‘My pain is bigger than yours!’

Zach Wiita

It passed in Arizona. It passed in Florida. And it passed it California.

On the same night the people of the United States demonstrated racism is a philosophy whose days are numbered, millions of Americans also demonstrated heterosexism is alive and well. Most infamously, Proposition 8 was passed by a 4.4 percent margin in California – the first time the right to marry for same-sex couples was actually eliminated where it had previously been recognized as existing.

Sadly, as a Washington Post article from Nov. 7 indicated, bigotry is truly a worldview that knows no one demographic as its home. Seven in 10 African-American voters in California voted yes on Proposition 8. Think about that: 70 percent of voters with a heritage of horrific oppression voted to actively oppress their fellow Americans, to alter their state constitution so that it violated their fellow citizens’ natural right to marry whomever they wish. The thought is a depressing counterweight to the euphoria of seeing racial barriers broken in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, political blogs, perhaps most extensively “Rod 2.0,” are abuzz with stories about racial slurs being leveled against African-Americans by gay rights activists at some of the many anti-Proposition 8 protests that have taken place – everything from protesters throwing the N-word at any blacks they saw to people claiming “the blacks better not come to West Hollywood if they know what’s best for them.”

One African-American protester reported that when he tried to point out his own support for same-sex marriage to a white protester, the man said it didn’t matter because most black people hate gays and that he was “wrong to think (they) had compassion.” There’s no statistical data available on the prevalence of such racism within the gay community. Just as one can only hope that those African-Americans who voted for Proposition 8 do not represent the majority of blacks in America, one can only hope those racist gay rights activists do not represent the majority of their community.

It’s particularly hideous to think of this sort of rank bigotry on both sides of the divide when one considers the history of both groups. From Matthew Shepherd’s brutal murder ten years ago, to the infamous bombing of a Birmingham, Ala., church that killed four little girls, to the institutionalized racism of the Jim Crow era, to the anti-sodomy laws that were only just overturned in the United States with Lawrence v. Texas five years ago, African-Americans and LGBT Americans have a long and similar history of battling oppression and being marginalized for no other reason than because they were “different.”

At least one heterosexist man tried to justify his vote on Proposition 8 by claiming it was not a civil rights issue because the gay community “was never considered a third of a person,” and of course at least one LGBT activist above claimed blacks lack compassion. But that sort of argument from both sides – “My oppression is worse than yours!” – is childish. It demeans the suffering of individuals on both sides and dishonors the memories of the victims of racism and heterosexism. I wonder who truly benefits from a black/LGBT conflict – other than heterosexist racists, that is.

That two marginalized groups in America could succumb to this sort of pointless, hate-filled battle is astonishing to me. I’m well aware that I am walking a thin line here – I am neither of African descent nor a member of the LGBT community, and as a white heterosexual male of English descent raised Protestant, I cannot claim with any credibility to know what it is like to be a member of a minority group in America.

Nonetheless, I am also a Liberal, with a capital L, and committed to the principles of equality – equality among racial groupings and equality among sexual groupings. I have friends I love dearly in each demographic – in fact, I have friends who belong simultaneously to both demographics. And simply as a fellow American, I never want to see this kind of hate and oppression spewed upon both sides of this racial-sexual divide.

If Americans of all stripes – gay or straight, black or white, rich or poor, Latino or Asian, Christian or Jewish, Conservative or Liberal – are going to survive the 21st century, we’re all going to have to put aside our prejudices. We’re going to have to stop worrying about whose suffering is greater and acknowledge that all suffering is wrong.

We need to support equal rights – for same-sex couples to marry and for African-Americans to live free from racial harassment and intimidation. It will be hard, and it will require self-examination from all sides. But I truly believe that we have to continue to see one another as Americans, first and foremost. A commitment to equality, to human rights, and to the principles of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights, demands nothing less.

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theater studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].