Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Moral Choice: Blacks, Homophobia and Proposition 8

By Sikivu Hutchinson

On the corner of King Blvd and Crenshaw black street preachers goose step their way through anti-gay slogans, adding an unwelcome touch of street theater demagoguery to the flow of everyday pedestrian traffic. A few blocks away, Yes on Proposition 8 (the California ballot initiative that would amend the state Constitution and outlaw same-sex marriage) signs have begun springing up like weeds, a final appeal to black and Latino conservatism by the anti-gay marriage regime.

The perception that black folk in particular are more receptive to homophobic propaganda is partly grounded in reality and partly grounded in stereotype. Polls have shown that African Americans are 10 percent more likely to support Prop 8 than other racial groups. Because the pro and con polling numbers for Prop 8 are so tight, black support for the measure could put it over the top. And what exactly do black straight people like me have to be threatened by? Cultural nationalist supporters of Prop 8 argue that homosexuality and the insidiously labeled “gay lifestyle” (a slur that presumes that gays and lesbians are monolithic) threaten the already besieged black family. Given this belief, African Americans are presumably more invested in propping up heterosexism because of the pathologization of black families. Yet Prop 8 rests on the same logic that prohibited interracial marriages, a premise that the California Supreme Court cited in its ruling in favor of legalizing same-sex marriages. Slavery and antebellum p atriarchy were rooted in rigid definitions of family and marriage aimed at preserving property rights, lines of descent and white purity. This legacy continues to influence the gender hierarchies underlying so-called traditional family structures and to police families that aren’t nuclear or heterosexual.

Voting to amend the California Constitution will extend this legacy. It signifies a concession to flat earth politics, a betrayal of civil rights principles and a hypocritical denial of some of the real crises that imperil black families. As straights we live in communities that are devastated by the large number of black children in foster care due to parents who are either unwilling or unable to take care of them. As straights we lament the absence of affirming role models for children in a racist hyperviolent culture that devalues black lives, yet fail to connect this to a cult of masculinity that demeans women and gays and lesbians. As straights we engage in the schizoid rhetoric of championing black self-determination yet vilify full citizenship for gays and lesbians as a “European” thing. As straights we cherry pick who is “rightfully” part of the community based upon heterosexual privilege while disrespecting the valiant heritage of black liberation struggle exemplified by gay freedom fighters such as Audre Lorde and Bayard Rustin.

Although there are several California-based African-American churches that have consistently advocated for gay and lesbian partnerships, black religious fundamentalism is still the number one barrier to aligning a progressive black civil rights agenda with LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) rights. Gay and lesbian families of color are invisible in the mainstream media, yet they are an integral part of communities of color. Contrary to the propaganda of black fundamentalists gay and lesbian caregivers, parents and grandparents nurture black children alongside and within so-called straight households. As a black atheist and parent, I want my seven month old daughter to grow up in a culture where—gay straight or bi—her entire range of personhood, love and commitment to another human being is not legally bound by the Paleolithic mores of religious fundamentalism. In this regard, voting no on Prop 8 is the only moral choice.

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of and a commentator for KPFK 90.7 FM.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Great White Hope

By Sikivu Hutchinson

Cindy McCain has spoken. Shellacked white blond hair bristling with outrage, the beermeister lit into Barack Obama recently at an election rally, accusing him of voting against troop supply funding for soldiers in Iraq and thus endangering her enlisted son. The beermeister’s liberation from St John power suit-cosseted trophy wife to mother bear-firebrand has been hastened by Sarah Palin’s transformation into the self-styled attack dog of the McCain campaign. The visual choreography of McCain events now spotlights the two in tandem—Palin rallying the Christian soldiers onward with her nationalist screeds on homeland security while the beermeister hovers close behind in all her Stepford glory. Snatching a page from their nativist 19th century white feminist forebears, the beermeister and the demagogue evoke a nightmare vision of black insurgency. Linking Obama to William Ayers and domestic terrorism, Palin exhorted that “this is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America,” to her rapt audiences. Despite all his efforts to distance himself from a black agenda, the assiduously race-averse Obama is still playing as a fist in the air black Muslim to the American Legionnaires in East Overshoe. In response to Palin’s innuendo, lynch mob chants of “terrorist,” “treason” and “kill him” have been gleefully hurled at Obama, eliciting the usual tepid condemnations from the McCain camp. McCain’s contempt for Obama as lawn jockey crashing the country club was on snarling display during Tuesday’s debate when the uber male American war hero couldn’t bring himself to look at the Senator and infamously referred to him as “that one.” In a desperate attempt to reverse his falling poll numbers, McCain melds xenophobic and Orientalist rhetoric, conjuring up the dark inscrutable treasonous other when he asks “who is the real Barack Obama.”

