Gay Marriage Anti Black???
By Kenyon Farrow
I was in Atlanta on business when I saw the
Sunday, Feb. 29th edition of the Atlanta
Journal Constitution that featured as its cover story the
issue of gay marriage. Georgia is one of the states prepared to
add some additional language to its state constitution that bans
same sex marriages (though the state already defines marriage
between a man and a woman, so the legislation is completely
symbolic as it is political).
What struck me about the front page story was
the fact that all of the average Atlanta citizens who were
pictured that opposed gay marriages were black people. This is
not to single out the Atlanta
Journal Constitution, as
I have noticed in all of the recent coverage and hubbub
over gay marriage that the media has been real crucial in
playing up the racial politics of the debate.
For example, the people who are in San
Francisco getting married are almost exclusively white whereas
many of the people who are shown opposing it are black. And it
is more black people than typically shown in the evening news
(not in handcuffs). This
leaves me with several questions: Is gay marriage a black/white
issue? Are the Gay Community and the Black Community natural
allies or sworn enemies? And where does that leave me, a black
gay man, who does not want to get married?
Marriage and Race Politics
My sister really believes that this push for
gay marriage is actually not being controlled by gays &
lesbians. She believes it is actually being tested in various
states by the Far Right in disguise, in an effort to cause major
fractures in the Democratic Party to distract from all the
possible roadblocks to re-election for George W. in November
such as an unpopular war and occupation, the continued loss of
jobs, and growing revelations of the Bush administration’s
ties to corporate scandals.
Whatever the case, it is important to
remember that gay marriage rights are fraught with racial
politics, and that there is no question that the public
opposition to same-sex marriages is in large part being
financially backed by various right-wing Christian groups like
the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council.
Both groups have histories and overlapping staff ties to
white supremacist groups and solidly oppose affirmative action
but play up some sort of Christian allegiance to the black
Community when the gay marriage issue is involved.
For example, in 1990’s the Traditional
Values Coalition produced a short documentary called “Gay
Rights, Special Rights," which was targeted at black
churches to paint non-heterosexual people as only white and
upper class, and as sexual pariahs, while painting black people
as pure, chaste, and morally superior.
The video juxtaposed images of white gay men
for the leather/S&M community with the voice of Dr. Martin
Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, leaving
conservative black viewers with the fear that the Civil Rights
Movement was being taken over by morally debased human beings.
And since black people continue to be represented as hyper
sexual beings and sexual predators in both pop culture and the
mass media (pimps & players, hoochies & hos, rapists of
white women & tempters of white men), conservative black
people often cling to the other image white America hoists onto
black people as well – asexual and morally superior (as seen
in the role of the black talk show host and the role of the
black sage/savior-of-white people used in so many Hollywood
movies, like In America and
The Green Mile, which
are all traceable to Mammy and Uncle Remus-type caricatures).
Since the Christian Right has money and
access to corporate media, they set the racial/sexual paradigm
that much of America gets in this debate, which is that homos
are rich and white and do not need any such special protections
and that black people are black – a homogeneous group who, in
this case, are Christian, asexual (or hetero-normative), morally
superior, and have the right type of “family values.” This,
even though black families are consistently painted as
dysfunctional and are treated as such in the mass media and in
public policy, which has devastating effects on black
self-esteem, and urban and rural black communities’ ability to
be self-supporting, self-sustaining, and self determining.
The lack of control over economic resources,
high un/underemployment, lack of adequate funding for targeted
effective HIV prevention and treatment, and the large numbers of
black people in prison (nearly one million of the 2.2 million
U.S. prison population) are all ways that black families (which
include non-heterosexuals) are undermined by public policies
often fueled by right wing “tough on crime” and “war on
Given all of these social problems that
largely plague the black community (and thinking about my
sister’s theory), one has to wonder why this issue would rise
to the surface in an election year, just when the Democratic
ticket is unifying. And it is an issue, according to the polls
anyway, that could potentially strip the Democratic Party of it
solid support from African-American communities.
