Monday, May 23, 2011

"We Shall Overcome": An Indictment of Gay Activism

There are real issues to write about, and I'm sorry that I make my return by writing about none of them. This country is in crisis, and I apologize for my failure to do any part in highlighting that. But some spectacles are so unexpected and jarring that you can do little but ride the crest of your reaction. This is one of them:

I have never opposed gay marriage. I have never argued against the truth that homosexuals warrant the same legal sanctions as everyone else. As far as I'm concerned, this is not only incontestable, but uncontested in the context of my writing. But there's something about that clip that hearkens back to my reaction to the unaccountable tone-deafness of the Prop 8 aftermath. The mixture of annoyance and anger on display in my writing had a reason that might not have been reflected by those semi-coherent screeds, so I'm going to try to give voice to those complaints again. Both because I need to and because I understand my reaction better.

The gay rights movement is not a movement for anything we've traditionally understood as a right. No governmental institution has impeded their right to political representation. No governmental institution has thwarted their ability to use the political process to affect legal change. No governmental institution has removed their ability to vote. No government has made active efforts to create a two tiered society where they are the instantly known and permanently marginalized underclass. No governmental institution has risen up to give the terrorists that exclusively target them and their supporters legal and cultural immunity from any act committed against them. No governmental institution has made an effort to make and enforce laws in ways that disproportionately target and disadvantage them. The American gay rights movement was and is primarily about the right to get married. All other rights are provided for. And all other issues - including ENDA and the repeal of DADT - are rhetorically and materially incidental.

The picture I paint isn't some lazy effort to draw a contrast between the gay rights movement and the civil rights movement. It's a simple and necessary acknowledgment of just a few of the reasons why no contrast can be made. The unflinching conceit which attempts to draw parallels that don't exist isn't a testament to the movement's malice; it's revealing of the demographic make-up that inspires their collective lack of perspective. The one inescapable fact of the "gay rights movement" is that it functions as little more than a mechanism for white suburban outrage. It's a movement staffed by, headed by, popularized by and argued by people who are largely foreign to genuine, systemic disadvantage.

While many of them may understand that being deprived of the right to be married isn't the same as being deprived of the right to have basic societal/political equality, that intellectual judgment is nullified by the emotional unfamiliarity of not having your political wishes handed to you. The defining characteristic of the gay rights movement isn't that it's a "battle for equality", it's that it's a response to and reflection of privilege. They are comfortably well off, conveniently blind to the plight of people-not-them, and genuinely perplexed that even a taste of the behavior that other demographics have experienced can even conceptually be levied toward them.

The gay rights movement was never a response to systemic inequity because that's not an accurate description for what they experience. At its most repugnant, it's an embodiment of white shock; expressed by parties who have the convenience of seeing discrimination as an abstraction. The tortured analogues to the civil rights movement aren't beyond the pale because the unspoken assumption of the movement is that anything unfavorable happening to white suburbanites is equal in spirit - if not in kind - to what happened - and continues to happen - to women and blacks. The outrage isn't inspired by the nature of what they're being deprived of. It's inspired by the parties being targeted for deprivation. It's a movement that's animated less by "How could this happen?" sentiments and more by wondering "How could this happen to us?" That complaint - so blissfully detached from unfavorable realities - has become the hallmark of a privilege that's more prepared to vent about injustices than discern them.

For these people, the civil rights movement is simply a weapon. Useful for the starkness of its imagery and powerful for the now-uncontroversial nature of what it symbolizes. What it was about, what it meant, what it stood for and who was involved are secondary to its popularity. Which is why someone who mainstreamed a book saying that blacks are inherent intellectual inferiors to all other races feels that he's capable of identifying the "Arc of History" by linking the above clip. It's why a throng of smiling, unmolested, exclusively white faces can sing the anthem of the civil rights movement in
side their capitol building without a police presence and not be moved by the irony of how impossible such circumstances were for the people they're trying to invoke.

The wonder of numerical and ethnic privilege is that it can claim victory without ever having to fight. It can borrow the successes of others without request and portray its thievery as consensus. It can disrespect and insult the very people they pretend to respect and be entirely insulated from the substance of minority complaints and any requirement to understand them. It can disgracefully portray themselves as high-minded Freedom Riders fighting the New Civil Rights Battle of the Era and not realize the extent to which they mock black struggles in their pitiful effort to act as self-appointed successors to their legacy.

