Tyrion Lannister

Black Homophobia?

Filed By Tyrion Lannister | August 22, 2008 3:57 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Politics, The Movement

I've been meaning to blog on this for a while, so, before I forget, I think Ta-Nehisi Coates had some thoughtful comments on the much-dreaded "black homophobia":

I think the whole "more homophobic" deal--kind of like the "more antisemitic" and even the "more sexist" comparison--is heavily weighted by the wealth gap, and where black people live. Poor, unwealthy African-Americans are not only a disproportionate share of black people, there also a large number of them living in urban centers with all their pathologies on full display.I suspect that a lot of white--particularly a lot of white people who are concerned about black homophobia--have more random contact with black poor people than they do with white poor people--this despite the fact that there are more white than black poor in this country.

I'd love to see a comparison between, say, East New York and some random poor white community in Mississippi which matches East New York in terms of poverty. Maybe the cats in East New York are shockingly more homophobic than the folks in said poor white community. But I kind of doubt it.

I think much of this makes sense, though, at its heart, I suppose it's sort of an empirical question that could be resolved through the use of public opinion polling. But I'm feeling kind of lazy right now and I don't really want to go trolling through J-STOR looking for an answer, so, instead, I'll merely make a general observation that I think is almost always lost during discussions of black homophobia. Read it after the jump.

Namely, no matter how much or less homophobic you may feel that the average black person is than the average white person -- or for that matter no matter how much public opinion polling suggests that one race is more homophobic than the other -- it seems to me that black homophobia is clearly not politically institutionalized to the same degree that white homophobia is. Even if you granted that the black community was substantially more homophobic than the white community, it's pretty clear that political units with larger black populations tend to be more likely to have legal protections on the basis of sexual orientation: a number of cities with black majorities -- Baltimore, Detroit, and Atlanta, for example -- all have fairly comprehensive nondiscrimination statutes. In fact, if you compare units with large populations of poor blacks with units with large populations of poor whites (essentially what Ta-Nehisi is suggesting should be done) it's difficult to find comparable examples of progressive legislation in poor white dominated political units.

Obviously this isn't a rule and I'm not trying to imply direct causation. But the lesson from places like Baltimore, Detroit, and Atlanta would seem to suggest that particular black majorities either find legal inequalities on the basis of sexual orientation problematic, or, at the very least, aren't interested in spending any political capital on maintaining them. In other words, even if large portions of the black community in those three cities find homosexuality to be sinful or immoral, it's clear that those beliefs aren't having a big impact on the shape of the law with regard to sexual orientation in those cities. I would suggest this is because even if there may be a widespread belief that homosexuality is immoral in many black communities -- and I'm not sure to what degree that's true -- the need to see that belief reflected in law would probably imperil valuable political partnerships with the gay community and its allies.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear that the Republican party believes that white people are so concerned about sexual orientation that putting DOMAs amendments on the ballot is a great GOTV measure.

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