Op-Ed: Are Black People More Homophobic Than White People?

May 19, 2013
By

By Sidney Fussell

Simply put, no. Black people are not “more” homophobic than white people. That’s a myth. But here I want to unpack what purpose this myth serves for the status quo and how this myth distracts from white homophobia.

White dominated LGBT organizations such as GLAAD, NOH8, and the It Gets Better campaign mobilize celebrity advocacy,  fundraise, and garner online support, their efforts consistently erase black support for LGBT causes, compounding a dangerous myth about black homophobia. As feminists have discussed, when LGBT organizations forgo intersectional approaches, they ignore how homophobia intersects with other oppressions: gender, income, location, and of course, race. At the same time that black LGBT folk and allies are erased in the work of these organizations, homophobia is regularly coded as black. While gender, income, and location are routinely omitted in white progressive discussions of homophobia, they negotiate race differently. Specifically, blackness is emphasized while whiteness is elided completely, guided by a type of “selective colorblindness.”

Consider the following: Discussions of Frank Ocean’s “coming out” or Prop 8’s November passage in California routinely discuss homophobia in the “hip hop,” “urban,” and “black” communities, but the uniformity of homophobia among white conservatives, the around the block support for Chik-Fil-A, the Family Research Council’s dubious support for the Ugandan death bill, never elicit a critique of the “white community” and white homophobia. White homophobia doesn’t have a race.

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By only emphasizing race in instances of black homophobia, white progressives tacitly imply some hidden aspect of black culture itself that causes homophobia. In actuality, homophobia manifests differently in different spaces, based on the identities, resources, etc. of the people who inhabit them. This cultural meme of reflecting structural problems onto black folk is not unique to homophobia. This same trope displaces misogyny onto, where else, “hip hop culture.”

Certainly there is room within black publics to reflect on homophobia and many writers have done just that. But the selective colorblindness of white liberals obscures white complicity in homophobia, absolving whiteness as a factor in the American dissemination of homophobia. So while the NAACP endorsement of same-sex marriage is seen as the Black community reconciling traditions with new calls for equality, Republicans  blocking the Violence Against Women Act so it won’t protect victims of same sex domestic violence is not seen as a similarly emblematic of whiteness.

This is most acutely problematic because the fight against oppression demands a plurality of supporters. Any form of progress requires an understanding of the disparate ways homophobia arises in peoples’ lives. And intersectional resistance is not possible as long as “progressive” organizations capitulate to narratives of black inferiority, savagery, and inhumanity, which equations of blackness and homophobia are wont to do.

Even in 2013, black people don’t control our own image. Instead, we must negotiate our images and our identities based on very narrow representations in media. The moderate left, unwilling and unable to critique whiteness and its complicity in prejudice, instead transfers the racialization of homophobia onto black communities. Instead of positing whether whites or black are “less” or “more” homophobic, LGBT folks, allies, and advocates should be interested in “how” and “why.” Understanding how homophobia manifests in different ways and different communities allows us to create culturally specific strategies to curb ramifications of homophobia in black, white Latino, Asian, and Native communities.

_______________________________________

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Sidney Fussell is a 24 year old freelance writer, occasional stand up comedian, and full time videogame enthusiast from Little Rock, Arkansas. His research interests include kyriarchy,  simulated violence, dismantling compulsory heterosexuality, mental health, and humor. His writings include intersectional feminist criticism of role playing games, the gendered dynamics of “trash talking” in online videogames, and the pedagogical potential of stand up comedy. Forthcoming projects include analyzing the construction of “post-oppression” mythologies by social media advocates and dissecting the racial anxieties of “ironic” racism. He can be reached via twitter or his wordpress.

