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    October 02, 2007

    Racial condescension and the Jena 6

    Posted by: Chris

    Jena_6 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?

    Alexbio_2 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.

    BloggernistabioBut 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?”

    Irene_monroe Wow -- she's responding to what I actually wrote! Is there actually hope for real dialogue? Read on…

    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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    1. Lonely In Long Island on Oct 2, 2007 5:31:52 PM:

      The story's getting worse and worse! Now a bunch of white kids at LSU made a video in blackface of the incident and posted it on Facebook! WTF is wrong with the south. The Civil War is over people, it's time to move on.

    1. Jim in Virginia on Oct 2, 2007 5:34:40 PM:

      It is a shame that you are being dumped on by people who would be wise to listen to you, Chris. I don't always agree with your take on issues but your intellectual honesty and goodwill are above reproach.

      Sadly, it seems that there is little real desire for resolution of these burning issues by any of the self-appointed representatives of the parties involved. We only seem to have armed camps that want to screech at one another and punish anyone who dares to stray off the plantation.

      Honest dialogue might ultimately resolve too many issues and ruin the political fundraising that supports groups like HRC and the Rainbow Coalition.

      Your mistake was to expect rabid partisans to behave like intellectually honest persons of goodwill. Unfortunately, I doubt we will find many of those in any of the interest group organizations from either the left or right.

    1. dcposter on Oct 2, 2007 6:29:30 PM:

      i'm heartened when i see someone take the time (and space) to respond to the always-too-short-and-silly attacks of people who aren't very serious thinkers. thanks for doing it, chris. petty attacks like theirs cheapen the real ones and destroy a chance at real debate.

    1. Yevgeniy in Baltimore on Oct 2, 2007 10:02:06 PM:

      sounds familiar. when i made a post on my blog saying that while there is injustice in the Jena 6 case, and i do not believe the kids should be charged with attempted murder, it is not like they did nothing wrong. provided it is true that 6 guys attacked 1 guy.

      i was immediately accused of whitewashing white racist teens who hanged the nooses from the tree but "do not have a single racist bone in their bodies".

      sometimes the "race" conversation get pretty one-sided. people are just afraid of speaking, because it is very easy, as you can see, to twist words.

    1. bilerico on Oct 3, 2007 7:37:26 AM:

      I feel obliged to point out to your readers that you have a couple of facts wrong here in your zeal to paint yourself as the victim.

      #1 - Alex isn't white. He's hispanic.
      #2 - He didn't call you racist as you keep claiming.

      Also, you should share with your readers why you actually don't like the site. You applied to be a contributor and you weren't accepted. You've sent us guest posts that we haven't published (although we HAVE published others). And you've sent nasty, hateful diatribes to the editorial staff berating us for not recognizing how fabu you are and quickly became another one of those crazy stalkers that e-mail constantly with fantastic conspiracy theories.

      So while you can find it convenient to pick out three of our contributors' posts that have mentioned you in a negative manner (you forgot the other couple from Rebecca Juro and Marti Abernathey) and you can try to denigrate the site, you still try to get published on the Bilerico Project.

      So why not call this what it is? Sour grapes.

    1. bilerico on Oct 3, 2007 7:40:53 AM:

      As well, since the picture of Alex is copyright by the Bilerico Project and you have been asked to remove it from your site, I will ask again publicly for you to remove it. As a former newspaper editor you should know that if you'd like to use a Copyright image you have to have the permission of the owner. You do not. Please remove it from your site.

    1. Bloggernista on Oct 3, 2007 8:56:35 AM:


      My post in disagreement with you was not condescending nor did I ask you to apologize for being white. I was a little snarky, but no more so than you were in questioning the timing and motivates of Black leaders coming out in support of the hate crimes bill and HRC joining in the condemnation of the racial injustice that continues in the South.

      If you indeed have written often about Black support for LGBT equality and don't need me to lecture you on this subject, then you should also understand that there was not some political quid pro quo that prompted African-Americans to speak in support of the hate crimes bill. It was a matter of timing as you say, but the timing was determined by the timing of events in the Senate and not the timing of the Jena 6 rallies.

      And for the record, Bilerico Project for which I am a contributor is not "gay and transgender liberals sat in a virtual circle and nodded and shook their heads in unison" as you say. Just look at the vigorous debate going on now about ENDA. It is in fact the kind of real dialogue you say that you value.

