I’m not sure what to do with this. I’m thrilled that we’ve just elected our first African-American president. I wept last night. I wept reading the papers this morning. But I can’t help but feeling hurt that the love and support aren’t mutual.
I do know this, though: I’m done pretending that the handful of racist gay white men out there—and they’re out there, and I think they’re scum—are a bigger problem for African Americans, gay and straight, than the huge numbers of homophobic African Americans are for gay Americans, whatever their color.
Now, on one hand, Dan Savage is known for being inflammatory. On the other hand, we have had him speak in a workshop at the UU's General Assembly. And he's someone who, while extreme, is read by a lot of readers. So take that example with a grain of salt, but I could throw a lot of examples your way about this.
The numbers people have been looking at are based on an exit poll - see here - which says that 70% of African Americans voted yes on 8, while a bare majority of white Americans voted no.
Two things that can be said about this. Most problematically, is how people zeroed in on race, in an election where race was such a major issue. There are a lot of demographic groups that this exit poll could pin it on (Hispanics also voted yes on 8 in this exit poll, but not by as big a percentage). For example, you could blame lack of education--people with post graduate degrees voted 60% against, while people with a high school diploma only voted 57% for. Party affiliation is a big one, with 82% of Republicans voting for 8, and 85% of conservatives. Protestants and Catholics both voted overwhelmingly for 8, at 65% and 64% respectively, and white Evangelicals at a whopping 81% while the nonreligious voted against. Married people, voting 60% for, could also be blamed, and married with children more so at 68%. Another big break was by age. The older the demographic, the more likely they voted for 8. New, young voters age 18-24 voted against at 64%.
Yet with all these demographic groups to blame, people started quickly pointing the finger at African Americans. What's the problem with that? Plenty. For example, if the white vote had been 70% against, do you think we would hear, "It's white people who are to blame for this"? No, we wouldn't. We would break it down into the other demographics immediately--it'd be about white Republicans, or white evangelicals, or white married people with children. But with African Americans, we treat them as one monolithic group. Also, the African American vote is a small percentage of the vote. It took a whole lot of white people voting that way for their vote to be added to for this to pass. Numerically, rather than by percentages, there are way more white people who voted for 8 than African Americans.
It's significant that people pointed the finger at African Americans rather than the Hispanic vote, because Hispanic people vastly outnumber African Americans in California. So why are people focusing on African Americans? Barack Obama is African American, that's why. So the popular mythos has people saying, "Those black people showed up to vote for Obama, and if they hadn't done that, this wouldn't have passed."
But that's just not true, which leads to another major problem with all of this, which is how quickly people jumped to accept the poll's results, without question. If you want to read a good rebuttal of the CNN exit poll and the assumption that's being thrown about that African Americans made up enough of the electorate to turn the election against 8, look here.
Robert Cruickshank paints a more reasonable explanation:
“The other data that appears to be emerging (BUT yet to be totally verified) is that African-Americans who early voted (which was a huge number) voted YES while those on election day voted NO. Remember we did not do extensive campaigning in many of the African-American precincts until the final week or so which was long after tens of thousands had already voted. Our campaign was slow to use Obama's opposition to Proposition Eight which he gave the day after the initiative qualified five months before the election.”The people doing the scapegoating and finger-pointing are quick to say, "It's so sad how this minority group doesn't stand up for another minority group." So true--stand up for the African Americans, folks. Proposition 8 is not their fault.
That explanation makes much more sense than anything else I've seen. Early voters tend to be older and it would make sense if some of them in the African American community were strongly associated with Yes on 8 churches. Once the No on 8 campaign finally got its act somewhat together and did outreach to African Americans, we saw the rewards on Election Day.
Ultimately this reminds us how cheap, stupid, and misguided the scapegoating of African Americans over Prop 8 has been. Prop 8's passage revealed that the marriage equality movement has a lot of outreach to do in this state - to older voters, voters living in "red California," to some Latinos and African Americans but also to numerous white voters (if whites had voted strongly No, this discussion would be moot), to Asian and Pacific Islanders, to some religious groups, including LDS Californians.