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  5. Ed Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    This piece totally fails to address the statistical data concerning homophobia among black Protestants–that’s a pretty huge oversight. Consider:

    http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ps_wp

    “In 1988, whites, African Americans, and persons of other races were uniform in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is almost no difference across racial groups, with 68% in each expressing opposition or strong opposition to same-sex marriage. By 2004, we see considerable liberalization among whites and persons of other races, and this liberalization continues for whites in 2006 and 2008. Between 1988 and 2004, white opposition to same-sex marriage declined to under 54%, and it dipped to under 46% by 2008. Opposition to same-sex marriage also declined substantially for those of “other” races, decreasing to under 40% in the 2004 survey, and fluctuating between 45% in 2006 and 43% in 2008 (relatively small numbers and shifts in GSS sampling frames probably account for the fluctuations between 2004 and 2006). Yet, African American opposition did not decline substantially between 1988 and 2006. In 2006, 64% of African Americans remained opposed to same-sex marriage. Data from 2008 show that opposition did lose ground between 2006 and 2008, falling nearly 6 percentage points—a larger shift in two years than was observed in the previous 18 years.”

    In this recent Pew poll, Black Protestants continue to support gay marriage at rates lower than any group in the US other than White evangelicals: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide3.php About half of white folks support gay marriage today, while only a little more than one-third of black folks do: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide6.php

    I understand the argument for not focusing on race, but let’s be real: there is in fact a stark demographic divide in terms of support for gay rights depending on race and religious affiliation. We’re not going to get anywhere on this issue by burying our heads in the sand; black churches need to get their proverbial shit together when its comes to preaching homophobic policies.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      I feel like your argument is leaving out the fact that blacks in the US are overall more religious than whites. If rates of homophobia among blacks are higher than whites, it is because there is a correlation between being religious and being homophobic. This shows that homophobia has nothing to do with race and everything to do with religious attitudes towards LGBT people.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Actually according to the chart you posted, White evangelicals appear to have a bigger problem with same sex marriage than black protestants do! It appears that both black AND white churches need to get their shit together. Which I think is the point of this article–homophobia exists across the board, among all races, but black people are still seen as more homphobic.

    • lorus on May 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for proving the writer’s point with this stupid ass comment. You continue to place this onus on black communities as exceptionally homophobic, that’s the problem. The author is not saying homophobia within black communities is not a real thing, and that there shouldn’t be reform within black communities/churches/whatever. What the author is saying is that this absolves white people from having to confront their own whiteness and the ways in which homophobia (and misogyny, etc) within white communities are left somehow unmarked or unnoticed. What I mean is that no one feels compelled to take several polls showing just how homophobic white people are because that would require a critique of whiteness itself and apparently that’s scary. No one is burying their hands in the sand, black people have written about homophobia in their communities and it’s not like they don’t know it exists, but we continue to perpetuate this myth that black=more homophobic and yet the scores of homophobic white people are just exceptions, not at all indicative of a huge problem within whiteness/white communities. Personally, I have seen the most virulent and disgusting homophobia in my life coming from white people, not people of color but I guess we can still keep pretending white people are always the good progressive ones. PLEASE!

    • D on May 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

      If there were equal numbers of whites and African Americans in this country, ratio-based analysis would make more sense. But according to the 2012 US census, 72.4% of the population is white, versus 12.6% being African American.

      That means that, in terms of sheer numbers, there are a hell of a lot more homophobic white folks.

      Whatever that means in the big picture, I won’t do that math for you.

  6. Ed Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    This piece totally fails to address the statistical data concerning homophobia among black Protestants–that’s a pretty huge oversight. Consider:

    http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ps_wp

    “In 1988, whites, African Americans, and persons of other races were uniform in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is almost no difference across racial groups, with 68% in each expressing opposition or strong opposition to same-sex marriage. By 2004, we see considerable liberalization among whites and persons of other races, and this liberalization continues for whites in 2006 and 2008. Between 1988 and 2004, white opposition to same-sex marriage declined to under 54%, and it dipped to under 46% by 2008. Opposition to same-sex marriage also declined substantially for those of “other” races, decreasing to under 40% in the 2004 survey, and fluctuating between 45% in 2006 and 43% in 2008 (relatively small numbers and shifts in GSS sampling frames probably account for the fluctuations between 2004 and 2006). Yet, African American opposition did not decline substantially between 1988 and 2006. In 2006, 64% of African Americans remained opposed to same-sex marriage. Data from 2008 show that opposition did lose ground between 2006 and 2008, falling nearly 6 percentage points—a larger shift in two years than was observed in the previous 18 years.”

