Chocolate City Washington D.C. recently moved to recognize same-sex unions and marriages from any American state. “Heather has two mommies,” sounds ridiculous when chided from a Black Christian fundamentalist’s mouth. All the Black Heathers any of us know have two, maybe three mommies and several surrogate daddies. Collectivism is our way of life, distinct from clanism in Asian joint families, or even the guilds throughout Europe. Each culture is distinct and with unique merits. So, where have African-American Christians gone wrong? Why is it that Blacks have so often been co-opted into serving as the mouthpiece on the ‘rong side of modern day civil liberties and human rights?
“To be sanctified by a clergy person,” probes Dr. Dyson (who doubles as a clergyman), is the central issue around all civil unions. Moreover, no relationship can sustain itself by itself. Rather, relationships are sustained by concerted efforts; those that are communal are stronger.
Same-same but different, scream the proponents regarding the justice of legal and socio-religious consecration of same-gender unions. And evoking the extremities as Americans always do, we might ask, what of bestiality, pedophilia and polygamy? Or, why even collapse these few and add stigma?
The reality is that we have family values. Mainstream, white culture has been very assertive of its grounds to create dialogue around universal family values. Yet, given our cultural diversity, core values do clash. Hate, for example, is not a family value, in spite of any claims churches have had in enslaving or otherwise oppressing mass groups of peoples.
At the core of legitimizing same-gender unions is what has heretofore been an uncivilized debate about the subject. Rather than acknowledging fear of biblical proportions, some Black clergy, for example, and other excellent vocal homophobes have successfully polarized the debate. Everybody hates a butt-f*cker, but few are bold enough to claim it as hate.
Boiling family down to marriage is a western concept that has colonized communities around the globe. Family for most, means multiple mommies and daddies, plenty of aunts, uncles and cousins and little to no differentiation between the two. Old maid, widower or unmarried uncle—all amount to viable members of our societies that must be revalorized in a world that tempts toward privileging the nuclear family. Rich, white gays, in their skin, class and/or gender privilege, have made it no safer in our schools, homes and churches. They have contributed to the polarization and we’re all now swinging from poles.
This debate was unique because it delved into the construction of identity, rather than superficially, as most public debates do, only surveying the crown. That legal and socio-political recognition where the crux of civil rights, then recognizing and discoursing on identities is core to modern human rights.
The rhetoric of equality and integration has evolved into human rights and dialogue. No longer is desegregation a goal when all have not agreed to holistic pluralism. Where there is a majority culture, there is minoritization. Multi-culturalism gained the United States a heavy advantage towards modernization in comparison to ‘the old world’- those places with actual clans of ethnicity to which smaller groups are ‘minoritized’.
In places like India, the elitism is so grand that the upper caste monarchy is quite minuscule in regards to the oppressed lower castes and classes who aspire toward upward mobility, that the ruling class is virtually wholly insulated by the invisibility of privilege. Indeed, part and parcel of the construction of privileged identities is the invisibility of said privilege. Oppression, studied, mined for labor, demonized in public rhetoric, despised by co-opted science and/or socio-political thought, the lives of the slumdog are always (rendered) visible.
In our popular, mainstream identities, oppression just appears out of nowhere. Sh*t just happens!?! Hence, privilege is as invisible as the Boogie Man, The Tooth Fairy, and as ethereal as gods. Hare Krishna, Hare Ram; and even the Goddess Kali is so ‘Black’ she’s blue.
The lives of ‘the others’ is shown day and night on big and small screens, and from all sorts of angles. The rich resist anthropological study, though the elite dominate the images portrayed throughout our pop culture.
Everyone wants to be, and can be rich- so the fantasies go. The consumer identity that has apparently supplanted all other aspects of modern American identity is so lapped up into what one can get as a consumer, while making fewer and fewer demands as citizens, means that our little paradise is no more stable than a trailer home. And this in a land that used to value migration- when the trailer home was a prairie home companion. We bet all our guns on our horse, park a Benz under the car port, and call it a day. Yet, has that dream been realized?
Trapped. And obsessed. My favorite diva to pick on sells sex, and simply having money as examples of her success in life. Her artistry rarely, though consistently, challenges listeners to bop our heads along any stimulating lyrics. Indeed, we’re still just talking about lust. And, when a culture worships youth, and has decreasing value for what’s old, we value little to nothing. Our only values are what we produce- the sort of wealth that can be counted in cash, Getting’ money, divas gettin’ money. If you ain’t got money, then you ain’t got nothin’ for me, B. says. And her beats are phat.
Still, how long can any diva sing nothing but chant about her wealth, her purchases with said wealth, and her ability to over-power men either through sexual coercion or monetary humiliation. Take a look at Beyoncé in Upgrade You, crawling around on the tarmac or rug of some Bentley- the trunk actually- with a huge (faux) diamond stuck in her mouth like a pacifier.
We are indeed pacified by the promise of wealth, so the diamond need not be real, and we need not care about the blood shed for our trinkets. These ostentatious shows of wealth quite neatly feed Americans’ need to believe in ourselves- to remind us that anyone can make it. Anyone can be president, we continually tell ourselves despite the fact that 43 were mostly the same.
When have we not been an elite-oriented nation- so early as each cross-cultural interaction in the New World? One must dominate, the interactions tell us- all neatly back-up by Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fate of Human Societies. Whether the mini-series, or the thick book- denser than Harry Potter, but ultimately both responding to the same fantasies of annihilation. Yet, even Potter seems to learn- and from the minorities no less (the outcaste, non-mainstream characters)- that camaraderie rather than individualism win far greater that a tyranny constructed on fear.
Is it a choice?
Fear breeds hatred, breeds lust, breeds envy and insecurity. Identities based on fear will inevitably devour the rest, assassinating dialogue at the turn off. Consumer culture has split our identities rather than encouraged us towards ways of reconciliation and truth-telling. Popular consumerism has led us towards social suicide. And lest we wonder, this core aspect of mainstream American culture is why the world hates us and loves us- like Coke- at the same time. It IS coke, stupid!
Yet, and in spite of my adoration of NPR, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson raises even more critical questions of identity, far beyond ‘identity-politics- that have pervaded much of the public debate. Dr. Dyson’s show regularly demands that we give more profound credence to culture, and unpack heretofore monolithic identities such as white or Black, Christian or not.
Is Gay marriage a Civil Right? Aren’t modern queer rights similar to those around race, religion and ethnicity? Is homosexuality a choice? Any idiot that ever met a butch-girl or femme-boy in kindergarten knows that one’s sexual and gender identity is even less of a choice than one’s religion and racial identity, especially since race and religion are social constructs that are nearly as rigid and impenetrable as class.
Polarizing questions never reach the roots of our consistent fears over difference. This reveals that the only real choice here is moving from fear toward courage. Few public debates from public sources deal with this head-on. Yet, the Michael Eric Dyson show, led by the host of the same name with occasional guest hosts like NPR’s Tony Cox, far exceeds the normative rhetoric of the day. Proceed to dysonshow.org with caution and an open mind.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong online. Please consider a donation to support our work as an independent publisher devoted to the arts and humanities. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times where advertising no longer covers our costs. We need your help to keep PopMatters publishing. Thank you.