My good friend, Don Charles, who blogs over at "Christ, The Gay Martyr," sent me the following email asking that I elaborate on it, and I’m very pleased to do so because I, too, share these beliefs!
“For the better part of 20 years now, the media has been filled with images of 'gangsta' rappers . . . street thugs with gold chains, saggy pants and foul language, identifying themselves as 'niggers' and spewing sexism, heterosexism and glorification of violence. There are still a significant number White people in this country who don’t know any Black people personally. All they know is what they see and hear in the media. So who wants to see Niggaz With Attitude in the White House, or somebody who comes from a culture that would produce Niggaz With Attitude? It’s what we’ve been saying to LGBT folk all along . . . if you don’t show a respectable image to your fellow citizens, you won’t be respected! You cannot empower yourself by embracing stereotypes and inviting people to speak and/or think of you as a 'nigger', a 'bitch', 'a dyke', a 'faggot' or a 'queer.' You can disenfranchise yourself pretty good, though, and in the process, you can disenfranchise others in your same group!” He also wrote me about the "...destructive images in Black entertainment media: The tacky 'pimp' aesthetic, the street whore look, the loud, aggressive, obscene and uncouth behavior, the love of flashy jewelry and ostentatious automobiles, the prevalence of drugs and alcohol, the glorification of promiscuity and having babies out of wedlock."
My best guess is that Obama’s candidacy was doomed from the very beginning, aided and abetted by his not choosing Hilary Clinton as his VP running mate, and further abetted by his choosing a long-time Senate member, Joe Biden. Obama, if he really wants to become President, is his own worst enemy!
I say that Obama’s candidacy was doomed from the very beginning because of Race, and nothing else! And a good deal of that irrational racism, albeit by no means all of it, is due to the stereotypes that have been held by all too many white people; those stereotypes have been “lived up to,” and reinforced by the very conditions concisely stated by Don Charles. Stereotypes are often held and reinforced by one’s image of the person about whom they are held, and the image held by many white people is gained by the presentation of self of many Black people in assorted, frequently entertainment, venues.
In any case, racism is alive and well in the U.S. in 2008, and the irrationality of racism is aided and abetted by self-destructive epithets used as self-identifiers, and frequently used with abandon, by a visible segment of African Americans themselves. This racism, this elephant in the room, is likely to come back and cost Obama a victory that should otherwise be a slam dunk! We have a chance to replace a defective President, in a defective economy that is clearly going into the tank as we speak, during a time of a very unpopular, uncalled for war. Moreover, we have a chance as a nation to finally put racism behind us and look for the only opportunity we really have to change things for the better, and yet it’s very likely that that chance will be lost to us largely because of racism!
As Jacob Weisberg states:
“Many have discoursed on what an Obama victory could mean for America. We would finally be able to see our legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the rearview mirror. Our kids would grow up thinking of prejudice as a nonfactor in their lives. The rest of the world would embrace a less fearful and more open post-post-9/11 America. But does it not follow that an Obama defeat would signify the opposite? If Obama loses, our children will grow up thinking of equal opportunity as a myth. His defeat would say that when handed a perfect opportunity to put the worst part of our history behind us, we chose not to. In this event, the world's judgment will be severe and inescapable: The United States had its day but, in the end, couldn't put its own self-interest ahead of its crazy irrationality over race. (See his August 28, 2008 article in "Slate," here.)
In the following news item that appeared on September 20, 2008 on "Comcast News," stated:
“Given a choice of several positive and negative adjectives that might describe blacks, 20 percent of all whites said the word ‘violent’ strongly applied. Among other words, 22 percent agreed with ‘boastful,’ 29 percent ‘complaining,’ 13 percent ‘lazy’ and 11 percent ‘irresponsible.’ When asked about positive adjectives, whites were more likely to stay on the fence than give a strongly positive assessment.
“Among white Democrats, one-third cited a negative adjective and, of those, 58 percent said they planned to back Obama.
“The poll sought to measure latent prejudices among whites by asking about factors contributing to the state of black America. One finding: More than a quarter of white Democrats agree that ‘if blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.’
“Those who agreed with that statement were much less likely to back Obama than those who didn't.
“Among white independents, racial stereotyping is not uncommon. For example, while about 20 percent of independent voters called blacks ‘intelligent’ or ‘smart,’ more than one third latched on the adjective ‘complaining’ and 24 percent said blacks were ‘violent.’
