Saturday, November 29, 2008

Next step on Prop 8: talking to black women

Part of the aftermath of Prop. 8 was that liberals had to deal with a clear divide between two interest groups, gays and African Americans. Another large part of the debate was the ineffectiveness of the No on Prop. 8 campaign, which Andrew Sullivan has chronicled extensively.

Charles Blow, an African American columnist at the NY Times, has an excellent post that combines these two concerns. Specifically, he writes, gay activists should target black women, who tend to attend church more regularly than black men. Black women also have complicated views of marriage.

One reason this is so important is that I heard essentially no discussion of any of this before the election. The issue on Prop. 8, from the "No" side, was simple: it's an issue of civil rights and the right to love someone. What Blow explains, in what is easily the best piece I have read about this, is that those issues are not - pardon the pun - black and white for black women. Many are not married, and might see gay men as more competition. So a large part of the failure by the LGBT community on Prop. 8 can be attributed, unfortunately, to a failure to understand the perspective of the opposition. That problem is quickly being addressed. One thing that strikes me as odd, however, is that after so many gay marriage initiatives in so many states (at least 30), that these issues are only now coming up.

I would love to see a similar post about homosexuality and black men, because I have a feeling that there is just as complicated a constellation of issues (but different ones) for black men and gay marriage. For example, the use of the term "boy" to refer to black men is a tool to denigrate their masculinity. How does a tradition of fighting for their pride as men affect black men's view of gay men? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure I'm qualified to address the issue, but it seems like something that should be explored if we are to make progress on this issue.

This is also a great opportunity to explore what I call the "repairing the psychological damage" phase of civil and equal rights in this country.

All of us have some degree of psychological trauma, from being embarrassed at a party, to failing an exam, to being divorced, to the death of a loved one. We all have ways of dealing with it, usually involving other people, particularly family. And almost all of us eventually recover from each episode.

But African Americans in this country have, collectively, far more trauma than the rest of us can even imagine. Moreover, they do not necessarily have the same strong families that the non-black people do, because of that collective trauma. The civil rights movement took the first steps towards integrating minorities into mainstream American society, and thereby repairing that trauma. With the election of Barack Obama, we have taken a very large step towards collective healing, on all sides.

But the trauma is still there, and there is still a great deal of healing to be done. We cannot take that healing for granted; some of it will take place over the natural course of time, but some of it won't. Blow's piece is a great example of what has to happen.

Much of this argument about "healing" could just as easily apply to feminism and women, or Hispanics and immigration.

The best part of a healing process, of course, is what happens after it's over.

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