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LZ Granderson’s Shaky Defense of Obama

July 17th, 2009 No comments

Yesterday, ESPN journalist LZ Granderson wrote a provocative opinion piece for CNN, taking the gay community to task for its criticism of Obama. While he makes some valid points, overall the piece is disjointed, unpersuasive, and borderline irresponsible.

First, what he’s right about: Like white society in general, the white gay community has not exactly been welcoming of African-American gays. For social and historical reasons that are perfectly understandable, many black gay men more readily identify with their community of color, not of sexual orientation. Thus, they mostly remain enthusiastic about, and uncritical of, Obama. Granderson is also accurate to write that the history of the gay rights movement is much shorter than that of the civil rights movement.

But as to this latter point: So what? It’s not a contest. And Granderson seems to be equating Stonewall to the beginning of gay oppression, rather than to the beginning of the end of it. He writes:

“The 40th anniversary of Stonewall dominated Gay Pride celebrations around the country, and while that is certainly a significant moment that should be recognized, 40 years is nothing compared with the 400 blood-soaked years black people have been through in this country. There are stories some blacks lived through, stories others were told by their parents and stories that never had a chance to be told.”

This is dangerous and wrong. It can’t go unchallenged. Why is Granderson comparing the 40 years since Stonewall to the 400 years of black oppression? This makes no sense on its face. The oppression of blacks didn’t start at the dawn of the civil rights movement, and the oppression of gays didn’t start with Stonewall. That event represents a turning point (perhaps, but even that point is too easy), but for millenia there have been “stories that some [gays]  lived through, [and] stories that never had a chance to be told.” As for “stories…told by their parents” — even more than blacks, gays were isolated and cut off from any stories that might have affirmed their existence.

Again, though, it’s not a contest. I make my point only to illustrate the pernicious character of the “Rank That Oppression” Game. The two situations are different, making comparisons parlous. More importantly, Granderson misses one of the central insights of the civil rights movement: All oppression is connected. If some black gay men are giving Obama a complete pass, they’re missing that point as surely as Granderson is. Are they  thinking about their brothers in the military who live in fear of being exposed and kicked out, or of those who don’t even bother enlisting? Are they thinking about black lesbians raising children who could benefit in tangible economic and social ways from the repeal of DOMA or the full marriage equality that he-who-must-not-be-criticized opposes?

And speaking of African-American lesbians, they’re left out of Granderson’s story. It seems he wants to give a pass to Obama and to other black men, but to one else. White gays are accused of singing the blues without “living them.” This is just as offensive as whites “blaming” African-Americans for Prop 8. Enough.

This is identity politics at its least appealing. But don’t take my word for it. Read the article.