And even though several old-guard civil
rights leaders (including Coretta Scott King, John Lewis, Revs.
Al Sharpton, and Jesse Jackson) have long supported equal
protection under the law for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and
transgender community (which usually, but not always means
support of same-sex marriage), the right wing continues to pit
gay marriage (and by extension, gay civil rights) against black
political interests, by relying on conservative black people to
publicly speak out against it (and a lot has been written about
how several black ministers received monies from right-wing
organizations to speak out against same-sex marriages in their
But many black leaders, including some I’ve
been able to catch on television recently despite the
right-wing’s spin on the matter, have made the argument that
they know too well the dangers that lie in “separate but
equal” rhetoric. So, if many of our black leaders vocally
support same-sex marriage, how has the Christian Right been able
to create such a wedge between the black community and the gay
* * * * *
* * * * *
in Black Popular Culture
Some of the ways that the Christian
Right-wing has been so successful in using same-sex marriage as
a wedge issue is by both exploiting homophobia in the black
community and also racism in the gay community.
In regards to homophobia in the black community the focus
of conversation has been about the Black Churches’ stance on
It has been said many times that while many
black churches remain somewhat hostile places for
non-heterosexual parishioners, it is also where you will in fact
find many black gays and lesbians. Many of them are in positions
of power and leadership within the church – ushers, choir
members/directors, musicians, and even preachers themselves.
But let me debunk the myth that the Black
Church is the black community. The black community is in no way
monolithic, nor are black Christians. The vast majority of black
people who identify as “Christian” do not attend any church
whatsoever. Many black Americans have been Muslim for over a
century and there are larger numbers of black people who are
proudly identifying as Yoruba, Santero/a, and atheists as well.
The black community in America is also
growing more ethnically diverse, with a larger, more visible
presence of Africans, West Indians, and Afro-Latinos amongst our
ranks. We have always been politically diverse, with
conservatives, liberals, radicals and revolutionaries alike (and
politics do not necessarily align with what religion you may
identify as your own). It is also true that we are and have
always been sexually diverse and multi-gendered. Many of our
well-known Black History Month favorites were in fact Gay,
Bisexual, Lesbian, or Transgender.
Despite our internal diversity, we are at a
time (for the last 30 years) when black people are portrayed in
the mass media—mostly through hip-hop culture—as being
hyper-sexual and hyper-heterosexual
to be specific. Nowhere
is the performance of black masculinity more prevalent than in
hip-hop culture, which is where the most palpable form of
homophobia in American culture currently resides.
This of course is due largely to the white
record industry’s notions of who we are, which they also sell
to non-black people.
Remember pop culture has for the last 150 years been
presenting blackness to the world – initially as white
performers in blackface, to black performers in black face, and
currently to white, black and other racial groups performing
blackness as something that connotes sexual potency and a
propensity for violent behavior, which are also performed as
And with the music video, performance is
important (if not more) than song content.
As black hip-hop artists perform gangsta and Black
Nationalist revolutionary forms of masculinity alike, so follows
overt homophobia and hostility to queer people, gay men in
DMX’s video and song “Where the Hood At?” contained some
of the most blatant and hateful homophobic lyrics and images I
have seen in about a decade.
The song suggests that the “faggot” can
and will never be part of the “hood” for he is not a man.
The song and video are particularly targeted at black men who
are not out of the closet, and considered on the “down low.”
Although challenged by DMX, the image of the “down
low” brother is another form of performance of black
masculinity, regardless of actual sexual preference.
But it’s not just “commercial” rap
artists being homophobic. “Conscious”
hip–hop artists such as Common, Dead Prez and Mos Def have
also promoted homophobia through their lyrics, mostly around
notions of “strong black families,” and since gay black men
(in theory) do not have children, we are somehow anti-family and
antithetical to what a “strong black man” should be.
