Monday, August 13, 2007
"You And I Both Know": America's Black Homophobia Problem
[ A intelligent post about the double-standard of homophobia in regards to the black community, and the question towards Barack Obama! Enjoy. Justice MH]
"You and I both know that there is a homophobia problem in the black community." So began Washington Post editor Jonathan Capehart's question to Barack Obama during the HRC/Logo gay-issues debate last night. This question of Obama appears to both assume the universality of homophobia within the black community, and require Obama to situate himself in relation to it. Capehart's question continued with a discussion of Obama's willingness to speak difficult truths to the black community regarding other sensitive topics that might, from another mouth, look like a claim of black dysfunction. Capehart's "you and I both know"-- an attempt to play on their shared blackness, I guess -- easily morphs into "we all know"/"everybody knows" that the black community is homophobic; "we all know" that black ministers (all black ministers) are homophobic. More than the problem of Capehart's question, however, was the way in which Obama's answer simply accepted the premise. His answer never challenged the assumption behind what "we" have come to so easily accept about "black homophobia". Obama gave examples of the courage that he has shown by speaking to presumably hostile straight audiences at Howard University and in black churches in the South, without ever acknowledging the fact that these communities are not uniform on issues of same-sex equality. Capehart's and Obama's statements were made without regard to the consistent record of support that the Congressional Black Caucus has given to equality issues within the LGBT community. Such statements also fail to recognize the diversity of thought within black religious communities, including Jeremiah Wright, Obama's own pastor, who has been a leading light on issues of same-sex inclusion.
Perhaps more problematic (and heartening) was a question by the event's host, who asked Obama -- and only Obama -- to compare the black struggle for civil rights with the gay struggle for civil rights. Obama, I think, answered this question with as much honesty and intelligence as it could be answered, and then challenged the questioner to ask the question of the other candidates, not simply the black candidate. Unfortunately, no other candidate was asked the question. Again, this leads to the conclusion that Obama is being handled differently because we have concluded that there is such a species of dysfunction known as "black homophobia," wholly separate from, and more pernicious than, ordinary homophobia. It would be foolish and insensitive to deny that the black community's response to homosexuality does not have culturally particularized elements. Yet to listen to Capehart, one would think that homophobia is a uniquely black dysfunction, against which Obama had better be prepared to situate himself. Do we speak of Methodist homophobia with Hillary Clinton? Or Catholic homophobia with Biden? Do we force any other candidate, even Bill Richardson, to situate himself in relation to homophobia in the Hispanic community? Not that I have seen.
Finally, the obsession with this characterization of black homophobia, I suspect, is rooted in a desire to locate for the record the limits of the black community's commitment to an egalitarian social-political order. Evidence of the qualified nature of the black community's commitment to equality allows others to justify their equivocation on the issue of equality, not simply the equality of gays and lesbians, but about other marginalized communities as well. Like so much in this presidential campaign, Obama serves as a convenient canvas upon which to further depict the dysfunctions of black folk. There is a homophobia problem in the black community, but there is a homophobia problem in the Congress, and on the Supreme Court, and in the White House. Indeed, America has a homophobia problem. It is against this homophobia problem that any candidate deserving of the LGBT community's support should aim his or her attention.
Justice MH: What was said above i agree with most of it. Homophobia exists in every community, and society. The world is homophobic. After full equality for LGBT people is achieved, like racism, homophobia will still be there, just NOT out in the open as much. A Presidential Hopeful should focus on homophobia as a American problem, not as a one section of our country's problem! I like many right-thinking Americans should question homophobia, racism, sexism, and religious intolerance. Change is possible!