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Open letter to white activists - Piano wire. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
The richest girl in town.

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Open letter to white activists [Sunday, Nov. 9th, 2008|01:35 pm]
The richest girl in town.
Not that I want to keep beating this horse, which unfortunately is not dead but, frankly, I've got better things to do, but I'd be remiss if I didn't point y'all to slit's amazing post about the racial aspect of the Prop 8 loss and about political organizing by white folks in general.

Of particular note is a very eloquent treatment of the appropriation of civil rights rhetoric by marriage equality supporters and their harping on Loving:
1. Think about how you use civil rights imagery. There are parallels there, and they should be drawn, but to compare the passing of Prop 8 with lynching and Jim Crow disrespects Black history. Even the Loving decision, which is the most obvious parallel (and one Mildred Loving herself endorsed) had a profoundly different history than the history of gays and lesbians. Angry Black Woman discusses the background on that decision and how it was frankly not a huge priority during the civil rights era: So I have to wonder why the No on 8 people chose to present this as a parallel of the African-American Civil Rights Movement. To my mind, this helped trivialize their desire to marry, particularly among older blacks who remember when being able to marry white people was the least of their worries.

I think for white people the relationship is clear: if it was wrong to discriminate against relationships on the basis of race, it should likewise be wrong to discriminate against relationships on the basis of gender. But sexual 'relationships' between races had been going on for generations; what made Loving historic for a lot of people was that it was finally talking about such relationships in the context of mutual consent and agency for both partners -- as opposed to systemic sexual violence against women of color by white men and the lynching of Black men perceived to be pursuing white women. It wasn't so much "yay! we get to marry white people! this is the best day of our lives!"
Read the whole thing, and especially the link to Angry Black Woman's blog.

[User Picture]From: hardheadhabit
2008-11-09 10:11 pm (UTC)
thank you for this.
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[User Picture]From: latemodel
2008-11-10 12:39 am (UTC)
Thanks for linking this. There's so much there.
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[User Picture]From: mysterc
2008-11-10 12:44 am (UTC)
You already know what I am gonna say...
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[User Picture]From: savia
2008-11-10 01:12 am (UTC)
That post is totally awesome. And I got pissed off the other day because a friend told me this story about how she asked very politely and supportively if the mailing list at her small church could be used only for spiritual/religious topics as previously agreed and create another opt-in list for political topics, and one of the political posters (a white woman who recently came out as a lesbian, who had been posting daily about prop 8) angrily emailed back saying she felt hurt and oppressed by this, and actually invoked the "separate is not equal" argument. And as I heard this story, I thought, "wow. SERIOUSLY??" It just seemed blown out of proportion, appropriative, and completely trivialized what Brown vs. Board of Education was all about.

I will say carefully, though, that this feels like part of a brewing backlash to backlash (to backlash?), which never gets anyone anywhere. It's one of the things that worries me about the increasingly vicious attack on the LDS... there are plenty of progressive LDS people who are now feeling lumped in with and spit on for something they didn't support, and in many cases actively protested.

I guess I just want nobody's experience to be lost or minimalized in all of this. People have been tortured and/or murdered just for being gay, or just for being rumored to be gay, so I can see how a parallel of shared experience would be drawn, though it requires nuance that perhaps gets lost in mass communication. I do believe that the history of slavery and resulting discrimination is fundamentally different from the history of homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation. It seems to me there is a kind of generational inheritance of internalized oppression (which is the reason for moments like this) that is probably pretty hard to understand if you're not an African American (unless, maybe, you're Jewish and you lost most of your family in the Holocaust... watching my husband completely break down inside the Great Synagogue in Budapest, as well as at the grave of the man who risked his life to save many, many Jewish lives, helped me to really see that long, long biological legacy). I forget where i heard it, but recently somebody said they were African American and queer and felt like they won the lottery. All of these things are different, it's true. And they are all horrible. And they are connected.

I guess all I'm saying is that I see a direction forming in which it is too easy to use this argument to sweep under the rug or minimize/invisiblize in all of this the sense of discrimination that LGBT people do face every day in places that aren't, say, San Francisco. The thing is, even though it's different, there is a connection there, a kind of shared experience, in being discriminated against because of who you are. Of losing your kids, losing your livelihood, losing your home, losing your life because of who you are. And yes, absolutely, the LGBT community has a huge debt of gratitude to pay to the civil rights movement, and the legacy of brave African American activists who endangered and lost their lives to fight for basic freedoms. And yes, they do absolutely have to be mindful to not appropriate the struggles of African American people and to build bridges rather than taking over the story. And yes, white liberals can often shit on the people and places that can help them because they are too quick to shut out people who don't share the same ideology (although, this kind of behavior is certainly not limited to whites or liberals).

