Gay is not the new black. Black is the new black; gay is the new gay.
Earlier this week, sportswriter LZ Granderson published a piece in CNN entitled “Gay is not the new black.” I one-hundred-percent agree with his basic premise, but totally disagree in the way he argues it. According to Granderson, gay black men identify more with their racial self than they do with their sexuality, a situation exacerbated by powerful white LGBT persons who exclude blacks and criticize Obama.
Apparently, the LGBT movement is dealing with it own issues of racial preference and exclusion. As someone who is not entrenched in this community, I cannot speak to how true or not true this is. But it does appear that the very visible spokespeople for the LGBT community rarely tend to be black (Anthony Woods – the gay, black, Harvard-educated Iraq veteran running for Congress – seems to be an exception).
Granderson uses these racial divisions as the crux of his argument. He notes, “When Proposition 8 passed in California, white gays were quick to blame the black community despite blacks making up less than 10 percent of total voters and whites being close to 60 percent .” I think his language is a little strong, but he makes a fair point. The arguments that black people somehow caused Proposition 8 to pass are demonstrably and demographically false. Even among another minority community fighting for its civil rights, race still matters. Therefore, gay cannot be the new black if black is still black as ever.
Unfortunately, his argument seems to rest on the premise that only race matters, or at least it matters more than sexuality and other identity factors. Race is so important that LGBT-led criticism of President Obama alienates members of the black community – gay or not. “The parade of gay people calling Obama a "disappointment" on television is counterproductive in gaining acceptance, to say the least. And the fact that the loudest critics are mostly white doesn't help matters either.” It is possible to critique the President, and still be supportive. Granderson himself does both in the article. It is possible to inhabit both spaces, to acknowledge multiple aspects of one’s identity.
To make matters even worse, he very distastefully says that blacks have had it worse than gays in the struggle for civil rights, calls the LGBT community leaders “petulant child[ren],” and effectively tells the community they should wait their turn.
“The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.”
Making comparisons as to which minority group had is worse is NEVER useful (see Holocaust vs. slavery), both because it is pointless and reduces all minority struggles to being one-in-the-same. There is no special prize for being the “most oppressed” group between “competing minorities.” We can acknowledge that the LBGT community, blacks, Jews, Asians, Native Americans (etc, etc) have all struggled at the hands of a more powerful regime and that each group’s struggle is different and complex in its own way. We can and should learn from each other’s histories, not reduce them to slight variations of one another. That only leads to in-fighting, which helps no one’s cause. An extension of this is the idea that whichever minority group cries foul the loudest is the one that will get the most attention. The idea that these issues are relegated to just being special interest issues speaks to a continued belief that these issues don’t concern everyone. I personally long for the day when all these voices can be heard equally and simultaneously – not just one at a time.
While there are obviously similarities in the civil rights movements of the 1910s-1920s, the 1950s-1960s, the LGBT community faces different social pressures (religion and ideas of sexual normativity) and seeks different outcomes (all-inclusive marriage rights, adoption rights, the ability to serve the military openly, and more job discrimination protection more broadly).
But what isn’t different or distinct are the people involved in these different movements. A friend of mine found it interesting that Granderson assumed that gay black men privilege their racial identity. He queried: why does it have to be either-or…why not both? Anthony Jack, one of Social Science Lite's bloggers, has discussed on previous occasions the problematic assumption that people can divvy-up their being into race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness, etc. Indeed, this line of thinking is often decried in womanist literature. Gay black men could be actively involved in both black communities and gay communities equally, or maybe neither if they so choose. On a personal level, to say that gay is not the new black makes sense. If it were, then LBGT blacks would supposedly be forced to supplant one aspect of their identity to the dominant other.
Black is the new black. Gay is the new gay. I could say that being a heterosexual, black man is the new heterosexual, black man, but it would be easier to say that I’m Steven. I am black. I am heterosexual. I am male. I am all of these things, all the time, even in those occasions when I choose to highlight only one part of my identity.