We like the idea of Touré, but as a person and concept, he’s got two sides.
There’s the Good Touré, who writes beautifully, gave us a nice shout out once, and frolics around the Brooklyn neighborhood we both live in with his adorable kids, while making bookstore appearances and tweeting furiously.
But then, there’s the Bad Touré, who attributes off the wall crazy race tweets to a non-existent “PhD student/insane mf” cousin, thinks he’s the only person to opine (or joke) about Trayvon Martin, and who’d even stoop to using anti-immigration bigotry to (poorly) try and bully Piers Morgan from reporting in America or even conduct an interview with George Zimmerman’s brother. It’s this Touré who seems destined to make news, whatever it is, whether it makes light of something he takes seriously or casts himself as the only African American (or American, or earthling) allowed to think or talk about race.
Bad Touré was on full display yesterday, both in Time and again on The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell on MSNBC, where he went to town saying black folks may abandon Obama for his stance on same-sex marriage.
Touré was not inaccurate with some of the facts, writing in Time:
“The constituency calculus makes this choice politically risky for Obama. Black voters, who were critical to Obama’s ’08 victory, are strongly against marriage equality. A recent Washington Post/ABC poll found 55% of blacks oppose gay marriage and 42% support it, which is almost the opposite of white voters–53% support and 43% oppose.”
However, he draws many of the wrong conclusions from this data, and paints the picture, for lack of a better phrase, in terms that are far too black and white. Writing about the National Organization For Marriage’s campaign to drive a wedge between blacks and gays, Touré writes that (emphasis added):
“I suspect it might have worked because I usually find that linking the gay rights struggle with the battle for racial justice in any way tends to elicit angry responses from many black people. Many show no empathy for gays as another legally oppressed minority and have no desire to see any similarity between the two historically oppressed identity groups. I hear people talk about how much harder and more violent life has been for black Americans than gay Americans as if there’s an Oppression Olympics. The comparison is irrelevant. Hearing of the legalized discrimination of a group of people should send chills down black backs. We know what that feels like.”
We’d quibble strongly with much of this. Having reported all over the country about the fight for same-sex marriage equality over the past few years, and having interviewed scores of black (gay and straight) people in the trenches in this fight, we find that Touré is painting this scene almost as crudely as NOM’s own Maggie Gallagher would. But let’s put that aside and deal with just one thing: Touré’s absurd notion that black voters, who voted almost exclusively for Obama just over three years ago, are going to abandon the president now simply for coming out with a position anyone with half a brain knew had before yesterday (and could reasonably suspect he had even back in 2008 when he was first running for president).
Here are five reasons why Touré is simply wrong in analyzing this dynamic, and why his assertions yesterday that black voters will abandon Obama are absolute bullshit. Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at some politicians who have supported gay rights to their “detriment” and “destruction” at the hands of their black constituents.
1. Adrian Fenty and Vincent Gray in Washington, D.C.
Adrian Fenty was the youngest mayor in the history of Washington, D.C. , which was 50 percent black in the last U.S. Census. Yes, Fenty signed the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Act of 2009 into law, making same-sex marriage legal in the nation’s Capitol. Yes, he lost the black vote in his losing bid for re-election the following year. But guess who the black voters of D.C. elected instead? Vincent Gray. Gray was also a strong supporter of gay rights, told the Washington Blade shortly before the election that he’d “take strong steps to address a wide range of issues of concern to local LGBT residents, including speaking out against efforts to overturn the city’s same-sex marriage law through a ballot initiative,” and thanked President Obama yesterday for coming out for same-sex marriage. The rejection of Fenty for Gray had nothing to do with either’s strong support for gay rights; rather, as the Washington Post pointed out, Fenty’s ouster from black folks probably had more to do with the fact that he was at a premiere for Waiting For Superman, the nationally popular documentary he starred in about his locally unpopular school policy, the weekend before the election. Meanwhile, the equally pro-gay Gray had his ass in black churches all weekend, hustling up support for his campaign, pro-gay stance or not.
2. Michael Nutter in Philadelphia
Michael Nutter, the black mayor of Philadelphia (a city which is 43% black), joined with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 70 other mayors last January in publicly calling for the right for same-sex couples to marry. His support for gay rights have been widely known for a long time, yet he’s won Philadelphia’s highest office by huge margins — some 86 percent in 2007 and still over 70 percent four years later. A look at Nutter’s primary wins also shows large victories; and, as primaries are largely won by winning over die-hard, politically active voters (i.e. old voters), it’s hard to say his support of gay rights hurt him in any way with even the oldest, most church going folks of Philly.
3. Deval Patrick in Massachusetts
Deval Patrick, currently the nation’s only black governor, is the chief executive of one of a handful of states where same-sex marriage is fully legal. When he ran for governor, he won twice — once against a Republican who tepidly endorsed a gay-marriage ban and once against a Republican who supported gay marriage (this is Massachusetts, after all). It’s hard to break out his black support as only 6.6 percent of the state’s population is African American. But it’s also pretty hard to say that his support for gay rights has hurt him — he’s the only black governor in the nation, and he’s pro-gay!
4. Cory Booker in Newark
How excited was Cory Booker, the black mayor of Newark? This tweet says it all:
Booker has long been far more out of the closet about his enthusiastic support for gay rights than Obama. Booker has won election as the Mayor of Newark two times by large margins — 72 percent in 2006, and 59 percent in 2010. And how black is the city that elected this mayor who will dance for gay rights? Over 52%, making it a majority black city.
5. Barack Obama, in Chicago, Illinois, and America at large
Barack Obama has long supported gay rights, in ways that were wink-wink, nudge-nudge, and in ways that were as flamingly out of the closet as Sharon Needles on RuPaul’s Drag Race. It has never, ever hurt him in the slightest way politically with black voters. When he first was getting into politics in Chicago in the mid-nineties, he thought it OK to tell the Windy City Times that he supported gay marriage. It would take him 16 years to get back to this position publicly, but it’s telling from a political perspective that for a young black politician making a career in Chicago (a city that’s a third black) he found it alright to answer the Windy City Times’ question in this way. By the time he was running for president, the American electorate knew where Obama stood on gay rights: he was for repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he was for hate crimes legislation, and he was for everything but the word “marriage” when it came to rights for same-sex couples. How did black voters “punish” him for his pro-gay stances? About 95 percent of them voted for him. Even before yesterday’s historic announcement, Obama had ramped up his support for same-sex couples, having his Department of Justice say that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. His administration has repeatedly advanced the causes of gay soldiers and gay victims of bullying. Have African Americans abandoned him because of this? According to an April 2012 Pew Research Center poll, “Fully 95% of blacks back Obama for reelection – identical to the black vote for Obama in 2008.”
So there you have it: five instances when a robust support of gay rights from black politicians have failed to hurt them with black voters. Touré is as wrong as Maggie Gallagher or even Rueben Diaz in thinking that gay rights will in some way tarnish the first African American president’s standing with the black electorate.