Stories like this are part of a pattern.
There’s a telling line that pops up in trend stories — those oft-mocked pieces you see in the New York Times Style section about how there’s a groundswell of well-heeled Upper East Siders taking their pets to doggie yoga or something — that let’s you know that the premise of the article is essentially bullshit. (“It’s too early to say how many X are doing Y, but…”)
That construction popped up in last week’s much-discussed AP story in which some black pastors said that their congregants might sit out this November election rather than vote for President Obama, who endorsed gay marriage, or Mitt Romney, a Mormon:
It’s unclear just how widespread the sentiment is that African-American Christians would be better off not voting at all. Many pastors have said that despite their misgivings about the candidates, blacks have fought too hard for the vote to ever stay away from the polls.
So basically: this is not a real thing, but we wanted to write about it anyhow.
But, yo. This annoying meme. Touré wrote a big column immediately after Obama’s endorsement arguing that the move could cost him in the South and push black voters to stay home. Uh, outside of North Carolina, where exactly was Obama competitive in the South? People were going to make Obama pay at the ballot even though there has been no history of significant electoral consequences for the many black pols who have endorsed gay marriage? What about polls taken even before the president’s announcement that showed black opposition to gay marriage rapidly softening like the rest of the country’s?* It was bald assertion, and he was far from alone in perpetuating it. (Another argument for newsroom diversity: the more people of color you have in story meetings, the more people who might feel qualified to say that a given story about POC pitched by a POC might be on some booshee.)
Over at The Root, I write that another reason that people aren’t sufficiently skeptical about this stuff is this weird idea that black people possess some kind of magical, inelastic antipathy toward gay people.
And this notion seeps unchallenged into our cultural discourse. It’s why, when gay students are greeted with chilly receptions at Morehouse College, the subsequent conversations are about black people’s inclination toward a dislike of LGBTQ …people rather than the peculiar ecosystem of a Baptist-influenced institution of higher education with a self-selecting population.
It’s why, when CNN’s Don Lemon came out, he could say with little pushback that the decision was fraught for him because “in the black community they think you can pray the gay away” — as if the “ex-gay” movement is somehow the singular province of prayerful Negroes.
It’s the reason the “down-low”-brothers-as-vectors-of-HIV myth received such credulous treatment in the mainstream media, as if “the closet” were an invention as black as jazz and as if health officials hadn’t debunked the whole theory anyway.
It’s why, when a prominent black pastor denounces gay marriage, it’s taken as some sort of neat shorthand about the broader attitudes of his race in a way that a random white evangelical leader’s similar proclamation would not. Our homophobia is more potent and obdurate, this premise goes, and not just a mundane old ugliness.
I mean, damn. Even black prejudices get pathologized.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that study on the white working class from the other day and how once you drill down past the topline stuff, you find a lot of variation regarding partisan affiliation, policy preferences and ideology of poorer white folks when you control for stuff like educational attainment and region. Which, yeah! Of course all that stuff matters and complicates the picture.
Why wouldn’t this also be true for black people? I bet frequent church attendance — and living in a place where other people are heavily churched — is a more reliable correlative to one’s beliefs on issues like these than racial identity. My hunch is that education and income matter some, too, although maybe less.
So it’s silly to assume that, say, Rev. Jamal Bryant’s vocal disappointment with President Obama on this issue tells us anything useful about the way “black folks”** feel or even the “black church” feels (even though Bryant himself uses that formulation) when Bryant’s simply touting the official position of his denomination. And it probably matters less that the people who made Don Lemon feel isolated were black than it does that he grew up in and went to college in Louisiana during the 1970s and 1980s. It’s probably safe to say that there weren’t many comfortable spaces there for a gay kid, black or otherwise.
There’s a tendency (especially in the news media) to conflate the leadership of black institutions with black people more broadly. But there are only a few hundred people slipping money into A.R. Bernard’s collection plates each Sunday, and a few thousand folks paying dues to the NAACP. They’ve big megaphones, but limited spheres of influence. Grains of salt, people.
Anyway, go read that essay if you’ve a moment. I’d love to hear some thoughts.
*And after Obama’s speech, the shift was even more dramatic: pluralities of black folk in Ohio and Pennsylvania and solid majorities of black folks in , North Carolina, and Maryland now support marriage equality. The Washington Post had a national poll that found a majority of black folks in favor nationally, but their sample size was small.
** It’s funny how Negroes love to yell that black people aren’t some monolith until that plurality becomes inconvenient to some sanctimonious position they’re trying to take.