Commentary Race

Are All Blacks Prejudiced Against All Gays? Beyond the Static View of Race, Sexual Orientation, and Otherness

Prejudice is prejudice, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes. Respect dictates we treat it as such. 

President Obama’s support for marriage equality came just one day after North Carolina voters banned same-sex marriage. Twitter storms followed each development, in which tweeters first declared that black people were homophobic as a group, then just as sweepingly that they were not. Somehow, the North Carolina defeat for marriage equality was seen as proof that all blacks hate all gays, whereas President Obama’s support was proof of the opposite.

This overgeneralization is somewhat similar to some of the commentary in the wake of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. We heard that “black violence” was somehow worse and more endemic than violence committed by non-black perpetrators. This idea was also the organizing principle behind the blog-post that got John Derbyshire fired from the National Review for advising his children to avoid contact with black people who are, Derbyshire argued, statistically more likely to be arbitrarily violent, especially toward whites.

It is not hard to see the racist undertones of all of these arguments, down to the very notion that everyone of a certain “race” has personal character traits that are inescapably and intrinsically linked to their skin color. It is also not hard to find information to disprove them: many blacks in North Carolina opposed the constitutional same-sex marriage ban.   And Justice Department statistics show that most violence is carried out within racial homogeneous communities, so that, for example, black-on-white homicides are a rare exception rather than the rule.

There are, of course, good reasons to pool and parse statistical information about any population using group criteria that may illustrate unequal policy outcomes for individuals associated with those groups. In fact, we expect governments to collect and separate statistics with a view to analysing policy effectiveness and equal access to benefits, rights, and care. Generalizations about groups can also be helpful in visualizing the underlying reasons for inequality and devising strategies to overcome it.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

However, problems arise when our only understanding and interactions with specific people result in our treating them as part of a group and not as individuals. Whatever else may be true about George Zimmerman’s interaction with Trayvon Martin, it is clear from his phone comments to the police dispatcher that he had preconceived notions about Martin’s “dangerousness” even before he got out of the car — preconceptions that therefore only could be based on Martin’s appearance, including his sex, age, color, and apparel, and most likely the combination of all of them.

The corollary of this notion is that one way to overcome racism and homophobia and other “group-isms” is for people to relate to each other as individuals. While it is true that some people are able to reconcile a generalized negative feeling about certain groups (“all blacks are violent”) while nurturing positive sentiments about individuals from that group (“some of my best friends are black”), it is also true that most people start seeing a group differently when they know and love someone who belongs to it. A generally homophobic parent with a gay child may not feel compelled to campaign for marriage equality any more than they did before their child was “out.” However, most will at least start questioning negative portrayals of “all gays” in the media. This is why Derbyshire’s advice to his children to actively avoid contact with blacks is so insidious: it pushes a false notion of otherness that is purposefully static.

Even more serious problems arise when policies that should be informed by data and statistics instead are influenced by such Derbyshire-style perceptions of static and false otherness. The racial profiling of stop-and-frisk practices is one blatant example. Along those lines, Michelle Alexander has amassed examples of situations where police departments target predominantly black communities for aggressive interventions and arrests for drug-related crimes, even where data shows that in that specific state or city, the main users or sellers of drugs are not black. Many of the arguments voiced against marriage equality are equally based on false ideas that all gay people are promiscuous, sexually predatory, or bad parents.

And perhaps this is where the real issue lies. It is almost instinctual for us to organize information about the world around us based on visual cues and personal experiences. And it is equally human to use these cues and experiences to generate assumptions about what might happen and what we should do about it. It is when we confuse trends or, worse, preconceptions with reality that abuse, inequality, and discrimination can take hold.

More disturbingly, negative generalizations about what everyone in a given group wants, thinks, and does help to justify those who actually do. When we portray all black people as homophobic we exonerate individuals of color who feel prejudiced against gays. They are not responsible for their beliefs—their skin color made them do it.

I would not wish to be called homophobic just because quite of lot of individuals who happen to be white make anti-gay remarks. Even less would I want these individuals to be able to brush off their anti-gay sentiments as a natural part of their “whiteness.” Prejudice is prejudice, wherever it comes from and whatever form it takes. Respect dictates we treat it as such.

News Sexual Health

Roundup: Rwanda Aims to Vaccinate All Girls Against HPV

Beth Saunders

Rhode Island's legislative agenda on abortion; Louisiana state rep introduces abortion ban; and Rwanda unveils national campaign to address cervical cancer.

Rhode Island’s legislative agenda on abortion; Louisiana state rep introduces abortion ban; and Rwanda unveils national campaign to address cervical cancer.

  • Rhode Island will look at changing some of their abortion laws in the coming weeks. On deck are provisions that would ban abortions based on sex selection, require an ultrasound prior to an abortion, relaxing the current parental consent law by allowing adult relatives to give permission for a minor’s pregnancy termination, and a fetal homicide law.
  • A state representative in Louisiana has introduced a bill that would ban abortion in the state by expanding the definition of feticide to include pregnant women who seek abortion and the physicians who perform pregnancy termination.
  • Rwanda is unveiling a national plan to vaccinate girls age 12-15 from HPV, a virus that can cause cervical cancer. The action plan is the first of its kind in Africa, and the nation has a particular challenge in that not all of its young female citizens are in school, which is how other many other countries vaccinate their youth. Rwanda is relying on three years’ worth of donated vaccine by Merck, the makers of Gardasil, and an extensive network of community health workers to provide the series of three shots.

