Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Why Gay is not the new Black

I haven't attempted to blog recently, mostly because of time.  In view of recent events, I have wanted to say things, but mostly felt out of my field.  I focus on the social construction of "race" and racial difference, and while I have opinions regarding marriage equality, I feel there are so many others who blog much more eloquently than I, so I just re-tweet and re-post shamelessly.

However, I saw an article on my Twitter feed today, and while I disagreed with many of the points, I realized that it might be important to further substantiate the author's main contention, which is that "gay is not the new Black."  And that is my field, so here is my blog post.  

First, "being Black" has not disappeared as a racial identity in the United States.  

I understand what people are trying to say, namely, that a person who identifies as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered (LGBT) may experience oppression in various arenas of society much like African Americans have experienced and continue to experience. However, racial identity is a different facet of a person's identity than sexual orientation.

Sociologists talk about how each facet of your identity intersects with each other, mitigating how you experience oppression or privilege.  For example, a White, middle-class, heterosexual woman with a disability experiences oppression in certain ways as a woman and as a person with a disability.  However, her status of middle-class, White and heterosexual afford her privileges that somewhat limit the cumulative impact of the daily discrimination she experiences.

Further, racial identity is one of the more salient aspects of identity in our society, along with social/economic class. The discrimination that LGBT folks experience is very real, but can also be mitigated by other aspects of a person's identity. A White, upper-class gay man will have a very different life experience than a Black working-class lesbian woman.  The point is not that it's a competition of who is more of a victim, but to highlight that one aspect of a person's identity cannot be exchanged for another.

Secondly, Black folks still experience oppression and discrimination in our society. 

Again, the parallel is clear to me.  Like African Americans, LGTB folks are struggling to be recognized as humans worthy of equality under the law.  However, the struggle for African Americans is not over.  We have not reached an authentically "colorblind" society, but instead have daily evidence of how "race" still matters in terms of life outcomes.  In terms of movements, LGTB rights is more recent than the Civil Rights movement, it's true.  But one movement has not replaced the other.  It would be paramount to saying that the disability rights movement is the new feminist movement.

On the other hand, in some circles, such as in historic Black liberation theology, "Black" has come to mean "oppressed."  In this tradition, Jesus is considered "Black" because he took on oppression and suffering.  However, others argue with this definition, saying that it limits Black identity to that of a victim.  In any case, "Black" is not widely accepted as a synonym for oppressed, and so I think it shouldn't be used that way in this case either. 

Finally, the Church has still not figured out "'race' relations" any more than it has figured out if it even wants to have "gay relations" (in all senses of the term).

Throughout all spheres of society, well-intentioned, good people have been documented to have unconscious racial bias.  (If you don't believe me, you can test yourself.)  However, White evangelicals have been found to be the most racially segregated group in the United States.  If this is the very group that is most alienated from LGBT activists and allies, the "gay/Black" analogy is going to be totally lost.

Throughout the history of the United States (and other countries), the Church has used the Bible to prove all kinds of racial oppression, including slavery, anti-miscegenation laws, and apartheid.  Many people have pointed out this inconsistency in Church history, saying that perhaps the Church might also be misinterpreting the passages potentially related to homosexuality.  In fact, some Christian theologians realize this inconsistency, but instead of admitting, "We've been wrong before, maybe we could be wrong again," they re-entrench themselves in the old argument that slavery is "biblical" and some cultures are inferior to others.

Again, this might not be the best crowd to talk to on either point at the present time.  Nonetheless, it is important to note the discourse that surrounds both "race" and homosexuality in certain circles, so it will hopefully make sense why it doesn't help to conflate the two topics.

Postscript 

My last comment is on a more personal note, and that is to say that I really do understand and hear my brothers and sisters who are outraged, sad, and even angry at this moment because they feel like their whole world is falling in around their ears, the definition of marriage is being changed, and society is slipping even further into moral decay. Even as I wrote this blog, I sensed turmoil within myself as I thought, "Can I write that?  Is that what I believe?  If I say that, what will so-in-so think?"  I don't deny where I come from, but I know I'm not the only one who is changing. 

I am evolving.  My faith is evolving.  My sense of belonging to a greater humanity than just the people-who-are-like-me is growing. I feel that it is the most authentic and realistic response I can have.  My hope is that this post, along with so many others, will help to add clarity to the discourse surrounding the Supreme Court case, so that Christians can continue to find some common ground with each other and with others.

2 comments:

  1. I'm really blessed to have you as a friend. I don't know many people who think more carefully, or with more self awareness, about the ideas they hold. I know you're aiming for much wider discourse here, but that's what I'm moved to point out.

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