Lesbians (who are not interested in
performing sex acts for the pleasure of men voyeurs) are also
seen as anti-family, and not a part of the black community. A
woman “not wanting dick” in a nation where black dick is the
only tangible power symbol for black men is seen as just plain
crazy, which is also expressed in many hip-hop tunes.
None of these artists interrogate their representations
of masculinity in their music, but merely perform them for
street credibility. And
for white market consumption.
It cannot be taken lightly that white men are
in control of the record industry as a whole (even with a few
black entrepreneurs), and control what images get played. Young
white suburban males are the largest consumer of hip-hop music.
So performance of black masculinity (or black sexuality as a
whole) is created by white men for white men. And since white
men have always portrayed black men as sexually dangerous and
black women as always sexually available (and sexual violence
against black women is rarely taken seriously), simplistic
representations of black sexuality as hyper-heterosexual are
important to maintaining white supremacy and patriarchy, and
control of black bodies.
Black people are merely the unfortunate
middlemen in an exchange between white men. We consume the
representations like the rest of America.
And the more that black people are willing to accept
these representations as fact rather than racist fiction, the
more heightened homophobia in our communities tends to be.
* * * * *
* * * * *
and the Gay Community
While homophobia in the black community is
certainly an issue we need to address, blacks of all sexualities
experience the reality that many white gays and lesbians think
that because they’re gay, they “understand” oppression,
and therefore could not be racist like their heterosexual
America is first built on the privilege of
whiteness, and as long as you have white skin, you have a level
of agency and access above and beyond people of color, period.
White women and white non-heteros included. There is a white gay
man named Charles Knipp who roams this nation performing drag in
blackface to sold-out houses, north and south alike.
Just this past Valentine’s day weekend, he performed at
the Slide Bar in NY’s east village to a packed house of white
queer folks eager to see him perform “Shirley Q Liquor,” a
welfare mother with 19 kids.
And haven’t all of the popular culture gay
images on TV shows like Will
& Grace, Queer as
Folk, etc., been exclusively white?
No matter how many black divas wail over club beats in
white gay clubs all over America (Mammy goes disco!) with gay
men appropriating language and other black cultural norms
(specifically from black women), white gay men continue to
function as cultural imperialists the same way straight white
boys appropriate hip-hop (and let’s not ignore that white
women have been in on the act, largely a result of Madonna
bringing white women into the game.).
There have always been racial tensions in the
gay community as long as there have been racial tensions in
America, but in the 1990’s, the white gay community went
mainstream, further pushing non-hetero people of color from the
The reason for this schism is that in order
to be mainstream in America, one has to be seen as white. And
since white is normative, one has to interrogate what other
labels or institutions are seen as normative in our society:
family, marriage, and military service, to name a few. It is
then no surprise that a movement that goes for “normality”
would then end up in a battle over a dubious institution like
marriage (and hetero-normative family structures by extension).
And debates over “family values,” no
matter how broad or narrow you look at them, always have
whiteness at the center, and are almost always anti-black. As
articulated by Robin D.G. Kelley in his book Yo
Mama’s Dysfunktional, the infamous Moynihan report is the
most egregious of examples of how the black family structure has
been portrayed as dysfunctional, an image that still has
influence on the way in which black families are discussed in
the media and controlled by law enforcement and public policy.
Since black families are in fact presented
and treated as dysfunctional, this explains the large numbers of
black children in the hands of the state through foster care,
and increasingly, prisons (so-called “youth detention
centers”). In many cases, trans-racial adoptions are the
result. Many white
same-sex unions take advantage of the state’s treatment of
black families; after all, white queer couples are known for
adopting black children since they are so “readily”
available and also not considered as attractive or healthy
compared to white, Asian and Latino/a kids.
If black families were not labeled as
dysfunctional or de-stabilized by prison expansion and welfare
“reform,” our children would not be removed from their homes
at the numbers they are, and there would be no need for adoption
or foster care in the first place.
So the fact that the white gay community continues to use
white images of same-sex families is no accident, since the
black family, heterosexual, same sex or otherwise, is always
portrayed as dysfunctional.