“Nearly four in 10 white independents agreed that blacks would be better off if they ‘try harder.’"
A large part of these stereotypes, falsehoods based on perceived images, definitions of the situation, can be directly traced to the presentation of self that exists in assorted public venues, that both nurture and reinforce the already preconceived prejudices of those who will look for any reason, any justification, to not vote for Obama purely because of his race. Moreover, those who use such reasons for not voting for Obama as “lack of experience,” don’t seem to apply that criterion as a negative to Sarah Palin who is likely to be the next President after McCain. Rather, they often make excuses for her, even going so far as the ridiculous claim that has been stated to me that she has foreign policy experience because Alaska, of which she’s been Governor for the past two years, is near Russia.
Just as with White Supremacists, many people who don’t view themselves in that light use the same kind of “logic” in order to justify in their own minds, and in the minds of others, that they are not racists, after all, but are really making a principled decision not to vote for Obama. The same dynamic can be seen to be playing out regarding civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people!
The use of pejorative epithets by many visible Black people that is likely to result in Obama’s not becoming President bespeaks the same self-destructive language and images portrayed by all too many LGBT people who are similarly visible in not only the media, but in most all institutions of higher education. The words “queer,” “fag,” and “dyke,” are common parlance even among most academics who view themselves as “liberal,” who use those words, those historically and still currently used hateful epithets, with aplomb, and with the lack of recognition of the self-destructiveness of the use of those words, both to one’s concept of self as well as to one’s projection of self-image and others’ “definition of the situation” regarding the normality of LGBT status.
"Definition of the situation” is a term coined by the late Sociologist, W.I. Thomas and it basically states that “If people define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” That is, people don’t merely react to the objective features of a situation, but primarily to their perceptions of that situation. Their perceptions clearly override the objective features of that situation when they are called to act on their perceptions.
It’s because of the erroneous, but nevertheless tenaciously held, definition of the situation that many white people have that would create the stereotypes that would inhibit or prevent them from voting for a Black man for President. Similarly, it is because of the erroneous, but nevertheless tenaciously held, definition of the situation that many Straight people have (Strongly reinforced by all too many clergy within the institutional Church.) that many would not believe that LGBT people deserve full and equal civil and sacramental rights because of the stereotypes they hold concerning LGBT people.
And it must be acknowledged that those stereotypes are reinforced by the self-defeating, self-destructive usage of words and images that do nothing but help reinforce the “otherness,” the “deviance,” the “danger” of LGBT people as “the other,” “the enemy,” who are “abnormal” and must be “kept in their place.” We as a country are likely to pay a very dear price for the racism that we possess; we as a country are similarly likely to pay a dear price for the homophobia that we possess!
Both racism and homophobia are aided and abetted by language that frames people’s thoughts! Indeed, the late linguist, Benjamin Whorf suggested this very compelling hypothesis: “The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis proposed that language affects thought. Also sometimes called the Whorfian hypothesis, this claims that the language a person speaks affects the way that he or she thinks, meaning that the structure of the language itself affects cognition.” (See here.)
The very language any minority group (or majority group, for that matter) uses concerning itself “affects cognition!” That is, others will think of us as we think of ourselves and/or what we give them permission to think of us! As many of us were told by our parents, “If you don’t respect yourself, how do you expect others to respect you?” And whether or not we respect ourselves, if we communicate in the language of others that we are not deserving of respect, we are not likely to get that respect from them, and we should not be surprised at the hypothesis that we will be respected commensurate to the degree that we communicate that self-respect to others.
If we denigrate ourselves, show lack of dignity and self-respect by our use of self-destructive language according to the majority group’s definition of the situation, why would we expect them to accord us any respect? Why would we expect to be treated with dignity and have the same rights as others, when we, through our very language concerning our concept of self and presentation of self, present a negative self-image as seen through the lenses of potential allies in the fight for full and equal LGBT rights?
Next time we hear “gangsta rap” or hear Gay people refer to themselves with stereotypical hateful epithets, let’s remember that, as we might well rue the day when negative stereotypes failed to help save the United States in 2008, we might well be significantly and unnecessarily retarding the acquisition of full and equal civil and sacramental rights for LGBT people.