    1. Citizen Crain on Oct 3, 2007 12:45:23 PM:

      Bil, I see you are as allergic to the truth as you are to real dialogue. As you know, the brief email discussion about whether I might occasionally contribute to Bilerico took place months ago and has absolutely nothing to do with my criticisms of your site. Our more recent exchanges were about your refusal to allow me space to respond to barrage of posts attacking me on your site (I've lost track of how many at this point), even while you claim to value real dialogue.

      My criticisms of Bilerico stem from the fact that you have held your site out as a place for real dialogue and yet refused to allow anyone whose views are right of far-left to participate. That's not real dialogue. You had the opportunity to create something new and different and yet you created another Internet ideological circle jerk. Just what we needed! It's not just unfortunate, because it perpetuates ideological isolation, a disturbing trend on the Internet, it's also just boring.

      As for Alex, you know very well that (1) he insinuated repeatedly in his post that my (granted) emotional reaction to the HRC/Jena 6 issue was because I am racist, never crediting the explanation I offered, which is that the brutal attack in Jena reminded me of my own; (2) I asked Alex repeatedly how he identified and he wouldn't tell me, though Hispanics are considered white; (3) the fair use exception to copyright law allows me to use his photo on my site to illustrate who it is from your site I was talking about. It's called the First Amendment, Bil, and it also allowed you and Alex to run MY photo from MY blog inside a T-shirt with the name "Little Miss Stubborn." I know you have a different set of rules for the ideologically blessed and the heretical on your site, but the rest of the world doesn't operate that way.

    1. Citizen Crain on Oct 3, 2007 12:56:17 PM:

      Bloggernista, I hear your assertion that the hate crime support was mere timing and not scratch-your-back for the Jena 6, but how do you know that? I admit to being perfectly capable of being snarky myself but I didn't even reach a conclusion in that post because I don't know the answer.

      You say the prominent black support came because of events in the Senate but the votes that took this place were anticipated several times before, as early as July, and the NAACP and these other folks didn't speak out then. The anti-gay campaign by black ministers has been very public since at least April, and yet the NAACP and these other academics waited until now to say something? Did they think that coming in at the 11th hour was the most effective way to offer support? Why not say something at the time? Why not say something more than a month ago when Steve Cohen and the other gay-friendly white congressmen from black districts were being targeted? (See background: http://tinyurl.com/34krdu)

      I'm not saying the answer is necessarily scratch-your-back because I don't know. But I think you know me better than to assume I need a lecture about black support for gay issues. In fact the whole thing wasn't becoming of you, since I usually find your contributions to this cite to be interesting and to advance the dialogue.

    1. Jack Jett on Oct 3, 2007 2:59:02 PM:

      I have never seen the word "racist" thrown around so much.
      Here is my question for Bill Browning whose work I respect

      If I think that the guy beat up in Jena deserves justice for his crime....does that make me a racist?

      If I happen to disagree with the HRC getting involved in a non GLBTQ event....does that make me a racist?

      Am I a racist for asking these questions?

      I will say that the valuable lesson I have learned from all this is to be careful throwing around the term homophobic because someone doesn't support every GLBTQ issue that I believe in.

      Racist seems to be such a slanderous term. To refer to Mr. Crain as one because his belief system is different than yours seems a bit extreme. The issue of taking down a photo seems petty at best. The fact that Mr. Crain has submitted work to The Bilerco Project should prove that he has in the past been open to a dialogue. If he were such a racist why would he want to be part of your project? Your attempt to throw this in his face, again, reflects poorly on your point of view.

      However, I do admire people who comment and post their real name and stand behind their beliefs.

      Jack Jett

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Oct 3, 2007 5:19:41 PM:

      It is, Jack.

      People like Bil Browning throw "racist" as a means of social control. They know that it makes most people cower like whipped puppies; therefore, they use it, or threaten to use it, as a means of demanding obedience to their viewpoint.

    1. Marti Abernathey on Oct 3, 2007 8:27:06 PM:

      I've repeatedly exposed your weakness in the legal realm, here's another glaring example.