I also think the white gay community’s
supposed “understanding” of racism is what has caused them
to appropriate language and ideology of the Black Civil Rights
Movement, which has led to the bitter divide between the two
is where I as a black gay man, am forced to intervene in a
debate that I find problematic on all sides.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Community and Gay Community – Natural Allies or Sworn Enemies?
As the gay community moved more to the right
in the 1990’s, they also began to talk about Gay Rights as
Civil Rights. Even today in this gay marriage debate, I have
heard countless well-groomed, well-fed white gays and lesbians
on TV referring to themselves as “second-class citizens.”
Jason West, the white mayor of New Paltz,
NY, who started marrying gay couples was quoted as
saying, “The same people who don’t want to see gays and
lesbians get married are the same people who would have made
Rosa Parks go to the back of the bus."
It’s these comparisons that piss black
people off. While the anger of black heteros is sometimes
expressed in ways that are in fact homophobic, the truth of the
matter is that black folks are tired of seeing other people
hijack their shit for their own gains, and getting nothing in
return. Black non-heteros share this anger of having our
blackness and black political rhetoric and struggle stolen for
other people’s gains.
The hijacking of Rosa Parks for their
campaigns clearly ignores the fact that white gays and lesbians
who lived in Montgomery, AL and elsewhere probably gladly made
many a black person go to the back of the bus. James Baldwin
wrote in his long essay “No Name in the Street” about how he
was felt up by a white sheriff in a small southern town when on
a visit during the civil rights era.
These comparisons of “Gay Civil Rights”
as equal to “Black Civil Rights” really began in the early
1990’s, and largely responsible for this was Human Rights
Campaign (HRC) and a few other mostly-white gay organizations.
This push from HRC, without any visible black leadership or
tangible support from black allies (straight and queer), to
equate these movements did several things: 1) Piss off the black
community for the white gay movement’s cultural appropriation,
and making the straight black community question non-hetero
black people’s allegiances, resulting in our further
isolation. 2) Giving the (white) Christian Right ammunition to
build relationships with black ministers to denounce gay rights
from their pulpits based on the HRC’s cultural appropriation.
3) Create a scenario in their effort to go mainstream that
equates gay and lesbian with upper-class and white.
This meant that the only visibility of
non-hetero poor people and people of color wound up on Jerry
Springer, where non-heteros who are poor and of color are
encouraged (and paid) to act out, and are therefore only
represented as dishonest, violent, and pathological.
So, given this difficult history and
problematic working relationship of the black community and the
gay community, how can the gay community now, at its most
crucial hour, expect large scale support of same-sex marriage by
the black community when there has been no real work done to
build strategic allies with us? A new coalition has formed of
black people, non-hetero and hetero, to promote same-sex
marriage equality to the
black community, and I assume to effectively bridge that
disconnect, and to in effect, say that gay marriage ain’t just
a white thing. Or is it?
Marriage Anti – Black?
I, as a black gay man, do not support this
push for same-sex marriage. Although I don’t claim to
represent all black gay people, I do believe that the manner in
which this campaign has been handled has put black people in the
middle of essentially two white groups of people, who are trying
to manipulate us one way or the other.
The Christian Right, which is in fact anti-black, has
tried to create a false alliance between themselves and blacks
through religion to push forward their homophobic, fascist
The white gay civil rights groups are also
anti-black, however they want black people to see this struggle
for same-sex unions as tantamount to separate but equal Jim Crow
laws. Yet any close examination reveals that histories of terror
imposed upon generations of all black people in this country do
not in any way compare to what appears to be the very last
barrier between white gays and lesbians’ access to what bell
hooks describes as “christian capitalist patriarchy.”
That system is inherently anti-black, and no
amount of civil rights will ever get black people any real
liberation from it. For, in what is now a good 40 years of
“civil rights,” nothing has intrinsically changed or altered
in the American power structure, and a few black faces in
inherently racist institutions is hardly progress.