Apr 25

Hate Crimes Rise as Homophobia Spreads Across Africa

Ramona Vijeyarasa

Hate crimes against homosexuals are connected to the political, social and legal environment in which they live. And in Africa religious groups are talking about morals but simultaneously stirring hatred directly leading to violence against homosexuals.

Hate crimes against gays and
lesbians, including beatings, do not emerge from nowhere. They are intimately
connected to the political, social and legal environment in which homosexuals
live. It is completely incompatible for religious and political groups to talk
about morals and simultaneously stir hatred that directly leads to violence
against homosexuals. Criminalized in the law, homosexuals are further left with
no protection against, and no redress for, any violence perpetrated against
them by members of the public or police.

 

This virtual disregard
by some political and religious leaders of the risk of inciting further violence against gays and lesbians is no better illustrated than with the examples of Uganda,
Malawi and Kenya. I was shocked to hear that Malawi’s and Uganda’s chilling
response to homosexuality had spread to Kenya, with the arrest of five men at
an alleged gay wedding at the Kikambala beach resort near Mombasa last week. Kenyan
police arrested two of the men, having found them with wedding rings, on the
assumption they were trying to get married.  The other three men were actually reported to the police by
members of the public. Two of them had reportedly been beaten, but nothing has
been said by Kenyan authorities about making anyone accountable for those acts
of violence.

According to the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of
Africa
, following the arrests on February 12, more police have been deployed
to Mombasa while facilities suspected of “hosting homosexuals” will be closed
down. In a country with a shortage of medical doctors, medical professionals
have been relocated to the area to “help the police with quick identification
of the homosexuals through medical examinations” despite being a discredited
test and unquestionably a grave violation of human rights. According to the Penal Code of Kenya, men accused of actual or
attempted “homosexual behaviour” (carnal knowledge of any person or gross
indecency) can be penalised with between 5 to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

What started as a
homophobic and ill-informed decision in Uganda by an MP who proposed an anti-homosexuality bill in Parliament late last
year has effectively turned into an alarming multi-country anti-gay assault that
has and may continue to spread to other African nations. The proposed Ugandan bill,
which has been temporarily “tabled,” includes a provision that places an
obligation on the public to report a homosexual within 24 hours of knowing
someone’s sexual orientation. This is the very sort of provision which sends
the message that the public can turn their homophobic sentiments and take what
they see as the law into their own hands, leading to the type of beatings that
are currently alleged in Kenya.

Following Uganda’s
homophobic legislative proposal, we saw Malawi
follow their lead
, with the arrest on December 28 of two men accused of
conducting a traditional engagement ceremony two days before their arrest,
deemed by the authorities as evidence of behavior contrary to the Malawi Penal
Code. According to Amnesty International, these two men were also
allegedly beaten, this time by the police. With the two men remanded in custody
pending the outcome of the case, arrests continue in Malawi, and gays rights
groups are being forced further underground. If the cases of Malawi and Kenya
do not provide evidence of how anti-homosexual laws and sentiments, voiced by
government or police, incite hate crimes against gays, I am not sure what
further evidence we would need.

In the case of Uganda,
Phumi Mtetwa, executive director of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project based
in South Africa, like others, argues that there is a clear link between the
work of US evangelical Christian groups and the homophobic response: "It’s
very well calculated. It’s exploding at the moment but it’s been happening for
a year and a half. We have proof of American evangelical churches driving the
religious fundamentalism in Uganda." Meanwhile, in Kenya, homosexuality
has been labeled a “vice” by Sheikh Ali Hussein of the Council of
Imams and Preachers while Bishop Lawrence Chai, of the National Council of
Churches of Kenya has similarly spoken out against this so-called immorality.

To me, the most
disturbing aspect of the situation is the apparent support from a significant
proportion of the population on the ground, whether driven by religious groups,
police behavior or their own ignorance. Over 4000 protesters conducted a street
demonstration in Jinja in Uganda, about 40 miles east of the capital, Kampala, on
Monday February 15. The demonstration was organized by pastor, Martin
Ssempa
to show the world that “homosexuality has no place in Uganda”.

There has been,
unsurprisingly, strong and growing opposition to Uganda’s bill and the vilification
of homosexuals in other Africa countries, from around the globe. At this point
in time, the entire international community needs to unite against the
incitement of violence that we are witnessing. For this reason, among others,
it is also important not to label all religious groups as responsible,
particularly since some religious groups, including Christian leaders in the
US, have released a statement
condemning the Ugandan bill and resulting violence. What is undeniable, however,
is that any political or religious statement that is made condemning
homosexuality is equivalent to condoning violence and encouraging lawlessness.
Any individual or group making vilifying statements is as responsible for the
violence that results as if committed by their own hands.