YES, absolutely, white activists of all kinds need to really take a deep look at what they are and are not doing when it comes to communities of color. AND I just want to advocate for getting out ideas and feelings and stuff and doing a productive post-mortem that opens dialogue while also acknowledging that the goal in the end is for working together to help everyone overcome oppression.

Thanks for continuing to bring this up; it's certainly given me (a queer white liberal) a lot of thinking to do.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2008-11-10 01:56 am (UTC)
The truth is nothing I've said in recent days or that others have written about is new. One of the most uncomfortable places for me to be is the Castro, and that was the case long before November 4th.

There's a reason there is no real "gay community" but an assortment of communities. Gay men still harbor lots of sexism and regularly discriminate against women, straight or not. White gays regularly discriminate against people of color, straight or not.

Now, I think there IS work being done in communities of color around heterosexism, but it's not in the context of gay marriage movement per se. I'm seeing it happen around other issues--issues that affect people of color across the board, like housing issues, the expansion of the prison industrial complex, immigration rights. Most queers of color I know do not prioritize marriage; aside from their discomfort working with mostly white, middle class activists who do not recognize the privilege they get in most of their identities, marriage itself is a privileged status that doesn't protect our folks from being gentrified out of their own neighborhoods (often by white gays--fancy that), harassed by the police (who tend to show up in greater numbers to protect the gentrifiers from the scary natives), or deported (would marrying a U.S. citizen of the same gender in California get someone a green card? I think not).

What I hope is that this will finally cause white queers to rethink how they interact not only with people of color in general but with queers of color. But, frankly, I'm not holding my breath.
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[User Picture]From: savia
2008-11-10 02:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, that's the triangulating factor, right there - white privilege. And it's good to be reminded of that. (And for a classic example of a white gay man being misogynistic, just watch An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde, and spot the exact moment when you can tell this was not a play written by Shaw.)

I think one way of coming together to talk about gay marriage on a broader scale is the green card thing - start to make marriage legal, and work on repealing at least the part of DOMA that denies Federal rights to gay couples (which Obama said he would do, but I don't know when that would happen), and work to help with immigration issues specifically.

So is the problem, then, that gay marriage seems to have emerged as THE mainstream gay rights issue, whereas it is not really that much an issue for people of color who are gay? If that's the core struggle here (the "this is our civil right" vs. "we have bigger life-and-death issues here" struggle), then I can see that this will definitely take some serious bridge-building. Like you, I'm not sure that the twain shall ever meet. Hell, the feminist movement is still struggling and stammering over these same issues, and feminist/womanist movements are also frequently at odds about all kinds of things.


Edited at 2008-11-10 02:12 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: flukycoda
2008-11-10 03:48 pm (UTC)
thank god this was written. i just came across a post on prop 8 on queerbychoice.livejournal.com saying "to believe that minority marriage rights should be put to majority vote is inherently synonymous with believing that interracial marriage should not have been legal in 1958. To believe that you as a heterosexual have any right to vote No on same-sex marriage is inherently racist. This connection cannot possibly be overemphasized. Start repeating it to anyone and everyone who will listen."
what the fuck is wrong with people. seriously.

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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2008-11-10 09:34 pm (UTC)
That's... interesting.

I really wonder how exactly one's feelings about sexual orientation and identity have anything at all to do with race. She's managing to take it to another level altogether. I may have to comment.
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[User Picture]From: flukycoda
2008-11-11 01:41 am (UTC)
i think you should comment -- mostly for selfish reasons because i'd like to see what you'd say. i can't really articulate my frustration about these things other than OMGWTF YOU STUPID IGNORANT GREHFGFGFGRGRHGRGFKEGH.
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[User Picture]From: fightingwords
2008-11-11 01:44 am (UTC)
Done. But....

Apparently interracial marriage == same-sex marriage because both race and gender are immutable characteristics. (Um, what?)

Of course, she's now arguing that that isn't true and that in fact race can change if someone lightens his or her skin....

The stupid parade just won't stop.
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[User Picture]From: flukycoda
2008-11-11 03:00 am (UTC)
sigh. valiant effort, though.
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