Given the current white hetero-normative
constructions of family and how the institutions of marriage and
nuclear families have been used against black people, I do think
that to support same-sex marriage is in fact, anti-black (I also
believe the institution of marriage to be historically
anti-woman, and don’t support it for those reasons as well).
At this point I don’t know if I am totally
opposed to the institution of marriage altogether, but I do know
that the campaign would have to happen on very different terms
for me to support same-sex marriages.
At this point, the white gay community is as much to
blame as the Christian Right for the way they have constructed
the campaign, including who is represented, and their
appropriation of black civil rights language.
Along with how the campaign is currently
devised, I struggle with same-sex marriage because, given the
level of homophobia in our society (specifically in the black
community), and racism as well, I think that even if same-sex
marriage becomes legal, white people will access that privilege
far more than black people.
This is especially the case with poor black people, who
regardless of sexual preference or gender, are struggling with
the most critical of needs (housing, food, gainful employment),
which are not at all met by same-sex marriage.
Some black people (men in particular) might
not try to access same-sex marriage because they do not even
identify as “gay” partly because of homophobia in the black
community, but also because of the fact that racist white queer
people continue to dominate the public discourse of what
“gay” is, which does not include black people of the hip-hop
generation by and large.
I do fully understand that non-heteros of all
races and classes may cheer this effort for they want their love
to be recognized, and may want to reap some of the practical
benefits that a marriage entitlement would bring – health care
(if one of you gets health care from your job in the first
place) for your spouse, hospital visits without drama or
scrutiny, and control over a deceased partner’s estate.
But, gay marriage, in and of itself, is not a
move towards real, and systemic liberation. It does not address
my most critical need as a black gay man to be able to walk down
the streets of my community with my lover, spouse or trick, and
not be subjected to ridicule, assault or even murder. Gay
marriage does not adequately address homophobia or transphobia,
for same-sex marriage still implies binary opposite thinking,
and transgender folks are not at all addressed in this debate.
does gay marriage mean for all Black people?
But what does that mean for black people? For
black non-heteros, specifically? Am I supposed to get behind
this effort, and convince heterosexual black people to do the
same, especially when I know the racist manner in which this
campaign has been carried out for over ten years? And especially
when I know that the vast majority of issues that my
community—The Black Community, of all orientations and
genders—are not taken nearly this seriously when it comes to
crucial life and death issues that we face daily like inadequate
housing and health care, HIV/AIDS, police brutality, and the
wholesale lockdown of an entire generation in America’s
grotesquely large prison system.
How do those of us who are non-heterosexual
and black use this as an opportunity to deal with homophobia,
transphobia and misogyny in our communities, and heal those
larger wounds of isolation, marginalization and fear that plague
us regardless of marital status? It is the undoing of systems of
domination and control that will lead to liberation for all of
ourselves, and all of us as a whole.
In the end, I am down for black people who
oppose gay marriage—other folks “in the life” as well as
straight, feminists, Christians, Muslims, and the like. But I
want more than just quotes from Leviticus or other religious and
moral posturing. I want to engage in a meaningful critical
conversation of what this means for all
of us, which means that I must not be afraid to be me in our community, and you must not be afraid of
me. I will struggle alongside you, but I must know that you will
also have my back.
Kenyon Farrow is a writer, activist
and performer, currently working with Critical Resistance, and
has also worked with FIERCE!. He is a New Yorker, temporarily
living in New Orleans.
* * *
* * *
Sex at the Margins
Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry
By Laura María Agustín
This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London
* * * * *
Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in
By Melissa V.
According to the
author, this society has historically exerted
considerable pressure on black females to fit into one
of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the
Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless
Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to
white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of
those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the
relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable
temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as
an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the
characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television
shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
points out how the propagation of these harmful myths
have served the mainstream culture well. For instance,
the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for
black females to feel a maternal instinct towards
As for the source
of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their
own bodies during slavery given that they were being
auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless,
it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate
the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * *
posted 29 September 2007