Blacks, gays and the myth of the saintly oppressed
- Published: 13 February 2010
- Hits: 1936
As a gay, black man, Leonce Gaiter doubly resents the insistence by both blacks and whites that he adhere to a constricting stereotype as malignant as that of the Tom, the Coon; the Mammy or the Buck: The stereotype of the Saintly Oppressed.
In the wake of the overwhelming black vote in favor of Proposition 8 and the gay reaction to that vote, the following occurred:
- Gays attacked blacks for homophobia.
- Blacks attacked gays for racism.
- Black gays counseled against all phobias and isms.
Underlying it all was the illusion that minorities are somehow naturally predisposed or sociologically obligated to display fewer negative human traits than straight white men. How dare we be homophobes? How dare we be racists? To succumb to either suggests that we failed to do our homework—to learn the life lessons of the oppressed.
I sometimes revile the names King and Tutu, the saintly forgivers of all sins—particularly those propagated by whites. They and their commercial acolytes, the Oprahs, the right-wing preachers and vote-seeking politicians of this world, have convinced the majority that educated blacks, in particular, are some uber-species of enlightened demigods who magically manage the Christ-like in their humanism while simultaneously remaining vaguely threatening lest they perpetually reinforce their unconditional love for all mankind.
It was a shock to some that Southern Baptist blacks were just as bigoted and provincial toward gays as their white religious brethren. But Why? The same strain of revivalist, irrational Methodism flows through both their spiritual veins.
All those oft-viewed images of happy darkies gyrating to jumpy gospel sounds make it all seem quite harmless, but black religiosity remains the child of its revivalist origins.
According to the Anne and Anthony Pinn’s Introduction to Black Church History, this new form of worship was “marked by fantastic spiritual breakthrough expressed in strong emotional terms… full of vivid imagery of the pain and suffering sinners would endure if they did not surrender to the will of God.”
The religious tradition that black and southern evangelical churches follow broke with the relative intellectualism of the Puritans and Anglicans, eschewing their emphasis on reading catechism and strict religious training. This new tradition was all about “getting the spirit.”
You didn’t have to be learned to preach the gospel; you only had to feel it. If you ever wondered at the panoply of freakish black and white evangelical preachers, this is your answer: To the flamboyant go the spoils.
Combine this anti-rational religious tradition with a long cultural history of emasculation by slavery, apartheid and racism and you have all of the ingredients for homophobia—most of it directed toward gay males.
In a culture in which we were not allowed to protect or feed your family in the manner of “real men,” in which we were always a bit less than men, to assume a role as lover of men—a traditional female role—was nothing less than a race crime. We perceived it as emboldening the oppressor. We paid little mind to the rational fact that our desperation to disprove the oppressor’s viewpoint only demonstrated our enslavement to it.
Meanwhile, gays are as much products of American society as any other men and women. We bear the prejudices gross and subtle that America sprinkles about like so much social seasoning. We bear our share of self-loathing and racism.
It was not surprising to read about white gays screaming “nigger” at black gays sharing anti-Prop 8 rallies. The racism was always there. It just needed a channel through which to flow.
Regardless of the twisted lessons erroneously wrung from MLK-like examples, suffering does not ennoble. It degrades. Black Americans are no wiser, more tolerant, or less bigoted than any other group. We are just more deeply bruised.
Gays are no more accepting or less racist than any other group of Americans—just more fearful. Nor do blacks or gays have any additional burden or obligation to free ourselves from our petty hatreds and prejudice.
As a gay, black man, I accept my potential rejection by the bulk of both groups. I remain a part of each and apart from both. As a black, gay man, I doubly resent any suggestion that I, as doubly oppressed, must open my heart to those I truly hate, those who would deny my basic rights or harm those I love.
That goes for blacks as well as gays. As a gay, black man, I doubly resent the insistence by both blacks and whites that I adhere to a constricting stereotype as malignant as that of the Tom, the Coon, the Mammy or the Buck: The stereotype of the Saintly Oppressed.
Leonce Gaiter’s work on social and cultural issues has appeared in numerous publications, from the Los Angeles Times to the New York Times magazine. His noir thriller Bourbon Street was published by Carroll & Graf. Chapters of Bourbon Street as well as additional fiction and non-fiction writings are available on his website.