Thursday, March 5, 2009

Prop 8 & New Jersey 4 & Other Misdeeds: Where Race, Class & Gender Collide

Later on today the oral arguments will be heard in the California Supreme Court pro and con regarding the passage of Proposition 8. The judges will have 90-days to render a verdict. If the ruling strikes down the Proposition, the California Constitution will forever alter the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman and the same-gender marriages performed will be left intact. If it's struck down those marriages get invalidated and all hell will break loose!
These are the three questions being covered in three hours. 

Is Proposition 8 invalid because it constitutes a revision of, rather than an amendment to, the California Constitution?

Does Proposition 8 violate the separation of powers doctrine under the California Constitution?

If Proposition 8 is not unconstitutional, what is its effect, if any, on the marriages of same-sex couples performed before the adoption of Proposition 8?
We could discuss the meaning of marriage where women were/still are chattel and the "love" concept is a special privilege open to wild interpretation - and poor execution. What can't seriously be denied is that we live in patriarchal society where marriage was/still is a contract that can elevate one's financial/social status but it's definitely meant to maintain it at the very least. Marrying "down" is a big no-no because it could plunge a woman and her future children into poverty and a life of hardship. Yes, this is a decidedly hetero-leaning evaluation but often a "marriage" is an exercise of survival for an entire family.

When looking at it from that perspective the way the laws are set up everything from tax breaks to custody can be greatly enhanced by conforming to what's the accepted standard. The question now is what will that standard be? Personally, I think everyone should have all of the legal benefits of what's commonly viewed as marriage but separate the religious baggage attached to it. Even atheists marry after all. People who wish to add that can take that up within their individual faith practices. Which could be a whole other battle but I say go where you're wanted and don't put your money into people and institutions that don't value you - all of you. I somehow suspect that if the money dried up a bunch of "religions" would suddenly find new meaning in their religious dogmas that would favor the departed. 

After watching numerous news reports, reading articles in newspapers and blog posts I still feel conflicted about the whole thing and it's been four months. I've written posts about my thoughts why No On 8 would fail, the ruling and its aftermath in my November 2008 archives. I still feel that the people most gung-ho for Prop 8 are middle class white men with some white women sprinkled in there. Funny enough so is the opposition. Of course the focus of ire was reserved for Blacks even though Asians and Latinos also voted in opposition of it at a greater rate. Blacks only make up 6% of the state and since we (over)populate the Prison Industrial Complex (to the point where the state spends more on prisons than education) you can bet a large percentage didn't even vote at all. 

We're gonna beat that dead horse some more because Blacks were universally blamed from Dan Savage to Andrew Sullivan, curiously enough who retreated with little (Sullivan) or absolutely no (Savage) apology. It irks me to this day!! Marriage equality (as it's poorly termed) doesn't begin to address the complexities involved with this, but let me tell you all something. Equating it with Civil Rights will eliminate many would-be allies each and every time. Marriage can never be equal in a patriarchal society (where a woman is property) but I suppose that's a nuance too subtle for most of the (white) men to get!

For some white gay men it's their only issue of contention and once satisfied they'd return to their self-absorption (white male privilege) without a thought to anyone else's suffering in the world at large. I've barely seen any non-whites involved - and that's not to say that there aren't many who support marriage rights - they'd certainly benefit from it. I was following Jasmyne Cannick's writings during this time (in November) and she took an unpopular stance (for some) by stating it wasn't the biggest priority for her and how the Gay Rights Industrial Complex (my terminology) of mostly white men had hijacked the narrative while refusing to build key relationships with Blacks and other people of color. Just like Eric Holder calling out people's cowardice for ignoring race issues, white people just don't want to hear it. It's uncomfortable and it disrupts privilege. Too bad!

