The absence of any substantive conversation about the divisive tactics and issues used to distract Blacks and keep us at odds at this year’s State of the Black Union hosted by television and radio commentator Tavis Smiley in Houston, Texas, was deeply disappointing and frustrating. Often billed as the national forum for discussing the issues that are most important to Black America, this year’s forum was used to launch Smiley’s Covenant With Black America, a comprehensive plan on how to build a stronger Black America.
One fact that we cannot ignore is that Black pulpits continue to be for sale to the highest bidder and Black votes are being sold to the GOP under the guise of protecting America’s moral values.
Going into 2008 presidential election, Black Americans are more divided than ever on issues of political ideology and moral values. So any meaningful exchange about Blacks and political power must include divisive wedges that keep us from that power.
Looking back at how and why Blacks voted the way they did in Ohio in 2004, it is crystal clear that gay marriage is an issue for Black Americans and a definite hindrance to us having a united political voice on the issues that matter the most to us.
During the multitude of speechifying made during the Black Union, there was a huge emphasis placed on holding both the Black and the majority leadership accountable. When we fail to address socially and politically critical issues like gay marriage, we fail our community.
I’ve been told the average Black American is not concerned with my civil rights as a lesbian. Well maybe they should be. In fact, any Black that is concerned about the future of Blacks in America should be.
We will never be able to make any systemic changes in our healthcare, well being, educational reform, environmental racism, access to affordable neighborhoods, jobs, wealth, and economic justice if we’ve already made up our minds before we get to the polls based on who is or isn’t supporting gay civil rights.
We already know that there are huge disparities for Blacks as it relates to health, education, and economics. If we really want to have a conversation about the state of Blacks and our political empowerment, we have to talk about those issues that are keeping us from it, starting with the role of today’s Black church.
The Black church directly and indirectly continues to be the influencer.
One very telling statement about the state of the Black union is that when asked by National Public Radio’s Michelle Martin about whether or not he encouraged political tithing, Reverend Dr. Floyd Flake, former U.S. Representative now pastor of the 10,000 member Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in Jamaica, Queens, replied yes, but not before your church tithes.
So how is it that you can have Nation Islam Leader the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Reverend Al Sharpton on the same panel as the Hi-Impact Coalition’s Bishop Harry Jackson and there be no conversation of wedge issues used to divide Blacks?
After pledging to fight homophobia in the Black community last year, Sharpton participated in a faith- based conference of Black churches to address lesbian and gay issues while Farrakhan extended his hand to gays last year during the Millions More Movement March.
Bishop Harry Jackson is an ardent supporter of banning marriage for gays and along with white Christian evangelical Lou Sheldon, was instrumental in organizing Black pastors around the country to fight to protect the institution of marriage.
Thank God or whoever you believe in for economist Dr. Julianne Malveaux and author Cornel West.
Dr. Malveaux was the sole voice of reason as she clearly articulated the frustration that many people have with today’s Black church and “pimp daddy pastors,” even to the disapproval of the audience.
While Dr. West was the only person I heard include the phrase sexual orientation in describing some of the disparities that Blacks face.
But gays weren’t the only ones excluded from this year’s Union. There was relatively no mention of the impact of HIV/AIDS on Blacks either. A shocking surprise considering that all the wealth and economic justice in the world won’t do us any good if we’re not alive to enjoy it.
I think it’s wonderful that we can get the corporate sponsorship to put on these lavish events. But if we’re really trying to make change, we’re going to have to be unafraid to have those conversations that ruffle collars.
The courting of Black pastors by Republicans using moral values as common ground is problematic if we’re trying to build a unified voice and vote for the best policies for Blacks. Dancing around this issue doesn’t do us any good. It’s happening, we know it, and we know who’s doing it.
Accountability doesn’t begin and end with whoever is in the White House. We are also accountable to each other and as long as we take the attitude that our lesbian sisters and gay brothers issues aren’t our issues, we’ll continue to allow ourselves to be divided and conquered.
Not talking about it is bad. to Not wanting to talk about it is worse.
Chosen by Essence Magazine as one of 25 Women Shaping the World, at 28, Jasmyne Cannick is a social and political commentator and a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. She is a founding board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, the Black gay civil rights group and the co- chair of the National Stonewall Democrats Black Caucus. She can be reached via her website at www.jasmynecannick.com.