My Friend Responds to Cannick’s Op-Ed

My friend B2 instant messaged me yesterday to say he’d read my response to Cannick’s Op-Ed. And that he too had been frustrated by her comments. He had been crafting his own response. He sent me a draft of his response to review. I was immediately moved by his words and asked him if I could post his comments here on Loganotron. So, here you go. Here’s my good friend B2′s response to Cannick:

I started reading your op-ed with the hope that some carefully considered, nuanced opinion on the aftermath of the disheartening success of Prop 8 had actually made it into the pages of a couple major media outlets.

But your words veered quickly from a needed, sobering discussion of political strategy to a defensive and puzzling rant over imagined expectations and a family of (unmarried) straw men.

You say you weren’t inspired to encourage black people to vote against the proposition. (Presumably then, you felt the expectation to do so—if only because of your identity—in a way you didn’t for the other props.) And you mock the suggestion that you should prioritize queer marriage over problems like racial profiling and the unequal distribution of wealth, finally concluding that your election concern was simply getting black people registered to vote. So, your priority was not in fact these other issues—which read like rhetorical bombs because they had nothing to do with the election unless they themselves were ballot issues. Your priority was simply to enfranchise black citizens.

But I don’t think people will criticize you for your focus. Which begs the question: Did anyone actually criticize you for not prioritizing gay marriage? That certainly hasn’t been a common criticism in anything I’ve heard or read in the aftermath. It is not a sentiment looming over the remains of No on 8. (This is different from the blame being foisted on the black community, and there have already been a slew of effective responses to this misplaced blame—but creating an imaginary expectation to argue against is not one of them.)

It stands to reason, given your acknowledgment of black voter tendencies, that you avoided the queer marriage issue because you knew it was contentious and, consequently, required considerable energy that could be spent elsewhere. There is a considerable difference between simply saying, “support gay marriage; vote no on prop 8”, and trying to challenge homophobia one-person at a time. So strategy (and you’re lack of inspiration) dictated that you focus on voter reg. Picking your battles is a well-tested political strategy and, again, I don’t think anyone would criticize you for that.

Nevertheless, you seem to defend (against whom, I am not sure) your lack of inspiration by saying that the black community has never been given a good reason to consider the issue of queer marriage “above all else”. This is probably because no one is stupid enough to make this argument in the first place. Again, who ever suggested this should be the black community’s top priority? Many white queer people I know don’t even think it should be the queer community’s top priority.

Your assertion that the white gay community believes this marriage thing is equality’s holy grail is patently ridiculous. Who has seriously suggested this? You may find a handful of people who believe this (but you can find a handful who believe anything), but that says nothing about the general queer community.

I agree that queer marriage is not the most pressing issue of our time, and I’m certain a good deal of the queer community agrees. But this was a proposition initiated by homophobic institutions and people to legislate inequality—a proposition the queer community was forced to respond to. The tone of your op-ed, however, is written as if the white gay establishment put their own proposition on the ballot to protect gay marriage, and then called on the black community to pour their resources into making sure it was passed. This was a response many queer organizations wanted to or felt obligated to undertake because it was an attack on their community. You contrast issues like homelessness, HIV, and unemployment to queer marriage in order to demonstrate how little queer marriage matters, but would you have preferred that no opposition was raised to a ballot proposition to strip rights from a specific group of people?

The No on 8 campaign is not confused about civil rights. Denying a category of humans some right that another category of humans enjoys is a civil rights issue. The only legitimate criticism you can make of the queer community’s use of that language is that it isn’t strategic when speaking to the African American community. (Which is essentially the point you’re making, but which seems to be made at the expense of clarity over what constitutes a civil right.) Your observation that religion is often synonymous with social justice within the black community is one of many things that proponents of gay marriage should understand, and it is the kind of observation that I hoped would dominate your op-ed. Combining this with the other failures you mention, such as the town-hall meetings in Leimert park, demonstrates the serious gaps in perspective that contributed to the failure of the campaign (though it has already been shown that, based on the 70/30 statistic, black voters didn’t determine the prop’s outcome). The op-ed was the perfect chance for a good dose of insight.

But instead you continued by accusing the No on 8 campaign of being composed of people who can afford to be singularly focused. While that may be true for some, you certainly cannot believe that applies to everyone working against the proposition. And an argument like yours (which, with politically-charged rhetoric, contrasts the No on 8 campaign to the black people walking through the projects to register gang members and convicted felons) suggests that if anyone focuses their energy on a single issue they must not care about anything else. The problem with this argument, aside from being utterly bereft of logic, is that someone had to run the campaign. It would make sense that those with the resources to fight would be the people leading the charge.

So you say this is just about white gays, but I’m not even sure what point you are trying to make. It is obviously about queer people, all queer people, even if some have more pressing issues to deal with. Does that mean it’s not worthwhile? I hope you’re not advocating for a social justice movement that only expects people to care about things that affect them. But your suggestion that this campaign operates as though homophobia trumps racism (seriously, who has said this?) leads me to believe you think it has to be one or the other. Why? You can’t possibly believe that people shouldn’t work on different causes? That is, in fact, the only way a comprehensive social justice movement can emerge. And no one is asking you to log your hours for queer marriage. (It would probably be more effective, as you yourself assert, but your priorities and lack of inspiration are certainly justified.) We are talking about writing a single black line next to the word “NO” instead of the word “YES” on a ballot that was already in a person’s hand. That is all that was being asked from almost everyone.

My own assessment of marriage—falling somewhere between the lynchpin of a patriarchal social unit that encourages wealth accumulation and a cute thing that my friends do to show a long-term commitment to each other—is irrelevant. So is yours. It doesn’t matter that I never intend to marry, a right of mine that isn’t under threat. The only thing that matters is that some people don’t have that right.

Your attitude towards gay marriage proponents seems punitive. This is a civil rights issue. It is bigger than any justifiable anger you have towards some of its proponents. Why not write an article about how disappointed you are that the queer community can’t get their shit together to effectively reach out to the black community to beat back this attack? And no one (that I can tell) asked anything from you other than that you draw one black line instead of another on a ballot that was already in your hands. Inexplicably though, your op-ed ends by leaving the reader wondering if you even did that.

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1 comment so far ↓

#1 amy.leblanc on 11.21.08 at 5:38 pm

it’s a great response, particularly the last 2 paragraphs.

a little bit on mz. cannick: she is a writer/critic who takes advantage of hot issues to write or say something decidedly positional in order to get herself some press (unfortunately, this is common among many self-proclaimed “activists”. she’s only out to promote her self, her blog (which is an unabashededly self-promotional trainwreck) and get more traffic. it was entirely sensational, and her arguments barely made any sense. she isn’t really out to solve social justice issues – note quality of the “15 minutes” of fame section on her blog – she’s a niche media whore that follows the hottest topic and she just wants press. i can’t find anything on her website that shows anything substantial that she’s actually DONE in terms of real social change movement except talk a lot of shit. so why care what she thinks?

what’s unfortunate is that people apparently listen to her. sigh.