      1961 Report of the Register of Copyrights on the General Revision of the U.S. Copyright Law

      Activities that courts have regarded as fair use:

      “quotation of excerpts in a review or criticism for purposes of illustration or comment; quotation of short passages in a scholarly or technical work, for illustration or clarification of the author's observations; use in a parody of some of the content of the work parodied; summary of an address or article, with brief quotations, in a news report; reproduction by a library of a portion of a work to replace part of a damaged copy; reproduction by a teacher or student of a small part of a work to illustrate a lesson; reproduction of a work in legislative or judicial proceedings or reports; incidental and fortuitous reproduction, in a newsreel or broadcast, of a work located in the scene of an event being reported.”

      Maybe you should go back to traditional media where your various degrees actually matter. Obviously you don't get the whole blogging thing. I'll try to explain this in an easy way for you. People come to a blog because they like your content and enjoy your writing style.

      On that note, I'm curious why your sitemeter stats aren't publicly available.

      Michael, are you serious? Chris Crain actually wanting an opposing viewpoint? Do you remember his time at the Blade?

      Bil's right on. It's Sour grapes on SOOOO many levels.

    1. Citizen Crain on Oct 4, 2007 12:56:59 AM:

      Marti, my use was "to illustrate or clarify the author's remarks," allowing my readers to see who Alex Blaze was. I did the same thing with your photo. The rest of your post is such a baseless and silly personal attack that I won't even go there.

      I will give you this. You trans folk have a lot of balls (pun intended), demanding we wait for our civil rights until you get yours and then actually attacking us when a significant number of us have the temerity to cry foul.

      Congratulations for not only mucking up our effort to win our civil rights, but sowing great division and derision within our community.

      We'll just have to wait and see how it all turns out.

    1. Marti Abernathey on Oct 4, 2007 5:04:24 AM:

      Baseless? Of course you won't comment... because there isn't anything to say.

      "I will give you this. You trans folk have a lot of balls (pun intended), demanding we wait for our civil rights until you get yours and then actually attacking us when a significant number of us have the temerity to cry foul."

      Do you wear glasses? I'm not really sure how you can see the world like you do without some kind of perverted pair of opticals.

      I know it burns you to no end, but the COMMUNITY spoke with one voice. Shall we look?
      National Association of LGBT Community Centers
      National Black Justice Coalition
      National Center for Lesbian Rights
      National Center for Transgender Equality
      National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs
      National Coalition for LGBT Health
      National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
      National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Inc.
      National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce
      National Stonewall Democrats
      National Transgender Advocacy Coalition
      National Youth Advocacy Coalition
      ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
      Al-Fatiha Foundation for LGBTIQ Muslims
      American Institute of Bisexuality
      BiNet USA
      Bi Mental Health Professionals Association
      Bisexual Resource Center
      Bi Writers Association
      Campus Pride
      COLAGE (Children of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere)
      Equality Federation
      Equality Project Investor Advocates
      Faith In America
      Family Pride Coalition
      Freedom to Marry
      Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders
      GLSEN – the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
      The Gender Public Advocacy Coalition
      International Foundation for Gender Education
      Immigration Equality
      International Federation of Black Prides
      Lambda Legal
      Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program at Human Rights Watch
      Matthew Shepard Foundation
      Metropolitan Community Churches
      Mautner Project: the National Lesbian Health Organization
      New Ways Ministry
      Out & Equal Workplace Advocates
      Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
      Pride At Work, AFL-CIO
      Queer Muslim Revolution
      Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodists)
      Sigma Phi Beta Fraternity
      Transgender American Veterans Association
      Transgender Law and Policy Institute
      Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
      TransYouth Family Advocates
      Unid@s, the National Latin@ LGBT Human Rights Organization