    In this recent Pew poll, Black Protestants continue to support gay marriage at rates lower than any group in the US other than White evangelicals: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide3.php About half of white folks support gay marriage today, while only a little more than one-third of black folks do: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide6.php

    I understand the argument for not focusing on race, but let’s be real: there is in fact a stark demographic divide in terms of support for gay rights depending on race and religious affiliation. We’re not going to get anywhere on this issue by burying our heads in the sand; black churches need to get their proverbial shit together when its comes to preaching homophobic policies.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      I feel like your argument is leaving out the fact that blacks in the US are overall more religious than whites. If rates of homophobia among blacks are higher than whites, it is because there is a correlation between being religious and being homophobic. This shows that homophobia has nothing to do with race and everything to do with religious attitudes towards LGBT people.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Actually according to the chart you posted, White evangelicals appear to have a bigger problem with same sex marriage than black protestants do! It appears that both black AND white churches need to get their shit together. Which I think is the point of this article–homophobia exists across the board, among all races, but black people are still seen as more homphobic.

    • lorus on May 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for proving the writer’s point with this stupid ass comment. You continue to place this onus on black communities as exceptionally homophobic, that’s the problem. The author is not saying homophobia within black communities is not a real thing, and that there shouldn’t be reform within black communities/churches/whatever. What the author is saying is that this absolves white people from having to confront their own whiteness and the ways in which homophobia (and misogyny, etc) within white communities are left somehow unmarked or unnoticed. What I mean is that no one feels compelled to take several polls showing just how homophobic white people are because that would require a critique of whiteness itself and apparently that’s scary. No one is burying their hands in the sand, black people have written about homophobia in their communities and it’s not like they don’t know it exists, but we continue to perpetuate this myth that black=more homophobic and yet the scores of homophobic white people are just exceptions, not at all indicative of a huge problem within whiteness/white communities. Personally, I have seen the most virulent and disgusting homophobia in my life coming from white people, not people of color but I guess we can still keep pretending white people are always the good progressive ones. PLEASE!

    • D on May 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

      If there were equal numbers of whites and African Americans in this country, ratio-based analysis would make more sense. But according to the 2012 US census, 72.4% of the population is white, versus 12.6% being African American.

      That means that, in terms of sheer numbers, there are a hell of a lot more homophobic white folks.

      Whatever that means in the big picture, I won’t do that math for you.

  7. Ed Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    This piece totally fails to address the statistical data concerning homophobia among black Protestants–that’s a pretty huge oversight. Consider:

    http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ps_wp

    “In 1988, whites, African Americans, and persons of other races were uniform in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is almost no difference across racial groups, with 68% in each expressing opposition or strong opposition to same-sex marriage. By 2004, we see considerable liberalization among whites and persons of other races, and this liberalization continues for whites in 2006 and 2008. Between 1988 and 2004, white opposition to same-sex marriage declined to under 54%, and it dipped to under 46% by 2008. Opposition to same-sex marriage also declined substantially for those of “other” races, decreasing to under 40% in the 2004 survey, and fluctuating between 45% in 2006 and 43% in 2008 (relatively small numbers and shifts in GSS sampling frames probably account for the fluctuations between 2004 and 2006). Yet, African American opposition did not decline substantially between 1988 and 2006. In 2006, 64% of African Americans remained opposed to same-sex marriage. Data from 2008 show that opposition did lose ground between 2006 and 2008, falling nearly 6 percentage points—a larger shift in two years than was observed in the previous 18 years.”