I have no patience for this anymore. The singular innovation of post-racist/racism thinking is that it can use the presumption of racist-eradication and marginalization as an excuse for never having to confront it. It can think of the problem of racism - and the lingering consequences of its effects - as something that's already been solved, which means they can move on to things post-racists actually want to think about. It's easy to pretend that getting married is an issue when you can look at a 17% unemployment rate (double the national average),
limited economic mobility, a drug war that disproportionately targets and imprisons blacks, and institutionally/systemically enforced discrimination as "Their Problem". It's even easier when they're issues you don't have to look at all. But its convenience serves to enable the very lack of recognition that allows racism to fester. And it lets those who do this operate without ever taking responsibility for the consequences of what they allow.

This isn't to say that gays are any more racist than anyone else. They're likely not. But their adoption of civil rights parallels, civil rights themes and civil rights language makes them responsible for the rather conspicuous lack of civil rights beneficiaries as leaders, activists, politically targeted demographics or even models. Much ink has been spilled fallaciously scapegoating blacks (and promoting the projects of people who scapegoat blacks) for being exceptionally homophobic. One would think that when more has been written about that than has been written about issues that disproportionately affect blacks that they'd be slightly more reluctant to use black history as some kind of event that they're uncontroversial successors to. The glaring lack of concern for those issues has been on display - particularly in the last two years - and it's shamelessly cynical to try and hijack a movement very few of these people seem to genuinely care about for the sake of political gain.

But look. I'm reasonable. Let's say that Andrew Sullivan suddenly apologized for his Bell Curve pushing and tried to analyze blacks from a lens that didn't exclusively relate to their supposed homophobia. Let's say that John Aravosis isn't an obnoxiously repugnant, race-centered anti-Obama partisan that doesn't use glib segregation parallels in service of lies. Let's say that Dan Savage retracted his months of blaming blacks for the passage of Prop 8 despite the fact that the statistics he used were disproven. Let's say that The Advocate and other such gay media sources suddenly started hiring/showing more black people. Let's say that the civil rights parallels died. There's still a basic issue here that not a single activist has tried to or even cared to answer: why should black people care?

The issues they face are related their livelihood, their well-being, their health, their living circumstances, their ability to economically progress, the removal of the institutional mechanisms that stunt that progression and - in the case of the War on Drugs - their freedom. What, exactly, about your ability (or lack thereof) to get married prioritizes that rather insignificant desire over concerns that affect quality/length of life?

As far as I can tell, my fundamental issue with the gay movement is that it subsists on a lack of perspective. It employs hyperbole that deceptively frames the relevance of menial concerns. It makes arguments that present the passage of their pet projects as somehow worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as legislation that affects job growth, economic growth or health care. It plagiarizes the spirit of movements they couldn't care less about and it does so without understanding why they shouldn't. And it argues itself as disadvantaged while using the very mechanisms of privilege to mainstream their issues much faster than any other demographic ever could.

This is not a battle that affects black people. This is not a battle that affects most Americans. I would even argue that this isn't a battle that substantively affects gays. This is a pissing contest for the institutionally and culturally established - be they religious, political or activist in the mold of HRC. And while it may be in service to a supportable cause, its proponents are insulting and corrosive in ways they're too homogeneous to appreciate. In 10-20 years when gays rightfully have "their rights", it's likely that no one will analyze this movement's methods or its cynicism. But for posterity, I simply want to go on record in saying that it did so with incidental success, minimal respect, flagrant dishonesty and limited dignity.

The pursuit of equality is noble and worthy goal. That nobility is tarnished when it's fed by using the inequality of others as marketing gimmick without doing anything to fight it. You don't get to demand supporters and use morally duplicitous "I'm disappointed in blacks! They're black! They should have understood/supported us!" arguments and think you're doing anything but showing the extent of your entitlement and post-racist apathy. While decency and basic common sense dictates that of course gays should get married if they want (it's not like the concept had any prominence before the 90's); decency and basic common sense should also dictate that the "gay movement" in its current form is worthy of neither veneration or support.

There's something deeply, deeply wrong with this movement and its flaws taint the legacy of genuine thoughtful, genuinely relevant social and civil rights movements under the guise of drawing inspiration from them. I wish there were prominent people capable of effectively pointing that out.

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