(This is cross-posted at my place.)
I don’t know why Andrew Sullivan continues to pontificate about black people, since it’s clear that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. For example, today, he closed a brief post on white evangelicals and gay marriage with this little “observation”:
Black evangelicals are another matter. There is, alas, no ethnic community as homophobic in America as African-Americans. Which is why the ballot initiative in California could be close.
Sullivan doesn’t backup this claim with any data, which is unfortunate, because if he had bothered to do a little bit of research, he would have found a fair amount of evidence to suggest that his assertion isn’t necessarily the case. But first, let’s parse Sullivan’s statement a bit. He’s making two (really broad) claims: African-Americans are the most homophobic ethnic community, and African-Americans are more likely to support anti-gay marriage ballot initatives than the average (read: white) American.
With regards to the first claim, a Pew Forum survey released this June found that, at least when compared to white Americans, African-Americans are somewhat more likely to voice opposition to gay marriage (56 percent versus 49 percent) and significantly more likely to oppose civil unions (53 percent versus 39 percent). That however, doesn’t tell the whole story. For one, those numbers have decreased (folks have become more tolerant) since 2004, and there’s no reason not to expect that to continue as time progresses. Furthermore, Pew didn’t present a full ethnic breakdown, or even a breakdown which included Americans of Asian, and Hispanic descent. Absent those numbers, it is impossible for Sullivan to assert (again, without any evidence) that African-Americans are the most homophobic “ethnic community.”
Sullivan’s second claim is a bit easier to address. The 2004 presidential election provides a lot of data on this front, since anti-gay marriage initatives were on the ballot in several states, and more importantly, a good chunk of those states – Mississippi, Ohio, Michigan – have significant African-American populations. Considering black attitudes on homosexuality, you’d expect that blacks would be more likely to support said initatives than whites. The LA Times found, however, that contrary to expectations, blacks were marginallyless likely to support anti-gay marriage initatives than whites:
When constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage were on 11 state ballots in November 2004, blacks in Arkansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio and Oklahoma were at least one percentage point less likely than whites to vote for them, according to CNN exit polls. Only in Georgia were blacks slightly more likely to vote for the amendment. (The remaining four states had too few blacks to make a meaningful comparison.)
Moreover, it’s not necessarily the case that black homophobia translates to opposition to civil rights for gays:
In the most comprehensive study to date of black-white differences in attitudes toward homosexuality, Gregory B. Lewis of Georgia State University combined data from 31 national surveys conducted between 1973 and 2000. His study, published in Public Opinion Quarterly, concluded that “blacks appear to be more likely than whites both to see homosexuality as wrong and to favor gay-rights laws.”
And it is especially worth noting that African-Americans routinely elect and reelect black politicians with strong stands on gay rights:
Across the country, black voters repeatedly reelect African American politicians who support gay rights. The nation’s two black governors have forcefully backed gay marriage — and each has spoken movingly about accepting gay people in his own family. Californians have seen Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums preside over an extraordinary series of weddings this summer, including the union of one lesbian couple that incorporated the traditional African American wedding practice of jumping over a broom.
Openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has said African Americans in Congress are, “with no close second, the most supportive group for gays and lesbians” — more supportive even than the gays in Congress, he added dryly, if you count those who are in the closet.
If I had to offer a convincing explanation for this is the case, I’d say that A) African-Americans are too concerned with pocketbook and law & order concerns to worry about gay people (obsessing over gay marriage is a hobby of the middle and upper middle class), and B) the language of civil rights is still very salient for African-Americans, and the LGBT communities use of that language has, on some level, been successful in drawing black sympathy.
Regardless, even though it is certainly the case that many African-Americans hold negative views of homosexuality (influenced largely by the conservative theology common in most black churches), it is very hard to say that African-Americans are the “most homophobic” ethnic community, and it’s simply wrong to assume that that translates into political action against LGBT Americans. Sullivan should really try doing a little research before breathlessly posting about these things.