Race, Superstition, and Marriage Equality

[A. Serwer]

So like Ta-Nehisi, I've been pretty frustrated with the way that many on the left have simply embraced the idea that black people are standing in the way of marriage equality. The coverage in the fallout of proposition 8, which relied almost entirely on a CNN poll which had a sample of black men so small it couldn't be measured, but showed 70% of black folks voting for the measure, basically gave the entire press a pass to blame Prop 8's passage on black people. Nate Silver's analysis showed this interpretation of the results to be factually incorrect. Ironically, it was only a few months earlier that conservatives had latched onto the Community Investment Act to try and blame the financial crisis on black homeowners--an explanation liberals ridiculed--rightfully so--as racist. And yet this is pretty much the same thing.

I decided to cover the fight for marriage equality in DC partially out of sheer frustration with the way black voters had been portrayed as an anonymous, homophobic hive mind in the aftermath of Prop 8. It haven't attempted to sugarcoat homophobia in the black community--rather my intent was to make sure that there were names and histories attached to the people fighting on both sides, so at the very least, when we were talking about this issue, we would be talking about people, about individuals. They say journalism is the first draft of history--this time I wanted to make sure that the people involved in this fight had a history people could look to. I'm not the best reporter in the world, I'm really pretty new at this. I also don't have TNC's reach, but no one can say the information isn't out there.

Frank Rich though, is another story. Let's take a look at that statement again:

Some speculated that the president is fearful of crossing preachers, especially black preachers, who are adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage.

"Some speculated"? This is--and I don't use this term lightly--a construction of Michael Goldfarb-like dishonesty. "Some speculated"? Rich isn't an investigative reporter, he's not talking to anonymous whistleblowers inside the government, but he can't put a name, let alone an argument, to this evaluation.

There's a reason for that--the argument doesn't even make sense on its own merits. Obama's two most high profile religious supporters in the black community are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, both of whom are on record supporting marriage equality. And you know what? I'd be surprised if either of them could get Obama on the phone--let alone the anonymous "black preachers" of Rich's fantasy. Understand though, the "black preachers" aren't people with individual opinions, they're part of the same anonymous mass of black homophobia that single-handedly passed Prop 8.

Rich's analysis also just completely ignores the prevailing political dynamic in the black community, really, in the country as a whole right now. Barack Obama is the most popular black political figure in history--there's a reason why black religious figures opposed to marriage equality evoke his personal religious statements against marriage equality rather than criticizing him for his promises to repeal DOMA or DADT. He's popular--and while he's popular throughout the country, he's still on another level when it comes to support from black voters. Obama isn't running for reelection this year--the people Frank Rich is talking about need Obama more than he needs them. Can anyone name a single "black preacher" Obama has appeared with since the election by name without googling it? There's a reason why, despite Obama's silence/dismissiveness to questions about the specific problems black folks are facing, you haven't seen any black civil rights organizations criticize him. Maybe they should. But there's a reason they aren't.

Is marriage equality just another bargaining chip for the administration to advance other elements of its agenda? Maybe, but there's no evidence black people are the reason for that--seriously, we can't even get Obama to answer a direct question about what he's doing to address problems in the black community, let alone dictate to him what he should do when. The downside of being this consistently loyal to the Democratic Party is that they don't have to care what you think--and that was true even before Obama. Politicians are beholden to the people whose support they are seeking, not those whose support they already have.

I've heard scientists complain about intelligent design because it's essentially anti-science: it substitutes superstition for scientific inquiry. The belief that black voters are the major obstacle to LGBT rights is essentially superstition; it fills the gaps in our knowledge with what we already want to believe. Superstition is no more forgivable for a journalist, or an opinion columnist--than it is for a scientist.