    In this recent Pew poll, Black Protestants continue to support gay marriage at rates lower than any group in the US other than White evangelicals: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide3.php About half of white folks support gay marriage today, while only a little more than one-third of black folks do: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide6.php

    I understand the argument for not focusing on race, but let’s be real: there is in fact a stark demographic divide in terms of support for gay rights depending on race and religious affiliation. We’re not going to get anywhere on this issue by burying our heads in the sand; black churches need to get their proverbial shit together when its comes to preaching homophobic policies.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      I feel like your argument is leaving out the fact that blacks in the US are overall more religious than whites. If rates of homophobia among blacks are higher than whites, it is because there is a correlation between being religious and being homophobic. This shows that homophobia has nothing to do with race and everything to do with religious attitudes towards LGBT people.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Actually according to the chart you posted, White evangelicals appear to have a bigger problem with same sex marriage than black protestants do! It appears that both black AND white churches need to get their shit together. Which I think is the point of this article–homophobia exists across the board, among all races, but black people are still seen as more homphobic.

    • lorus on May 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for proving the writer’s point with this stupid ass comment. You continue to place this onus on black communities as exceptionally homophobic, that’s the problem. The author is not saying homophobia within black communities is not a real thing, and that there shouldn’t be reform within black communities/churches/whatever. What the author is saying is that this absolves white people from having to confront their own whiteness and the ways in which homophobia (and misogyny, etc) within white communities are left somehow unmarked or unnoticed. What I mean is that no one feels compelled to take several polls showing just how homophobic white people are because that would require a critique of whiteness itself and apparently that’s scary. No one is burying their hands in the sand, black people have written about homophobia in their communities and it’s not like they don’t know it exists, but we continue to perpetuate this myth that black=more homophobic and yet the scores of homophobic white people are just exceptions, not at all indicative of a huge problem within whiteness/white communities. Personally, I have seen the most virulent and disgusting homophobia in my life coming from white people, not people of color but I guess we can still keep pretending white people are always the good progressive ones. PLEASE!

    • D on May 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

      If there were equal numbers of whites and African Americans in this country, ratio-based analysis would make more sense. But according to the 2012 US census, 72.4% of the population is white, versus 12.6% being African American.

      That means that, in terms of sheer numbers, there are a hell of a lot more homophobic white folks.

      Whatever that means in the big picture, I won’t do that math for you.

  8. Ed Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:00 pm

    This piece totally fails to address the statistical data concerning homophobia among black Protestants–that’s a pretty huge oversight. Consider:

    http://opensiuc.lib.siu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1003&context=ps_wp

    “In 1988, whites, African Americans, and persons of other races were uniform in their opposition to same-sex marriage. Indeed, there is almost no difference across racial groups, with 68% in each expressing opposition or strong opposition to same-sex marriage. By 2004, we see considerable liberalization among whites and persons of other races, and this liberalization continues for whites in 2006 and 2008. Between 1988 and 2004, white opposition to same-sex marriage declined to under 54%, and it dipped to under 46% by 2008. Opposition to same-sex marriage also declined substantially for those of “other” races, decreasing to under 40% in the 2004 survey, and fluctuating between 45% in 2006 and 43% in 2008 (relatively small numbers and shifts in GSS sampling frames probably account for the fluctuations between 2004 and 2006). Yet, African American opposition did not decline substantially between 1988 and 2006. In 2006, 64% of African Americans remained opposed to same-sex marriage. Data from 2008 show that opposition did lose ground between 2006 and 2008, falling nearly 6 percentage points—a larger shift in two years than was observed in the previous 18 years.”

    In this recent Pew poll, Black Protestants continue to support gay marriage at rates lower than any group in the US other than White evangelicals: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide3.php About half of white folks support gay marriage today, while only a little more than one-third of black folks do: http://features.pewforum.org/same-sex-marriage-attitudes/slide6.php

    I understand the argument for not focusing on race, but let’s be real: there is in fact a stark demographic divide in terms of support for gay rights depending on race and religious affiliation. We’re not going to get anywhere on this issue by burying our heads in the sand; black churches need to get their proverbial shit together when its comes to preaching homophobic policies.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      I feel like your argument is leaving out the fact that blacks in the US are overall more religious than whites. If rates of homophobia among blacks are higher than whites, it is because there is a correlation between being religious and being homophobic. This shows that homophobia has nothing to do with race and everything to do with religious attitudes towards LGBT people.

