Saturday, November 15, 2008

As Prop 8 Discussions Continue

This post outlines a lot of things we need to think about.

As attractive as it is, let's not give into the urge to oversimplify what happened on election day. We need to move forward from here and change people's minds about things, we can't do that if we ignore their history, the context of their life as they know it.

A sample:
That is why we end up with claims like, "{Black people} know what it's like to be discriminated against. Why are they doing to us what happened to them?" White liberals are the first ones to utilize the history of racial violence to demonstrate why another oppression is also bad. "Just like segregation..." "Just like lynching..." Rights are like baseball cards that can be traded because their essential nature is the same.

But this shit is not the same. I don't have to argue that it's worse to assert that it ain't the same. The history of racial violence against Black people since we were brought to these shores to this very day is unique and wholly disturbing. There are lessons we can learn from that history that we can thoughtfully apply to other situations. There are connections between this and other trajectories of colonization and subjugation. But I'm noticing that there are some white folks that feel pretty entitled to rustle around Black history like some kind of curious anthropologist, picking out things that are convenient for them to use, often to legitimize their own experiences of oppression.

To be real, before this prop 8 stuff hit the fan, I was more tolerant of the parallel that some white queers drew between the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the more recent LGBT Civil Rights Movements. I thought it might be a useful strategy. However, with all the sturm und drang of the past week, I'm beginning to see how this usage gets boiled down to a tit for tat strategy: We have your back (i.e. voted for Obama, sympathy to the story of the Black Civil Rights Movement), why don't y'all have ours? We (as of 2008) think that U.S. slavery was totally wrong, why don't y'all get that banning gay marriage is wrong? Or Jon Stewart's joke (third rich white guy) that as soon as Black people "made it" with Obama, it only took us 24 hours to use that brand new power against gay folks. Tolerance goes "both ways." "If {your people} want to call me a faggot, I can call you nigger." I'm not even picking on the fellow who gave us that last gem, I really think this is the essential point that Olbermann, Savage, and others are making. It's the same thing. A right is a right. A slur is a slur. There is no substantial difference.

While I have argued that this is the wrong way to think about oppression, I do not believe that just because something is different than something else doesn't mean that it doesn't have it's own moral weight. Just because I think not legalizing gay marriage isn't "just like" not legalizing marriage under chattel slavery (seriously, I can barely write that without making a face), doesn't mean that I don't think that prop 8 doesn't have it's own profound moral significance.

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