      State Organizations: (grouped by state, alphabetically)
      Equality Alabama
      Equality Arizona
      Arizona Transgender Alliance
      Equality California
      Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center
      Transgender Law Center (California)
      AMBI (California)
      Equal Rights Colorado
      Love Makes A Family (Connecticut)
      Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, D.C.
      Equality Florida
      MEGA Family Project (Georgia)
      Idaho Equality Committee of Your Family Friends and Neighbors
      Equality Illinois
      Indiana Equality
      Indiana Transgender Rights Advocacy Alliance
      One Iowa
      Kentucky Fairness Alliance
      Equality Maine
      Equality Maryland
      Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition
      Triangle Foundation (Michigan)
      Michigan Equality
      OutFront Minnesota
      Faith Family Fairness Alliance – Minnesota
      Equality Mississippi
      PROMO (Missouri)
      Montana Human Rights Network
      Forward Montana
      Citizens For Equal Protection (Nebraska)
      Garden State Equality (New Jersey)
      New Jersey Lesbian & Gay Coalition
      Gender Rights Advocacy Association of New Jersey
      New Hampshire Freedom to Marry Coalition
      Concord Outright (New Hampshire)
      Seacoast Outright (New Hampshire)
      PFLAG-New Hampshire
      Equality New Mexico
      Empire State Pride Agenda (New York)
      New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA)
      New York Trans Rights Organization
      Equality North Carolina
      Equality Ohio
      EqualityToledo Community Action
      Kaleidoscope Youth Center (Columbus, OH)
      Trans Ohio
      Basic Rights Oregon
      Equality Advocates Pennsylvania
      PA Diversity Network
      Northeastern PA Rainbow Alliance
      Marriage Equality Rhode Island
      South Carolina Equality Coalition
      Alliance For Full Acceptance – South Carolina
      SC Gay & Lesbian Pride Movement
      Trans Carolina (South and North Carolina)
      Equality South Dakota
      Tennessee Equality Project
      Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition
      Equality Texas
      Equality Utah
      R.U.1.2? Community Center (Vermont)
      Equality Virginia
      Equal Rights Washington
      Gay City Health Project (Washington)
      Fair Wisconsin
      Center Advocates (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
      Wyoming Equality

      Recent Additions:

      World Professional Association for Transgender Health, Inc. (WPATH)
      FTM International
      PFLAG South Carolina
      GenderPeace (Ft. Worth, Texas)
      PRIDE Institute of Texas
      A Chance For Change (Substance Abuse Education and Prevention)
      Milwaukee LGBT Community Center
      Muhlenberg College Gay Straight Alliance (Allentown, PA)
      Fight OUT Loud
      Florida’s Advocacy Coalition for Transgender Equality (FACT: Equality)
      Campus Alliance for Progress
      National Student Genderblind Campaign
      FTMI Ohio
      FTMI San Buenaventura
      FTMI San Diego
      FTMI San Francisco
      Soulforce Q
      PFLAG Transgender Network (PFLAG TNET)
      Atticus Circle
      New Jersey Stonewall Democrats
      SpeakOut Boston
      Ingersoll Gender Center (Seattle, WA)
      National Lesbian and Gay Law Association
      Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center of Colorado
      The Network/La Red (Boston, MA)
      Queers for Economic Justice
      Houston GLBT Political Caucus
      Houston Transgender Unity Committee
      Texas Association of Transsexual Support
      Trans Equality LA

      This wasn't a transjacking, as you love to call it. It was a statement of unity by almost the entire GLBT community that we're all in this together.

      That's "division and derision within our community" to you? Wake up and smell the unity.

    1. North Dallas Thirty on Oct 4, 2007 2:00:31 PM:

      "Baseless? Of course you won't comment... because there isn't anything to say."

      Pretty much.

      I mean, I'm speechless that someone who criticizes Chris for not having a Sitemeter link on his site doesn't have one on the one to whom she links.

      Furthermore, your ability to interpret US law should be judged by the fact that you cited the wrong section, without reference.

      Far more apt would be USC Title 17, Chapter 1, Section 106A ( http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000106---A000-.html ), in which it is specifically asserted that the author of a work shall have the right "to prevent any intentional distortion, mutilation, or other modification of that work which would be prejudicial to his or her honor or reputation".

      Such as your lovely little graphic, which is clearly prejudicial to Chris's honor or reputation.

      Furthermore, Chris followed fair use quite nicely ( http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode17/usc_sec_17_00000107----000-.html ); he attributed, he used a small portion, and he did not do so in a way that materially affected the work's value or message -- versus your manipulation.

      Simply put, Marti, you're a bully. And like most bullies, you are a thug who tries to get what they want by force.

      Ain't working.

    1. Sean on Oct 6, 2007 11:06:51 AM:

      Thanks Chris for posting the edited out paragraphs from Rev Irene Monroe's editorial in The Advocate. It gave a totally different perspective to what was actually printed. I too am frustrated like you are Chris by all these comparisons and telling us what we in the GBLT community should support. I find it hard to support at least one of the Jena 6 who apparantly is being sentenced based on his past record as a hoodlum for assualt. But at the same time I don't see how this as a strategy for GBLT rights, supporting this case helps our community.

    1. bildekor on Aug 11, 2008 7:44:18 PM:

      Quite nicely written actually, i like it. :)

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