Reducing Pete Buttigieg’s struggle to attract black support solely to black homophobia is not only erroneous, it is a disgusting, racist trope, secretly nursed and insidiously whispered by white liberals with contempt for the very black people they court and need.
I have never been blind to this — the people who see black religiosity as an indicator of primitive thinking and lack of enlightenment.
(For the record, I am bisexual and not a religious man.)
They are those who see black people as a blight on our big cities, pathologically prone to violence and in need of pity and crumbs they cast about and call philanthropy.
They see these black voters as needing to be led, directed and better informed rather than as sophisticated voters fully capable of making informed decisions that they believe are best for their lives and communities.
These people blame black voters when their candidate or their cause fails, even though black voters are the most consistently loyal Democrats in this country.
It is tiresome and disappointing to constantly have to defend yourself not only from people who are openly hostile to you, but also from those who feign friendship but are secretly hostile to you.
It is in the tribal nature of gay culture that white men still center their white maleness as privileged, if one step removed from that enjoyed by their heterosexual brothers, where racial minorities are too often fetishized and thing-ified, seen more as an opportunity than an equal.
The latest round of blaming black homophobia for Buttigieg’s lackluster black support came last month when McClatchy obtained the report from a focus group the Buttigieg campaign had conducted with black voters.
According to McClatchy, the report found that “being gay was a barrier for these voters, particularly for the men who seemed deeply uncomfortable even discussing it. … [T]heir preference is for his sexuality to not be front and center.”
First thing to note here is the size of the group: only 24 people.
The second thing is that focus groups aren’t scientific surveys. As Liza Featherstone, author of “Divining Desire: Focus Groups and the Culture of Consultation,” has put it, “Focus groups are not a scientific and quantitative method of gathering knowledge.”
But none of that mattered. This fed a narrative that liberals — including some older black politicians and pundits — have nursed. A raft of articles was published. Social media posts started to fly.
South Carolina Congressman Jim Clyburn was asked about the focus group on CNN, and he fed into the narrative, saying: “That is a generational issue. I know of a lot of people my age who feel that way.”
The anchor asked if Clyburn was saying that for older African Americans Buttigieg’s gayness was an issue, and he responded: “Yes, it is. There’s no question about that. I’m not going to sit here and tell you otherwise because I think everybody knows that’s an issue.”
Is there homophobia in the black community? Of course. Is it higher in the black community than in other communities? It is. But even that needs context.
Acceptance and rejection of gayness is highly correlated to religiosity. Black people in general are more religious than other racial groups. But, while black Protestants are more opposed to same-sex marriage than white Mainline Protestants (more moderate), they are more supportive of it than white evangelical Protestants (more conservative), according to a May Pew Research Center report.
Furthermore, it found that a majority of black people (51%) now approve of same-sex marriage, just 7 percentage points fewer than Hispanics and 11 fewer than whites. That spread isn’t inconsequential, but it’s also not an overwhelming difference.
But the most important question, it seems to me, is whether feelings about gayness dictate political actions.
A 2007 study by researchers from the City University of New York found that “though Black [Americans] provided more harsh lip service (attitude) to homosexuality, when it comes to discrimination (behavior), they are much more supportive.”
Black people have a long history with discrimination in this country that can make it distasteful for many to abide in any form.
In addition, whatever level of homophobia may exist in the black community, African Americans consistently vote for Democratic candidates with progressive views on gay rights. These Democratic presidential candidates haven’t won a majority of the white vote in modern history, but time and again they get a clear majority of the black vote.
Buttigieg isn’t the only candidate struggling to strengthen his support among black voters. He will have to appeal to that group like he appeals to any other, by listening and being responsive. And he’s already doing that.
A June Post and Courier-Change Research poll of likely Democratic primary voters found: “Most notable is Buttigieg’s growing support from black voters. He collected 6% African American support, good enough for fourth this month, after he received none in May.”
Black voters generally favor candidates with a demonstrated history of loyalty to the community. Buttigieg is a young man, relatively unknown, and with a curious history on race relations in South Bend, Indiana. He will have to get over those hurdles.
Pretending those hurdles don’t exist, and instead assigning the blame to black homophobia, hurts Buttigieg’s campaign more than helps it.
And the people who are so committed to the black homophobia narrative must search themselves for the answer to this question: Why do you want — need! — this trope to stay alive?
Charles M. Blow (@CharlesMBlow) writes for The New York Times.