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Debunking the
Black Blame 

Debunking the
Black Blame 


Pointing fingers at California's African-Americans over the passage of Proposition 8 is rushing to judgment, writes The Advocate's Teresa Morrison. Race-baiting is simply a repeat of the terrible injustice of Prop. 8.

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?


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.


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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Teresa Morrison