    • Jess on May 19, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Actually according to the chart you posted, White evangelicals appear to have a bigger problem with same sex marriage than black protestants do! It appears that both black AND white churches need to get their shit together. Which I think is the point of this article–homophobia exists across the board, among all races, but black people are still seen as more homphobic.

    • lorus on May 19, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks for proving the writer’s point with this stupid ass comment. You continue to place this onus on black communities as exceptionally homophobic, that’s the problem. The author is not saying homophobia within black communities is not a real thing, and that there shouldn’t be reform within black communities/churches/whatever. What the author is saying is that this absolves white people from having to confront their own whiteness and the ways in which homophobia (and misogyny, etc) within white communities are left somehow unmarked or unnoticed. What I mean is that no one feels compelled to take several polls showing just how homophobic white people are because that would require a critique of whiteness itself and apparently that’s scary. No one is burying their hands in the sand, black people have written about homophobia in their communities and it’s not like they don’t know it exists, but we continue to perpetuate this myth that black=more homophobic and yet the scores of homophobic white people are just exceptions, not at all indicative of a huge problem within whiteness/white communities. Personally, I have seen the most virulent and disgusting homophobia in my life coming from white people, not people of color but I guess we can still keep pretending white people are always the good progressive ones. PLEASE!

    • D on May 20, 2013 at 12:24 am

      If there were equal numbers of whites and African Americans in this country, ratio-based analysis would make more sense. But according to the 2012 US census, 72.4% of the population is white, versus 12.6% being African American.

      That means that, in terms of sheer numbers, there are a hell of a lot more homophobic white folks.

      Whatever that means in the big picture, I won’t do that math for you.

  9. Scott G. Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    This is the most interestingly true account of a white dominance of LGBT organizations. I have been challenged by one LGBT organization since I came out with my book as the oldest African American survival of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots. https://www.createspace.com/3570311

  10. Scott G. Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    This is the most interestingly true account of a white dominance of LGBT organizations. I have been challenged by one LGBT organization since I came out with my book as the oldest African American survival of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots. https://www.createspace.com/3570311

  11. Scott G. Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    This is the most interestingly true account of a white dominance of LGBT organizations. I have been challenged by one LGBT organization since I came out with my book as the oldest African American survival of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots. https://www.createspace.com/3570311

  12. Scott G. Brown on May 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    This is the most interestingly true account of a white dominance of LGBT organizations. I have been challenged by one LGBT organization since I came out with my book as the oldest African American survival of the 1969 Stonewall Inn raid and riots. https://www.createspace.com/3570311

  13. kingderella on May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    i once asked this question (“are black people more homophobic?”) during a discussion about racism, and then again later that same day on an online forum. both times, i got hell for it. with good reason, i think in retrospect, as i had expressed what was on my mind in a rather clueless manner. it was good to read this article. i feel like it articulates the questions on my mind far better than i could have, and then gives some answers. btw im asian and gay, if it matters.

  14. kingderella on May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    i once asked this question (“are black people more homophobic?”) during a discussion about racism, and then again later that same day on an online forum. both times, i got hell for it. with good reason, i think in retrospect, as i had expressed what was on my mind in a rather clueless manner. it was good to read this article. i feel like it articulates the questions on my mind far better than i could have, and then gives some answers. btw im asian and gay, if it matters.

  15. kingderella on May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    i once asked this question (“are black people more homophobic?”) during a discussion about racism, and then again later that same day on an online forum. both times, i got hell for it. with good reason, i think in retrospect, as i had expressed what was on my mind in a rather clueless manner. it was good to read this article. i feel like it articulates the questions on my mind far better than i could have, and then gives some answers. btw im asian and gay, if it matters.

  16. kingderella on May 19, 2013 at 4:20 pm

    i once asked this question (“are black people more homophobic?”) during a discussion about racism, and then again later that same day on an online forum. both times, i got hell for it. with good reason, i think in retrospect, as i had expressed what was on my mind in a rather clueless manner. it was good to read this article. i feel like it articulates the questions on my mind far better than i could have, and then gives some answers. btw im asian and gay, if it matters.

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