October 02, 2007
Racial condescension and the Jena 6
Posted by: Chris
Through almost 15 years of involvement in the gay rights movement, I've frequently heard black and white leaders alike talk about the critical need for "real dialogue" on racial issues. But what follows, in my experience, is a one-way conversation full of condescension and nothing approaching anything "real."
That's because the white liberals who generally speak up feel so burdened by accusations of "white privilege" that their primary goal is simply to say whatever it is they think will most please their black listeners. The only time things get heated is when they guess wrong, much like Bill Richardson mis-pandered when Melissa Etheridge asked him whether being gay is a "choice."
But look what happens when a white person does attempt "real dialogue" on racial issues in the gay rights movement. He is rewarded with additional heaps of condescension from black and white alike, along with the usual unfounded accusations of racism. I'm talking of course about the reaction to my posts about the decision by the Human Rights Campaign to defend the "Jena 6" -- six (black) high school football players who beat and kicked unconscious a fellow student.
As a victim of a violent hate crime myself, I had argued that the gay rights movement should not take up the cause of schoolyard jock bullies who beat up a defenseless fellow student; it mirrors too closely the violence that gay teens and adults already face. I agreed with the Jena 6 protesters that in general the criminal justice system is unfair to African Americans, through not just prosecutorial abuses but from lopsided jury verdicts and harsher sentences. I also pointed out that by arguing the Jena 6 were acting in some racially retaliatory strike, HRC had only succeeded in turning a senseless schoolyard attack into an actual hate crime motivated by race.
Every one of those points was completely ignored by most of those who responded to what I wrote. Instead, they just piled on the condescension and, in some cases, insinuated that I was a racist. Some "real dialogue" huh?
The worst offenders were on the so-called Bilerico Project, a vanity site for Bil Browning (whoever he is) out of Indiana that appears to be an "experiment" in how fun it would be if gay and transgender liberals sat in a virtual circle and nodded and shook their heads in unison. First there was Alex Blaze, a mouthy white 20-something with zero credentials who channels Dana Carvey's Church Lady by wondering, without any support, why in the world I would dare to part from the party line on the Jena 6. Could it be -- could it be, yes it is -- racism!
Sounding a similar note was Michael Crawford -- a Washington, D.C. based black gay blogger who goes by the name Bloggernista. Crawford is a regular comment contributor to this blog and his comments are often thought-provoking and interesting.
But over on Bilerico, Crawford just can't help himself, and instead compares me to Bill O'Reilly in response to my post that questioned the timing of vocal black support for the gay hate crime bill, coming right after HRC joined in the Jena 6 rallies. Rather than address what I actually wrote, Crawford condescends to lecture me on how black leaders have historically supported gay rights issues. Well, duh. I've written many times about black support for gay rights issues and certainly don't need Crawford to lecture me on the subject.
Then there is Rev. Irene Monroe, who kindly forwarded me an op-ed she wrote for the Advocate's website that also disagreed with my position on the Jena 6. Monroe was nice enough in the email to thank me for supporting her early op-ed work while I was editor of the Washington Blade, and her column was thankfully free of condescension. She wrote, in part:
Chris Crain, the former editor of the Washington Blade and the man behind the popular blog and syndicated column “Citizen Crain,” balked at HRC’s president, Joe Solmonese, for appearing at the rally.
“Why pick this case? It doesn't involve discrimination of the type suffered historically by gay Americans. I would agree completely that there is racial discrimination in this country, and that the criminal justice system suffers from prosecutorial abuse, biased jury verdicts and lopsided sentences based on race,” Crain wrote. “But ... why pick the Jena 6, … a case of six bullies who beat, kicked and stomped a defenseless teen unconscious in a schoolyard, as the one for the GLBT movement to take a stand?”
When your identity, like mine, is the intersection of these two marginalized groups, the question is moot. Crain’s question is similar to the mindset of Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King, who said gays never had to sit in the back of the bus. …
Crain’s question, however, cannot be summarily dismissed, because it is an important one. But his question should be hurled at the Goliaths leading the Jena 6 protest and not at the Davids who followed African-American leadership.
For a different reason than Crain’s, I too, ask a question: “Why a rally in support of these six black boys but not the seven black lesbians who defended themselves against an anti-gay attack and were charged with beating and stabbing a white filmmaker? The filmmaker instigated the violence by threatening them and actually trying to choke one of them in the Greenwich Village in August 2006?”
I don't quite get why the question is moot for Monroe, or why she's comparing me to a virulently anti-gay member of the King family, except that for Monroe identity politics trump everything. If that were really true for me, then as a white Southerner I should disagree with the whole point made behind the Jena 6 protesters. But as noted above, I agree with their broader criticisms, just not their selection of these particular civil rights "heroes."
The really unfortunate thing is that you won't read even Monroe's effort to engage what I actually wrote if you see the column on Advocate.com. That's because the editors there decided to paraphrase the five paragraphs above in one sentence:
This is clearly evident in white gay blogger Chris Crain's attack on HRC and its associate director of diversity Donna Payne, a black lesbian, for “inventing a hate crime” in Jena 6.
Mmm, I love the smell of political correctness in the morning. Don't you?
I feel no need to apologize or condescend on racial issues. I have fought for racial equality when it wasn't popular for me to do so. As a freshman at conservative, mostly white Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, I was one of the co-founders of the Racial Environment Project, which was formed in response to some racist slurs found on the walls in student dormitories. Through REP, I lobbied for years for scholarships to improve the racial diversity on campus.
As editor of the Vanderbilt school newspaper and later its magazine, I wrote editorial after editorial criticizing the segregation of fraternities and sororities, which essentially controlled the school's social life. It wasn't until my junior year that for the first time a white sorority pledged a black student. My columns angered the Vanderbilt administration and alums, alienated many Greek friends, and I even wound up moving off campus after receiving threatening phone calls that called me a "nigger white" and a "nigger lover."
I don't write this because I expect a prize or a lot of sympathy, but to explain why I feel no need to apologize to anyone about being white or taking a stand on issues of race. I do believe there's value in real dialogue, and I am ready to listen to substantive responses to what I actually wrote. (I did receive one by email that I'll write about later.)
Until then, I won't hold my breath.
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