something, because of the homophobia and "down low" epidemic that is infested in the Black community ridiculous notions of piety was at the front of their minds.

I think we have to continue to challenge the status quo in both the queer and Black community. The Black community needs to realize and accept that queer people of color exist and queer community needs to reaffirm that point, and vice verse.

I think Savage might be going a bit far in suggesting that it is simply a matter of who is worse for whom, but now the queer community as a whole knows it needs to focus and challenge the Black community's false notions of sexuality much more so than it has before. It's a bit late, but better late than never.

J. Clarence | November 5, 2008 8:00 PM

I've been thinking about another paradox - why the states which receive the most tax money as welfare tend to vote Republican - and I wonder if it's not related. Maybe living in communities marked by poverty and a growing gap between rich and poor leads to social conservatism?

However, I'm so glad you mentioned your response to the Halberstam article, because I've been wrestling with my own similar response to articles about sexual racism in the gay community. It's really hard not to take it personally that there's a globalising critique made of gay white male sexuality admitting of no exceptions or possibilities of resistance/escape: at some point that failure verges on a performance of racism in its own right.

Daniel Reeders | November 5, 2008 9:07 PM

J: Yes, I think it's clear we've got to start doing some cultural sensitivity work in Black communities across the country -- and with more and more Black gay leaders popping up, we're well poised to begin that effort.

As far as the "down low" is concerned, I totally reject that this is an exclusively Black phenomenon. I mean, just post an ad for sex on Craigslist and see how many white married and/or otherwise heterosexual-identified men come out of the woodwork! I think the "down low" was just another way that black men got demonized as sexual predators in the media, particularly in the context of increasing HIV incidence among African-Americans. Curiously, though, the decidedly Black Oprah and J L King were the forces behind that terrible media hype -- so simply an explanation of white folks demonizing Black folks doesn't really cut it. So I think this is the kind of evidence that a much more complicated analysis of race and racism is needed if we're to really understand the way things work.

Daniel: The poor have definitely been a base for Republicans. They've waved social conservative issues in their face to get their vote, and once in office they slip in the back door an economic agenda that guts the services they depend on for survival. It's been this way since the Reagan Revolution.

That article from Halberstam is unbearable. I mean, don't get me wrong, there's some great stuff in the piece (e.g. analysis of lesbian melancholy vs. gay shame), but she really just viciously attacks GWM in a pretty indefensible way. It's grotesque and hateful. I think it's fair to say that Halberstam hates gay white men, and its totally evident in the analysis.

Trevor Hoppe | November 5, 2008 9:55 PM

Trevor, while I totally agree that not only the African-American community has DL men, I think in the AA community, especially, there is this immense well organized social pressure, from Black leaders, to be the "ideal" Black man: the provider, the father, the protect, etc. And I think the fact that we are so quick attribute DL-ness to Black men is reaffirmation that in the Black community there is no room for queer men or women, despite the fact that they have always been there.

So I get that this is a phenomena that unfortunately every group experiences, I think that is where we have to start to dismantle the social structure, and make it clear that to be queer and African-American are contradictory terms.

J. Clarence | November 5, 2008 10:23 PM

according to a blog i read savage is nothing but a closeted homo (self-hater)
http://www.queersunited.blogspot.com

queerunity | November 5, 2008 11:14 PM

QU: I don't think he's exactly closeted, or especially filled with self-hate. He's just a moral entrepreneur whose 'tough talking' advice stands for authenticity and thus authority.

J: I think it runs a little deeper than that; it's actual social conservatism, not just a knee-jerk response to Republican campaign tactics. The essence of the poor nobility is that we might do it tough but we still have values and we know what's right from wrong; so we'll vote for a party that fucks us every time because we believe they'll respect our values in the morning...

Daniel Reeders | November 6, 2008 12:33 AM

Oh, right. QU is actually spam. Oops.

Daniel Reeders | November 6, 2008 12:35 AM

actually daniel id refer you to this post at joe my god which says he is, but who knows
http://joemygod.blogspot.com/2008/06/more-idiocy-from-hate-radios-biggest.html

queerunity | November 6, 2008 12:38 AM

Um... that post is about Michael Savage. Not Dan Savage.

Trevor Hoppe | November 6, 2008 8:16 AM

PWNED!!1!

Daniel Reeders | November 6, 2008 6:27 PM

omg you are such a geek! There is no pwning on this blog!!!

Trevor Hoppe | November 6, 2008 7:10 PM

It is very sad what happened on Election Day. So many white people voted for Obama because he is the best candidate, and he will change this country. Many black people voted yes on prop 8. This is very hypocritical. How can black people vote to take away a minority groups' rights? The irony of it all is startling. I think that minorities need to take a good look at themselves and start thinking about how they can advance our society. Live and let live!

noonprop8 | November 7, 2008 2:52 AM

Well, to be fair noonprop8, 27% of LGB people voted for McCain. So let's not be to condescending or patronizing. And of course you're talking about these groups as if they're mutually exclusive, but obviously there is overlap.

