Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Cockroach in the Potato Salad

Ballot questions in Nebraska, California and Arkansas on affirmative action and gay rights expose ugly things about the country—and ourselves—which we’d rather ignore as we celebrate President Obama’s victory. But what happens when the dancing ebbs?

On the night Barack Obama made history Nebraska voters approved a vaguely worded ballot question dubiously labeled “The Civil Rights Initiative,” making affirmative action illegal in public employment, education and contracting. In California, Proposition 8 passed, banning gay marriage. Similarly, the Arkansas Unmarried Couple Adoption Ban makes it illegal for gays to adopt or serve as foster parents. African Americans danced in 1776 and 1863, despite the misery, bondage, war. In 2008 our jubilation knows no bounds. And that’s the problem. We cock our heads away from anything party-pooping or nettlesome and this cloud of euphoria seems obscure what scurries at our skipping feet. Indeed, the cockroach jumping in grandma’s potato salad may say something ugly about ourselves more so than any insidious enemy vanquished at the polls last Tuesday.
Despite a lack of identifiable “victims,” all black conservative Ward Connerly had to was get petitions signed and place an anti-affirmative action question on the ballot. Quietly. White voters would do the rest. ( Allegations of chicanery in the ballot petitions abound, and no there was no indication that affirmative action efforts were abusing white students, employees, businesses. Still, the measure passed easily. And quietly.
Many African Americans outside of Nebraska remain oblivious at best, insouciant at worse. Don’t step on my Barack high, we hear. And who cares anyway—how many black folks can there be in Nebraska other than in the Cornhuskers’ backfield and secondary? Indeed one longtime pro-Obama blogger states “There are what, 25 blacks in Nebraska?” Another Obama supporter in Washington, D.C. shrugs “This isn’t on my radar. I’m too busy celebrating.” Some of these opinions are from the same folk who mobilized thousands for the Jena 6. So where is the love for Nebraska?
Shawna Francis, lobbyist and former director of Congressional Affairs for the Democratic Leadership Conference, laments the result in her native Nebraska, and the muted initial response from African Americans nationwide. “Nebraskans are good, caring people,” she says. The state is home to a large, dynamic black community and culture there. Nevertheless, certain racist notions and power relationships remain. As for Nebraska not being on anyone’s map as opposed to Atlanta or D.C., she reminds people that Omaha is the cradle of Malcolm X. To Francis and many others, it is ironic that an outsider, Ward Connerly, could invade Nebraska and change lives, while some African Americans outside of the state scratch their heads or just don’t understand what’s at stake.
Newly elected Nebraska State Senator Brenda Council is certain Connerly coordinated the effort with conservatives in the state government to prevent key actors like the University of Nebraska from creating awareness and lobbying against the ban. Likewise, the initiative’s wording was “fraudulent.” One young black voter came up to her, frantic with apologies for voting for the ban because he thought it was a civil rights ban on discrimination. Council is certain this practice of artifice and muted TV coverage was central to the ban’s passage, as well as cloaking the issue for blacks nationwide. Nevertheless, she’s flabbergasted that African Americans in more populous states or urban areas ignore or shrug off this story. “It’s like what happened in Nazi Germany. You can sit back and say it’s happening to those folks but it won’t happen to me. Guess what—it will happen to you.”
And it did happen to someone else, in California and Arkansas. Not owing to a lack of knowledge or inaction by black folks. This time it’s with our active participation.
Student Jina Mowery is an Arkansan and proud of it. Her mother was a canvasser for Bill Clinton in ’92 and ’96, her stepfather is a retired police officer and deacon back home. The Mowery family voted for Barack Obama on November 4 and even drove elders to the polls. John McCain took the state overwhelmingly. But Jina’s parents voted for the ban on any gay couples adopting or acting as foster parents. They said the Bible is clear, and there is a gay agenda being pushed by white activists. Jina’s brother is gay. He moved out of Arkansas when was 16. Jina’s roommate in Washington, D.C. is a bi-racial lesbian. Jina volunteers for an advocacy group watchdogging what critics have a called dysfunctional D.C. Department of Child and Family Services—the same agency which paid accused child killer Renee Bowman to be a foster parent. Renee Bowman is charged with murdering and mummifying her adoptive daughters. But at least she isn’t gay.
“My parents didn’t want to hear that. They didn’t want to hear that the governor [Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe] is dealing with similar crisis back home, and this ballot thing comes along. Gay men and lesbians want to open their homes with love, most of them have more money and resources than average a lot of towns in Arkansas and a lot of them will raise children with special needs that no one else wants. But you say they are unfit?” Jina says the taxes they pay go toward a foster care system in which they cannot now legally participate and that system is stressed to the breaking point. (
“How many children will black people who voted for this adopt? How could they be allies to the same people in the state who openly hated Barack?” Of course, we don’t want to have such a thorny questions posed.
The President-elected posed it indirectly, of course, Tuesday night in Chicago, stating that this was our America, all of us, “gay and straight.” In California, Proposition 8 would not have but passed for black folks who asserted they were only keeping the faith.
Of course no one wants to check that moving speck in the potato salad—that more than a few African Americans don’t practice what they preach regarding the “sanctity” of marriage, monogamy, adultery, lying—not to mention “thou shalt not kill.” But that’s not the point, in the minds of some of our people.
The Washington Post quoted young Obama voter Jasmine Jones as saying “I think it's mainly because of the way we were brought up in the church; we don't agree with it," said Jasmine Jones, 25, who is black. “I'm not really the type that I wanted to stop people's rights. But I still have my beliefs, and if I can vote my beliefs that's what I'm going to do. God doesn't approve it, so I don't approve it. And I approve of Him.”
Michael Brown, a black AIDS activist in Maryland with married gay friends in San Jose angrily calls out “mega-preachers” like T.D. Jakes and Atlanta’s Eddie Long and others in the black pulpit for fostering this attitude that marriage isn’t about civil rights. “They [mega preachers] have long been associated with conservative white Republicans who stood against Obama but now they want to cheer for Obama.” Their duplicity matches Ward Connerly’s in Brown’s mind.
Even to someone lost in the fog of celebrating November 4, there’s one very simple notion about marriage that shouldn’t confuse or distract: rendered to essence, marriage is a civil and legal construct, not a religious convocation. You need a license from the government, not God, to perform one, and you need a license from the government to get one. When the government singles out a person or group in that context, the question becomes constitutional, not Biblical. And yet it appears many African Americans remain ready to deny one group a civil, legal right based on religion…or in Brown’s view, simple ignorance and fear. The irony is not lost on him. “The Civil War was fought and thousands died so black people could be citizens and have equal protection under the Constitution. This vote is like our Dred Scot. How could our own people abandon us?”
But don’t step on my Obama high. One blog and listserv commenter who fiercely supported Barack is still celebrating and doesn’t care about Proposition 8. “I’m entitled to be selfish now.” Another opines, “We should show solidarity to President-elect Barack Obama and not raise this kind of thing right now. But also, we are a very conservative people that should be respected by people who do not attend church regularly.”
Derek McCoy, a black Mormon and African American outreach director for the Protect Marriage Campaign stated in the Post, “What the church does is give that perspective that this is a sacred issue as well as a social issue,” he said “The reason I feel they came out so strong on the issue is one, for them, it's not a civil rights issue, it's a marriage issue. It's about marriage being between a man and a woman and it doesn't cut into the civil rights issue, about equality. The gay community was never considered a third of a person.”
Maybe it is now.