That relationship is further fractured with the implementation of the ridiculous "Gay Is the New Black" meme being used without remorse AND after numerous people let it be known how inappropriate it was. My position has always been to wonder why the Black LGBT "community" allowed this narrative to take hold without protest? Blacks have always been uniquely involved in securing equality - our very lives depended on it. From Crispus Attucks, to Toussaint L'Overture, to the pre-Stonewall activities, to Bayard Rustin, to Barbara Jordan and beyond we've always been down for the cause. 

So now it's okay that everyone else gets to reap the benefits while ignoring our historic contributions? Not on my watch!! We can argue about how gay rights, like feminism will always show cracks along the fault lines of race, ethnicity, gender and class constructs what! White people shouldn't always have to be reminded of how we built this country with our blood, sweat and tears when most of us where brought here by force. The ignorance is very grating and unacceptable.

I don't recall any national protests, major news reports, Olberman or Maddow-style "special segments" or candle light vigils being held for the Black women sent to prison and separated from their families and children for defending their very lives. Where were the local LGBT chapters offering help from them being attacked in the press during the farce of a trial? If you asked the average person they'd probably know about Prop 8 but would have no idea what a "New Jersey 4" is. In case you dear reader are unfamiliar with this case, 4 young women were defending themselves from being raped in 2007 by a man who thought he could make a lesbian straight and a fight broke out. 

The prosecutors apparently didn't believe a Black woman had the right to refuse sex from some jerk on the street while the judge had utter contempt for the women during their trial and sentenced them to terms harsher than men get for killing their wives. If this sounds familiar to a gay bashing or what happened to Brandon Teena it's because it is. Except for the race part - so I guess all bets were off. By the way when you do a search on Google it doesn't even pop up automatically. Why is that? When the LGBT issue is fought from the body of a Black woman there is nobody there for her. 

Even moreso when that she is a transwoman. We all know how the GRIC fails miserably at setting an appropriate agenda and offering the same amount of support for trangendered issues as gay issues. Violence is prevalent and often directed at Black women (and other WOC) in a much higher proportion considering population size. From the violence in mostly Black residential areas to hate crimes, Black women are under assault constantly. Didn't we just hear about a 15 year old who was beaten by two racist cops while in custody? Just look at the life - and death - of Duanna Johnson or all of those whose names fill the pages for the Day of Remembrance. It is not a coincidence and it is not right!  

Yes, there has been some attention - mostly from female bloggers of color -  but it's like a drop in the bucket when all the "leaders" are white and all they care about is "marriage" as the single most important agenda and the media hasn't covered anything else with the same intensity. So if all LGBTs had the right to marry tomorrow how is that going to improve the lives of those women from behind bars or bring back those who didn't survive their attacks? As for me since I consider my time precious and the No on 8 leaders thought they had it in the bag I'd suggest we spend our time actually helping those that need it and would appreciate it. I haven't seen or heard from them since November trying to do anything to rebuild what they tore down. 

Let's focus on what's most important. Tell Essence magazine to get off their "Black Love" nonsense and save some Black women.  Remind the NAACP their purpose is to help all Blacks not just Black men who've been hurt by white cops. Call up GLAAD and the HRC to get off their high horse. Let's not forget the names of the New Jersey 4 and their ages at the time of their attack and subsequent arrest:
  • Venice Brown (19)
  • Terrain Dandridge (20)
  • Patreese Johnson (20)
  • Renata Hill (24)
When are MILLIONS of people going to demand they get justice? 

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Renee said...

WOW when you tell some truth you leave me speechless. Awesome work.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Thanks. I'm officially tired.

Unknown said...

again you are spot on.
i have many friends of color in the LGBT community and I often hear their frustration about this.

Marriage is a touchy subject. what bothers me is that honestly, most of us don't respect that institution but now all of a sudden, it's an issue.

but you are right, we all have to learn how to choose our battles wisely.

Ahma Daeus said...

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William Thomas
National Community Outreach Facilitator
The National Public Service Council To Abolish Private Prisons
P.O. Box 156423
San Francisco, California 94115