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Debunking the
Black Blame 

Debunking the
            Black Blame 

I’ve had
countless conversations about Proposition 8 in the aftermath
of the election, and an overwhelming number of them
have, disturbingly, circled around to the role that
racial voting patterns may have played in its passage.
Disturbing, but not surprising, given the attention media
has paid to exit poll racial demographics -- especially the
statewide statistic that 70% of black voters polled
favored the measure -- and given the
initiative’s surprising win in Los Angeles County,
boasting the state's third-highest concentration
of African-Americans among its 58 counties.

It was
heartbreaking to lose the vote in Los Angeles (by the narrow
margin of 1% as of this writing), where a defeat of the
proposition was not only expected but crucial to
maintain our rights. Elsewhere in the state the voting
went more or less as expected, with majorities of voters
along the central and northern coastal counties rejecting
the ban and majorities of voters along the central
valley and northernmost and southernmost counties
supporting the ban.

But how could we
have lost in Los Angeles?

Sadness, anger,
and disbelief over a "liberal" county voting to
constitutionally imprison gay rights -- even as it more
predictably broke 67% in favor of an initiative
to increase the size of cages for egg-laying hens --
has many in the LGBT community casting about for
explanations that are more easily digested than the
sprawling homophobia indicated by the vote. And exit
polling cited by the Associated Press provided a ready
scapegoat: that astounding 70% African-American vote,
which the news agency said was particularly decisive in this
election cycle, since turnout among blacks
reportedly swelled from 6% of the state
electorate in 2004 to 10% in 2008.

Those are
compelling statistics, until you consider the exit poll
they’re based on: a random sample of 2,240
voters polled at 30 locations -- which were randomly
drawn from among California’s more than 25,000
precincts. With African-Americans accounting for just
6% of the state population, and with that 6%
concentrated overwhelmingly among only nine of its 58
counties, it’s positively eyebrow-raising that AP
exit polling at untargeted precincts captured black
representation at a rate of 10%. But even going by
those numbers, is it reasonable to concur that the views of
224 people are representative of the approximately 1 million
registered African-American voters in California?

20080514 Morrison
 

If our answer to
that question is yes, a number-crunchy analysis at Daily Kos makes a convincing case
that -- assuming the polls are correct about the
trends of black voters -- even if African-American
voters in California had reflected the more moderate
views of the rest of the electorate, Proposition 8 still
would have passed by 81,000 votes.

But let’s
say we’re still convinced that blacks were the
deciding factor in sinking our equality. How could a
population that has suffered institutional racism for
so long vote against the civil rights of another
minority group?

A better question
to ask ourselves might be: Why are we largely
attributing other racial groups’ votes against our
rights to their faith allegiances, but attributing
voting patterns among blacks to race-specific
homophobia? Aren’t we glossing over the complex
intersection of race and religion?

According to that
same AP exit poll, of the seven in 10 voters who
described themselves as Christian, two-thirds backed Prop.
8. It’s easy to see a correlation between
higher-than-average faith allegiances among
African-Americans -- in a Pew Forum study released in
February, more than 90% of black Americans reported
having a religious affiliation, often leaning toward
conservative Protestant denominations -- and the
possibility of higher-than-average support for an initiative
that many of their church leaders likely championed,
Sunday after Sunday, in the weeks leading up to the
election.

With honest
reflection, surely we can recognize that our
country’s racist past -- and present -- is
inextricably linked with that drive of so many
African-Americans who seek solace in faith. Suffering
and social conservatism are not mutually exclusive.

Sharree Taylor, a
22-year-old African-American in the liberal-leaning
Contra Costa County town of Richmond who described herself
as a Christian, told the AP she voted for Obama and in
favor of Prop. 8, adding, “I’m one of
those that go with the word of the Lord over civil
rights.”

Jeffrey Jackson,
who lives in south Los Angeles County, told the Los
Angeles Times
that he struggled with how he
would vote on Prop. 8. On the one hand, as a black man
casting his ballot for Obama, he said he had a deep
and personal reverence for civil rights. On the other,
he cited his Pentecostal Christian religion, which he said
guided his vote in the end. “It’s straight
biblical,” said Jackson, 46.
“It’s just not right.”

These kinds of
quotes appeared time and again in every newspaper citing
the damning AP polling numbers, but somehow, in
conversations I’ve had among friends and
strangers, gay and straight, on the elevator and at
protest marches, the racial voting statistics are
being thrown about raw, stripped of their
religious nuance, like accelerant near a struck match.

 

20080514 Morrison

We have a lot to
be angry about. We should be angry that a campaign of
lies appealing to emotion and fear won over a campaign
appealing to logic and justice. We should be angry
that despite our best efforts at making ourselves
understood, parents are still terrified that their kids will
“become” gay if we’re too publicly
accepted. We should be angry that the state supreme
court that affirmed marriage equality failed to protect the
constitution under which that equality was granted. We
should be angry that the television ads for No on 8
were devoid of gay faces, as if even our own leaders
thought our personal stories were less sympathetic and
compelling than the endorsements of politicians and
newspapers. We should be angry that homophobia is
still this virulent in “blue” America.
And we should be angry that with all this emphasis on racial
demography post-election, gays are still getting lost
in the shuffle.

I’ve never
thrown a punch in my life, and yet the anger I feel right
now is visceral. My muscles tense and my nerves twitch
when I think that every second person I see on the
street used their right to vote on November 4 to take
rights away from me. In the days following the
election I can’t help but scan crowds thinking,
Did you vote against me? Did you? I certainly
need an outlet for all that pent-up rage; what I certainly
do not need is a rote method, based on racial
demography, that falsely sorts my friends from my
enemies.

I’m so
grateful to everyone who has come out to protests all over
the state, because watching and participating in those
demonstrations has taken me a long way toward
recouping the personal dignity that is stolen in
having one’s civil rights put to a popular vote. But
I reserve a special debt of gratitude to those who
join me in calling out race-baiting whenever they hear
it, to ensure that we don’t repeat the terrible
injustice of Prop. 8 by targeting one minority
group’s advancement as a threat to our own.

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