There is a reason that blacks don't support gay marriage. You might think that it's because of homophobia but you'd only be half right, if that. What a lot of conservatives don't know about progressive blacks (or ex-progressives like myself) is that we appreciate black lesbians and gays because they are transgressive in the extreme. Or at least we like to think so.
Any black man in my generation who didn't love Bruce Lee or Malcolm X was a faggot. Wearing short pants for any reason except playing basketball or swimming (real black men wore cutoffs, not trunks) was for fags. Black macho was the rule until approximately the era of Michael Franks and Al Jarreau. Then we realized that women dug sensitive dudes and adjusted appropriately. And while all of us brothers wondered out loud what was up with Al and those pink sweaters, we were also coming into contact with some genuine homosexuals.
I understand that it is considered rude and a bunch of other things to talk about 'fags', but I'm just keeping it real because that's what our attitude was. And if you were a good looking black man, chances are you would encounter a forward brother telling you in no uncertain terms that he was a black homosexual who could turn your head around. The gauntlet was thrown, were you man enough to love a black man?
My experience with the brazen courage of such men was tinged with a certain admiration. I would say on any number of occasions that if I was a homo, then I would most definitely be the sort out there in everybody's face. But it wasn't until the early 90s that I came to a political appreciation for how deep that sentiment could be held in the minds of black progressives. It was then that I was introduced to the films and life of Marlon Riggs and to the poetry and life of Audre Lorde. Black fags had gone beyond gay towards queer, and the black queers of all different varieties tended to take black power to new heights. Lorde's book 'Sister Outsider' rather encapsulated it all - If you think being black is hard, try being black and lesbian and crippled. Lorde was superbad.
[M]any white feminists were angered by Lorde's brand of feminism. In her essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House" Lorde attacked the underlying racism of feminism, describing it as unrecognized dependence on the patriarchy. She argued that, by denying difference in the category of women, feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and that, in so doing, they were preventing any real, lasting change. Her argument aligned white feminists with white male slave-masters, describing both as "agents of oppression"
Marlon Riggs had a similar message. If you think being a black man is hard, try being a black man who is already a primitive sex symbol where your sexuality is the reverse of what's expected and not only are you oppressed by white men, sometimes you really physically want to love them but not as a sex symbol. All of that was a lot to take, but what I understood was how the personal struggles of black queers fueled passionate rebellion in the spirit of black power. This very interesting and exciting transgressive passionate dynamic energizes Progressives and the politics of difference, and it augers potential for revolutionary change. The double and treble and quadruple minority status of black queers is political dynamite - a genuine extension of black cultural nationalism. If freedom could be created by politicizing black pride with music, dress, dance and speech in the 60, imagine how much more freedom could be created by legitimizing the queer life. So long as black gays and lesbians can be angry, radical political revolutionaries, they can be used in the mainstream of black protest politics. You'll still hear the 'masters tools' argument in angry black political circles. This is how black gays got respect.
But most homosexuals and certainly most black homosexuals are not trying to be political. They are trying to get through life with a minimum of hassle, like all of us. Gay sex isn't easy. Straight sex isn't easy. Sex is complicated and difficult and we all have hangups about it and we wrestle with those hangups all our lives. There's no single political direction sexual liberation points people and the attempt to politicize sex, especially given this dynamic is the province of the few, not the many.
So there is a gap between the reality of gay black life, and the political reality black progressives wished to portray through the politics of difference. I find a very great paradox between the personal lives of gay black men I knew in the every day business of living a closeted life and the hyper difference of the angry black queer man who would overtly politicize his sexuality. When stories about ordinary black men 'on the DL' came out, it was a disturbing story for many blackfolks because these young men were not so interested in standing out and using themselves as black power symbols. They just wanted to get their desires fulfilled without drawing too much undue attention. Instead of being a treble minority, some young black men adopted gangsta misogyny to cover for their indifference to sex with women. It made things easy. Whether it was a gangsta style or not, the bottom line was to be incognito, not vocal, not politicized.
I am of the opinion that it is the minority of black political activists who seek to exploit the politics of difference. It's one thing to be demanding of black liberation (and not all blackfolks are keen on such revolutionary matters such as Afrocentrism or issues like reparations), but it's another to place transgressive black queer energy into your politics, to be out there blazing with tongues untied. The majority would rather leave the matter with King like rhetoric about the content of one's character, than use the rhetoric of Audre Lorde. While it's true that many black people believe that white antagonism to black culture is and should be a matter of political concern, not many wish to create space for black freedom by putting our queers in white faces. Some do, most have got issues.
And so Gay Marriage doesn't appeal to blacks because black politics and culture has not evolved a place for it. Black queers have a place in revolutionary black politics, but ordinary gays do not. In a culture where the role of men and family is always found in shifting sands, the black gay man who wants something as simple, respectable and middle class as marriage with another man is on very shaky ground. Black women have a very difficult time accepting that the rare 'good black man' might be gay, or interested in white women, and this is a powerful force in black opinion. The exception is for the black queer who is used by black progressives in a radical chic fashion exactly in the same way that white liberals used angry ghetto blacks to further their agenda. Black gays themselves may be unwitting victims of a new blaxploitation in such a way that their actual modest goals of acceptance in marriage is all but ignored.
Is that homophobia? Undoubtedly that is part of the equation, but it is also the success of the political exploitation of a black queer revolution that makes gay marriage an oxymoron to black people.