By Wendell P. Simpson
Last week, President Barack Obama made what is perhaps, the biggest, boldest leap of his presidency. He publicly espoused gay marriage.
Having hedged on the issue for three years, President Obama says his great epiphany finally came as the result of conversations about equality and fairness with his obviously enlightened daughters, Sasha and Malia—though the cynic in me is loathe to buy into the totality of that story.
No, mostly, this is a perfectly timed, shrewdly conceived political gambit concocted by the President and his spin doctors as a way to put even more space between himself and Romney and the retrograde Right.
For a President whose historic ascension has everything to do with an evolutionary shift in the social paradigm, it was the fair thing to do; for a country whose promise of full inclusion is still a long way from being fulfilled, it was the right thing to do—but not everybody thinks so.
The press, or, as one of my more staunchly conservative associates put it, ‘the homosexual-loving media’, has, for the most part, roundly applauded the President’s bold announcement. Ironically, however, two groups that have historically detested each other have found common ground—and a common enemy. Black folks and rednecks have somehow reached an awkward consensus.
According to poll results, two-thirds of African Americans disapprove of Obama’s position. Two years ago Obama could do no wrong in the eyes of Blacks. The President was a water walker, an historic and claxon symbol of Black middle-class arrival. Now, in many of the pews of Black Christendom, he has become an apostate, a man who has turned from the true faith into a willing concubine of the Devil.
In other quarters, there is tension between gays and Black people who resent comparisons between racial discrimination and social bias against gays.
No issue rends the tapestry of American culture like that of gays and lesbians. The economy? History, legacy and obsequious faith in the apotheosis of American capitalism keep us believing—despite the evidence to the contrary—that economic democracy is written into our DNA. Austere cuts in social, educational, and vital, corrective infrastructure programs? Hell, we’re Americans—we’ll just yank on our threadbare bootstraps and pull up our tattered drawers, wedgies and skid marks be damned.
The provisions of NDAA and other constitutionally questionable assaults on civil liberties? We’ll trade our individual autonomy for the promise of security from foreign and exotic boogiemen, jealous of our sublime freedoms, which threaten us from secret caves in distant desert wastelands on the other side of the world.
But gay people and marriage? Well, that becomes the harbinger of the apocalypse, ‘wrath of God’ type’ stuff—and let’s face it: American religiosity is as medieval as anything the Taliban imbibe—slavery, the slaughter of the red man, the rape of the environment, gender discrimination, the selective persecutions of minorities, all couched in the language of manifest destiny and divine mandate—and no people do it by rote better than we Black folk.
Too many of us clutch onto a decrepit but familiar and comfortable past like desperate vampires looking for repose in the wretched earth from which they sprang, refusing to be dragged into the 21st century. Some of us, however, are able to look beyond philosophical attachments to stand firmly of modernity and contemporary reality.
Jesse Jackson, a key civil rights figure, and Michael Eric Dyson, one of our most astute Black intellectuals, have voiced their approval of the President’s position. What these two know that many others have missed is that it is a short walk between denying rights for one group and eroding them for the next. They know that Black folks hold onto our rights by a tenuous thread and that the threat of a great unravelling could be as close as a November election.
They know that the clock is not perpetually frozen but moved by a zeitgeist that plays out in a numbers game that; that zealously guarding our status as civil rights ‘chosen ones’ while leaving the others behind is a losing proposition for everyone and that there are forces on the horizon pushing hard against the inertia of forward thrust and they cannot be allowed to prosper.
And so, while Obama is disparaged and lampooned by a select group of intransigent Black theologues, here’s the question we all must ponder: where, exactly, are we going to go in November? To Romney’s side, to a candidate whose religion holds that Black people have been cursed with a dark skin because their antecedents conspired with the devil to overthrow God? To a man who says he would never disavow himself of a single canon of his faith? The answer is an unequivocal ‘no’.
I’ve got my own issues with Obama, though his stance on Gay marriage is NOT one of them. But in November, given the options, I’m casting my ballot for the lesser offender. It is very likely that my gay friends will be standing right beside me in line at the polling place…
Wendell P. Simpson is the SUN’s Commentator in England.