Yet it is Palin who is the great white hope, mobilizing the faithful in the hinterlands while exploiting the far right electorate’s bloodlust. And what better messenger to paint Obama as a black subversive than Palin, whose pro-death views would even prohibit a woman from getting an abortion in cases of rape and incest? Far right prohibitions on women exercising rights over their own bodies and destinies have a direct correlation with the preservation of God, country and the virtues of white womanhood. Nationhood and the territorialization of white femininity have always been inextricably linked in the American imagination. D.W. Griffith’s anti-Reconstruction epic Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman, associated black rule with miscegenation and the rape of white women. Racial terrorism against Reconstruction-era black legislators was justified on the grounds of protecting the Union from the scourge of race-mixing and a slide into anarchy. Insofar as an Obama presidency foreshadows these primal threats to home and hearth it won’t matter that McCain backs welfare handouts for the Wall Street and multinationals and shrugs off his ignorance about how many houses he has while morphing into a populist.

By evoking this symbolism, the McCain-Palin doubletalk express taps into the deepest reservoirs of white racial angst. It has become a truism among many white left progressives that working class whites are essentially voting against their class interests when they vote conservative, but are they really? The scores of white Democrat undecided voters and the all white legions who throng to the McCain-Palin circus tent revivals prove that white class solidarity has been, and always will be, about the the defense of the homeland from the incursions of the other.

Sikivu's commentaries can be heard on Fridays @KPFK 90.7 FM

Friday, October 3, 2008

State of South L.A.?

By Sikivu Hutchinson

The South L.A. flank of Manchester Boulevard remains largely unchanged from the street of my childhood memory. There are nail places, fast food chains, motels, car washes, an orgy of little strip malls, and a theatre, boarded up and cadaverous since the early 80s, that juts out on the corner of 5th Avenue in Inglewood. It is easy to miss the theatre in the ruckus of westward traffic, easy to assign it to the category of visual bric-a-brac as yet another figment of South L.A.’s past. When the theatre was open during the 70s and 80s it was a B movie haven that provided local Morningside Park kids, steeped in our largely black insular world, with a dependable weekend hangout. Now, with one exception, movie theatres in 21st century South L.A. are as common as meteor showers. The disappearance of recreational public spaces for youth is a subtext of the bleak portrait presented in the UCLA School of Public Affairs’ recent State of South L.A. report. There are no major revelations in the report, which focuses on jobs, education, crime, poverty, housing and the considerable demographic shift that’s occurred since the 1992 uprising. Now predominantly Latino, South L.A.’s black population continues to shrink by the year. Motivated by lower housing prices and the desire for better living conditions, African Americans have migrated to the Inland Empire and the South in greater numbers since the 1990s. Despite these patterns of black out-migration, the severity of black residential concentration in South L.A. is still pronounced, with nearly 90% of the black population in the county represented in South L.A. Over half a century after restrictive covenants, African Americans have the least residential mobility. Put simply, even the most affluent black Angelenos, the Baldwin Hills/View Park/Windsor Hills dwelling elites, are living in relative poverty conditions when viewed in the context of the county as a whole. All of the disposable income, advanced degrees and ability to code switch with white culture in the world won’t mitigate the reality reflected in surveys nationwide—namely, when it comes to living in the same neighborhoods as black folk white respondents invariably express a greater willingness to welcome Latinos or Asians into the block club.

The reassessment of the “identity” of South L.A. comes during a period when the national political profile of blacks would appear to be on the rise. Yet, the South L.A. centered 2nd District supervisorial race between Councilman Bernard Parks and Senator Mark Ridley Thomas is widely predicted to be the last to feature two African American candidates. For the past decade, the obscenely long terms of the supervisors have bred abdication of leadership around King-Harbor, gang conflict, education and development in a district that has the highest number of black and brown residents living below the poverty line. Thrust together by circumstance in a climate that does little to validate their shared history, blacks and browns coexist from Watts to Inglewood to Baldwin Village. However, it is generally believed by African American community activists that blacks have taken the lead in black-brown collaborations. As Latino political capital is on the ascendant, tensions over the receding black identity of the community will fester if the perception that Latino leadership is resistant to reaching out to African Americans persists. Countering this perception, and making sure that the next supervisor pushes an agenda that addresses the culturally specific dynamics blacks and browns face in divide and conquer economic conditions is one of the key challenges for the new state of South L.A.