Andrew on black homophobia

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Some others have already noted this, but I should chime in. In addressing the anti-gay marriage ballot initiative in Cali, Andrew makes a very curious claim:

There is, alas, no ethnic community as homophobic in America as African-Americans. Which is why the ballot initiative in California could be close.

I don't want to take this too far for a couple of reasons. I don't like the idea of being an apologists for homophobes--least of all black homophobes. Also, I'm concerned that my defense not make black folks think that this isn't an issue worth our attention. But sweeping statements like "no ethnic community [is] as homophobic in America as African-Americans" should induce some serious pangs of skepticism. Are African-Americans really more homophobic than, say, Italian-Americans? Are we really more homophobic than Hasidic Jews? Than Caribbean Americans? Than Puerto-Ricans?

To the direct point, Andrew's argument is wierd. First blacks only make up 6 percent of California's population. Whereas Latinos make up 35 percent of the population. Are Latinos likely to support an anti-gay marriage ammendment? Well here's what we know:

Blacks, like whites, are divided on the issue. In March 2000, when Californians voted on Proposition 22 (the statutory ban on gay marriage that the state Supreme Court struck down in May), a Los Angeles Times exit poll showed that levels of support were very similar among the major ethnic groups, with Latinos slightly more opposed to allowing gays to marry, Asians and whites slightly less opposed, and blacks right in the middle.

Well not exactly in the middle but less homophobic than Latinos. The point is that Latinos were more likely to support the ban, and there actually are more Latinos. I don't want to scapegoat my brown bothers--my sense is that ethnicity is a really bad filter here--for blacks, whites and Latinos. For instance, is homophobia tied to wealth? Is it tied to education? Is it tied to region? What is the best predictor of homophobia? Is it really race? Or is it something like poverty or even church attendance?

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.)

Like I said, lets not make excuses for the thugs amongst us. The black community is being ravaged by AIDS right now, and part of the problem is homophobia. But that's more--not less--of a reason to not generalize. We need credibility, and you don't get that by toting around weak arguments. I've said this before and will say it again: Conservatives want us liberals to stop being soft-headed, politically correct and stick with the facts. Cool. But in return, we ask only the same.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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