President Obama and the Black Male Homosexual
President Obama coming out as supportive of gay marriage has caused quite a stir, not least within the so-called black community itself, which though largely Democrat has often been seen to have a more vocal social conservative strain within – something now challenged by the NAACP Board of Directors who recently passed a resolution saying gay marriage was a “civil right”.
As statistics from the Grio show, just 36 percent of black Democrats support legalizing gay marriage, compared to 61 percent of white Democrats”.
This brings up what Star Parker, the president of CURE (Center for Urban Renewal and Education), calls the Sunday-Tuesday problem – between the “biblical message the [black community] hears in church every Sunday or the big government liberalism they regularly vote for on Election Day Tuesday.”
Anthea Butler in the Religion Dispatches magazine recently sought to typify the reason why the issue of same-sex marriage is “so freighted for African Americans” – and to no surprise she says it isn’t simply about messages being relayed through the “Black Church”.
“Many enslaved African Americans”, Butler writes “were not allowed to marry, and after the Civil War, searched desperately to find their partners. Those who were lucky, married. Weddings were seen as a sign of prosperity, and joy for all in the community”.
So what’s the problem? Surely she knows black homosexuals were fighting in this struggle as well. She goes on:
when the black president says marriage is for everybody, straight or gay, and that it comes out of his faith, it elicits a visceral response from African-American Christians who have staked their spiritual and social lives on the institution of marriage… For them, hearing President Obama support same-sex marriage is sacrilege.
This for obvious reasons is not good enough. Butler is well-meaning, but she doesn’t even answer her own question. To be sure, this only explains why marriage is so important – we are simply to assume that its import is translated into hostility towards same-sex marriage through appeals to tradition. Something specifically formulated, if not reiterated, through the Black Church.
Another theory regarding the perceived cultural condemnation of anti-homosexuality in large parts of the black community concerns two things:
- that since black liberation theology and black cultural criticism concerns itself with what it perceives to be major problems within black life (namely the problem of white supremacy); and
- as Kelly Brown Douglas points out in her book Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective, “blacks cast homosexuality (as well as bisexuality, transgenderism, as well as other sexual practices) as a “white thing”, and not part of black sexual experience.
This notion that homosexuality is a “white thing” can even go all the way to the heart of the black male homosexual act itself. In Benoit Denizet-Lewis’ 2003 cover story for the New York Times Magazine about the so-called “Down Low” culture, he reveals:
Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low (DL). There have always been men — black and white — who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade … Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine.
Not only has there always been men engaging in secret sexual lives, in African communities there is evidence of homosexuality enjoying acceptance as a sexual alternative. Cary Alan Johnson in his book Hearing Voices: Unearthing Evidence of Homosexuality in Precolonial Africa, details the dynamics of accepted homosexuality in many African places, which can be typified as 1 of 4 types:
1-Type 1: between adults and youths (initiatory)
2-Type 2: between men and biological males who have “female“ or “feminine“ male status
3-Type 3: between men of different races or classes
4-Type 4: between mean of equal age, status and class.
As Johnson notes, “Type 2 behaviors were common among the Bara, Bitsileo and Tanala of Madagascar and transvestitism was usual, and in fact marriage to men provided instant status and an acceptable stake in the community for the homosexual male.”
Where these instances are forgotten, such as in the debates that are taking place between the so-called black community and President Obama, we might be as well to look towards Denizet-Lewis’ explanation that “the black community sees “homosexuality as a white man’s perversion”, even where that view is taken in the context of seemingly homosexual acts such as with the “Down Low” subculture.
But today, of course, this has gone far too far, and can certainly no longer legitimately be seen through the lens of slavery alone. Though there is no monolithic opinion, the black church and the black community is clearly, largely, condemning of all homosexuality.
What is clear is that their dismissal of Obama, and the fact they now feel let down by him, is in part due to the notion – which has been present for Obama’s whole presidency – that they feel like he is channeling white supremacist opinion, or even that he embodies this opinion himself.
Now of course with any other black male, accusing him of not only channeling white supremacist opinion but actually embodying it, would be silly – but let us not forget that Obama is of mixed origin. More than just fears of White definitions of sexuality, the issues that have arisen in black America this time have been compounded by an inability by some in the black community to accept Obama as a black person.