I would argue that the way identity politics is framed in America presently requires each "silo'd" minority group to distance themselves from other minority groups. Gays have to say "No, we're not all HIV-Positive!" Poz folks have to say "We're not all gay!" Women's groups certainly have had a time of claiming that they're not made up of lesbians. So you see, I think that the nature of political organizing that's centered around monolithic race/gender/sexual identities requires this kind of dog-eat-dog politics.

Trevor Hoppe | November 7, 2008 12:20 PM

Hi Trevor - This is what bothers me about the African American/POC angle on Prop 8. Within a day, the Washington Post has a headline that says "minorities" vote heavily for Prop 8. Never mind that Asians voted against the ban more than white people, and that Latino and white voters were only four percentage points different in support (49 to 53) ... and never mind that the white evangelical movement and the mormon church are the power and financial centers of the anti-gay movement. What this line of argument produces is a "people of color are backward" narrative that offends me. Yes, black Californians voted heavily for the ban. And LGBT leaders of all races need to do more work within our communities. But black voters, at 10 percent of the California population, were hardly responsible for the ban's passage. And if you read comments on the various articles about minority group's support for Prop 8, what you get is a very depressing conversation that pits gays (presumably all white) against people of color. I think Dan Savage's line of argument is unproductive and had the ultimate effect of letting white people off the hook for their homophobia.

Tony Valenzuela | November 7, 2008 2:35 PM

Yes, you may be right about the latter part there, Tony. I guess I was reacting more to his pent up frustration about the demonization of "gay white men" in feminist/queer/anti-racist circles, more so than to the specifics of the argument about Black folks pushing through Prop 8. But I do think the data indicates a need for more work with Black folks nationwide, and that gay leaders of all colors should be helping in that process.

But you're right, Dan's argument totally eclipses the tremendous support that the campaign recieved from the mostly white Mormon church and other predominantly white religious forces. Point well taken!

Trevor Hoppe | November 7, 2008 3:01 PM

In regards to the article by Mr. Savage, I have heard from a black gay male friend of mine how difficult it can be both gay and black. No doubt there is homophobia there, but I don't think the black vote put Yes on Prop 8 over the top. With that said there are as you mentioned still issues of homophobia within black communities, but also racism within the LGBT community as well.

Further, I don't know how true it is in the case of proposition 8, but I have heard of measures in the past where LGBT people have voted for propositions against gay marriage as they disagree with the notion. While I respect that position, I find it difficult to believe that a gay person would vote yes on something that would deny other gay couples the right to something they want regardless of the voters particular beliefs regarding marriage. Then again, your statistic about 27% of LGBT people voting for McCain says a lot as well.

On a side note, I'm curious what you mean by Dan Savage is "incredibly conservative regarding sex? I'm not very familiar with his work other than hearing his name every now and then. I believe I recall reading that he was generally against monogamy which does not seem that conservative to me, but I know that is only way in which someone can be conservative.

Steven Ashley | November 7, 2008 6:01 PM

I keep seeing the words "black community" thrown around quite a bit in regard to this subject. So, I'm curious....
When using those words, are you referring to the black community of people who voted yes on prop 8? or are you referring to the black community as in black people as a whole?
If it's the latter, I'd like to remind folks that black people are not a monolith. also, being that there are more white folk in CA then blacks (and latinos) combined, if all those black folks who voted yes on prop 8 voted alone, there's no chance that it would've passed. yet if all the white folks who voted yes on prop 8 voted alone.....see where I'm goin here? AA's actually make up less then 10% of the populace in CA. I believe 6.7% according to the last census. certain things need to be considered in regard to the results of these exit polls. the following link I attached does a very good job as far as doing the math. check it out, it's rather interesting.
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/11/7/34645/1235/704/656272

Angie | November 7, 2008 7:04 PM

Dan's an asshole when it comes to HIV / AIDS and poz folks. Just read this blog entry for a taste. He's totally conservative in that he argues for "personal responsibility" kinds of legislative action against HIV-positive people. This, to me, is totally retrograde and akin to the kinds of philosophy Republicans have about human nature. He has no problem calling guys who do drugs or have lots of sex "dipshits" and advocating -- as this blog post is about -- for "drug support payment" plan for poz guys who infect others, comparing them to "deadbeat dads." Give me a fucking break. I can't talk about most of Savage's articles without getting furious. He's a neoliberal at heart. There's no question about it.

Trevor Hoppe | November 7, 2008 7:08 PM

Thanks, Angie! That link is helpful. Actually, that analysis is pretty incredible. I hope that no one wants to "blame" Black folks for passing Prop 8. That's certainly not my intention. But in going over the data, it is interesting how support breaks down among racial demographics. I wonder if there is also exit poll data broken down by income? That would be useful.

And your point that there is no monolithic "Black community" is well taken.

Trevor Hoppe | November 7, 2008 7:15 PM

Tony, I'm right with you there. There's something about the easy linkage (gay) people made between homophobia and the Black community that seems off. I may be proven wrong in the end, but I'm not convinced by one exit poll that the Black community did in fact vote in such overwhelming numbers for the ban. I have lurking in the back of my head other polling data showing that Black populations (at least at the national level) are substantially more progressive on queer issues than the white population of America. I really need to find that now...

Bill Jesdale | November 7, 2008 7:28 PM


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