So there’s something ugly and dirty creeping about as we dance. How we address it will define our marrow. And our joy will either cement itself as an affirmation of our fortitude and belief in justice, or will betray itself as merely self-indulgent, temporary and fraudulent. Our new president is counting on the former.


Anonymous said...

Now I have to wonder what Arkansas plans to do to encourage more straight, married people to adopt? Ban foreign adoptions? Offer tax rebates?

As for the increase in the number of children who will now be left in the system, where will the money come from to take care of them? Are they going to increase taxes in the state?

Lisa said...

This whole thing is a disgrace.

Deocliciano Okssipin Vieira, aka Ochyming said...

Sometimes I forget HOW passionate you can be!

When people will comprehend that this caring is the REAL patriotism, and not branding insecurities as dogmas.

Anonymous said...

Marriage takes place under the umbrella of religion and Civil Unions same sex or not take place at the court house. The word Marriage belongs to Religion, IMHO. When I married my husband, I did not have a religious ceremony and some in my family said, "I was only married in the eyes of the law and not by GOD". To which I responded "AND, YOUR POINT IS?". I don't need religion to certify what I do but should someone else want that i.e. Gays wanting marriage, that is a real problem. I can neither make a Christian , Jew or Muslim believe that they must marry Gays no more than they can make me want to have a religious ceremony preformed by any one of them. Maybe gays should try to think of another word besides marriage and How about WED? It has the same meaning but not the religious component, I think. Let "marriage" stay in the church. Let people WED in the courthouse.

Anonymous said...

I think you're way off this time, Chris. Your arguement about the hypocrisy(sp?). Well, at least in reference to the Prop 8 issue. Blacks only make up 7% of the Cali population so how in the world are we/they whole-heartedly responsible for the passing of that bill?

Anonymous said...

I dunno Dredd--black folks provided the margin of victory when, with record black turnout, we went 70% in favor. It was only 56% for Hispanics. The contrast is also bizarre: we go 70% in favor of this but go 95% for Barack, who is a liberal and contra to so much right wing GOP politics.
It is the same sort of ignorance that is revealed when blakc people say "Who cares about Nebraska?"
The thing in Arkansas is even more frightening.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because I'm from the rural South, but most of the people who raised me are opposed to gay marriage and abortion and support the death penalty. I did ask them but I'm sure they are against gay adoption also. They aren't conservatives, but they are traditionalists. These people being opposed to prop 8 is independent of where they attend church or who there pastor may be. It's in the Bible and that good enough for them.

Wouldn't it be wrong to ask someone against their religious beliefs?

Hathor said...

The proposition should not have been on the ballot in the first place. It isn't a religious question, so it shouldn't require someone to vote against their conscience or not.
Most states in this country had at one time acknowledge common law marriage, which was determine how a couple represented themselves over a period of time. It didn't require that they had sex or children. It provided certain legal rights to each of the couple. There was no ceremony involved, neither civil nor religious and yes it was called marriage. If they state decided to call this marriage, it can call the union of same sex couples, marriage. It has nothing to do with the tenets of any religion.

I think too many people think of this country as a theocracy, believing all the recent trash of this country being founded as a Christian nation.

What black people tend to forget that slavery and segregation was upheld by religious Christian people. They voted their beliefs too.

Robert M said...

Thank you for reminding everyone of the most critical thing; YOU NEED A LICENSE FROM THE GOVERNMENT. Government has no right to abridge anyone's freedom.

Anonymous said...

Monica - did the people who raised you try and sell you into slavery? (Exodus 21:7). How about a good old stoning for working on the Sabbath (Exodus 35:2)? Or better yet, a stoning for planting different crops side by side? Ever wear garments made from two different threads? People who can be literal about one line from the Bible and not ALL, are nothing more than bigots using the Bible excuse their narrow views. Unfortunately, they are assisting the more dangerous (powerful) bigots with their hateful agenda of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. in support of economic exploitation and militarism. It would be comical were it not so frightening.

"First they came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist..." Pastor Martin Niemoller

Hate is the only abomination.