by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
If “gay is the new Black,” then it would follow that gays would now be dedicating their collective lives to the struggle against mass Black incarceration, gentrification, austerity, war and capitalist predation. Don’t hold your breath. “Fighting these issues means taking on the ever present elephant in the room, the persistent belief in Manifest Destiny and the right of white Americans to control whatever and whomever they want.”
Freedom Rider: Gay Still Isn’t the New Black
by BAR editor and senior columnist Margaret Kimberley
“Many people who consider themselves leftists are nothing of the sort.”
There is nothing amusing about the expression “gay is the new black.” In essence it means that any concerns about the persistent violation of black Americans’ citizenship rights are supplanted in favor of another group. Very powerful people made marriage equality a reality but they show no inclination to eradicate inequality of any other kind.
Racism directed against black people has a unique and enduring power in this country. Over time we have witnessed, if not the end of other prejudices, at least an end to their respectability. The Supreme Court decision which declared same sex marriage to be a constitutional right brought this issue into very sharp focus. The court made the correct ruling but reactions to it raise very serious questions for black people.
In 2011 New York State made same-sex marriage legal. While laudable, the change came about because a group of wealthy political donors bought enough Republican votes to win the day. Republican legislators were promised protection from primary challenges and given assurances that their support wouldn’t cost them politically. Those negotiations were typical of political deal making that goes on in state capitols every day, but the needs of black people are never given such urgency.
Many supposedly liberal white New Yorkers supported stop and frisk and the arrest quotas that made life hell for black people. These same people may rejoice about the Supreme Court decision, but they have no qualms about gentrifying black neighborhoods or enjoying the myriad other privileges they have in this society.
“The radicalism needed to protect black civil rights is in short supply in this country.”
Gay rights and other issues regarding private behavior are litmus tests for progressives precisely because they don’t demand seriousness about other, more difficult political struggles. It is easy to point at conservatives and their retrograde opinions about gender and sexuality. However, it is much harder to fight against the anti-black racism that endures in this country. It is hard to fight against capitalism and imperialism. It is hard to point out that American aggression has created misery for millions of people around the globe. Fighting these issues means taking on the ever present elephant in the room, the persistent belief in Manifest Destiny and the right of white Americans to control whatever and whomever they want.
The reluctance to tackle the hardest fights isn’t difficult to understand. Eradicating the system of mass incarceration would require not only a tremendous legislative effort but an all-out assault on the racism which is embedded in every aspect of America life. Taking on this monster would require a singular level of commitment that most liberals simply do not have.
The truth is that the radicalism needed to protect black civil rights is in short supply in this country. Many people who consider themselves leftists are nothing of the sort. In a nation that moves ever rightward the term left is damning with faint praise. Progressives or liberals may think themselves very enlightened but were nowhere to be seen when a Democratic president claimed a right to assassinate them, enshrined surveillance into law, or destroyed sovereign nations in order to keep American imperialism in place. They happily accept propaganda which makes wars more likely and adhere to the juvenile belief that one member of the two party duopoly is actually markedly better than the other.
“While gay rights are on the rise, black rights still languish.”
The Supreme Court decision took place on the same day president Obama eulogized State Senator Clementa Pinckney, a victim of the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre. Even as the world mourned a victim of American race prejudice the president felt compelled to speak of Confederate “valor” during the Civil War. While infuriating, his words weren’t at all surprising. His ability to make white people feel comfortable is in large part responsible for his rise to the presidency.
While gay rights are on the rise, black rights still languish. The president lit the White House in the rainbow colors that symbolize gay pride while giving only the most cursory attention to black lives. None of the killer cops or vigilantes who have stolen black lives have been prosecuted by the Obama Justice Department. Waving a rainbow flag is much easier.
Black people have struggled mightily to win some measure of justice. Any future advancements require an acknowledgement that the system we live under is incapable of protecting our rights. If few others are radical then we must certainly be. The path to gay rights victories will not work for black people. It won’t work to end wars, austerity or capitalist predation. Those fights will require a bigger and much more fundamental struggle over the very foundations of this society.
Margaret Kimberley's Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at http://freedomrider.blogspot.com. Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)BlackAgendaReport.com.