Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama's Non-Believer Shout Out

First, props to one L bill for his text message to me about this during Barack Obama's inaugural speech the other day. I hadn't charged my phone in a while and unbeknownst to me it had turned itself off, so I did not see his text until after I had added my update to this post. one L is a devout Christian and either out of familial compassion or cultural curiosity he puts up with my godless outbursts and rantings with good humor and obvious respect. As I wrote in the comment section: good looking out, brother.

That said, Obama's use of this phrase has been much discussed around the blogosphere since Tuesday but a comment by Chris Bodenner while guest blogging at The Daily Dish particularly caught my eye:

It's just one anecdote, but: I stood with mostly African-Americans during the speech and the only time I ever heard booing of Obama, from many directions, was his shout-out to "non-believers."
I find this to be an interesting phenomenon amongst the black community in America. Religion is a part of life for almost every black American to some extent and this truism applies across education levels, geography and income groups. As I said in a previous post, several gay rights groups out here in California have unfairly blamed black voters for the passage of Proposition 8 although the data shows that it would have narrowly passed without them but the fact remains that they did oppose the measure by a far larger percentage than any other racial demographic, and I feel confident assuming that this was due to the prevalence of religion in the black community (accompanied by a significant amount of homophobia in popular black culture, the origins of which I'm slightly less inclined to attribute to religion but I'm neither a sociologist nor a theologian on that count).

The reason I find this interesting is that black people as a demographic group in America are so similar to a substantial portion of Southern white Republicans: they're passionate Christians, they oppose gay marriage rights, they oppose abortion rights, they favor prayer in schools, and they are for the most part on a substantially lower economic scale than the average American, yet 88% of the black vote in 2004 went to John Kerry and a whopping 96% in 2008 went to Barack Obama. After the slight increase is attributed to Obama's race my question is this: besides an overt exploitation of religion by the Republican party and a subversive vein of racism running through the same, what do black folks see in the difference between these two parties that Southern whites do not?

This question is not rhetorical; I'm actually asking the readers of this blog. Is the black community really voting against their religious beliefs or is there really something the matter with Kansas? I'm genuinely curious as to the origins of this phenomenon and am entirely open to thoughts on either side of this cultural divide (although full disclosure does compel me to admit that I believe that Kansas and other predominantly poor white populations are voting against their own self interests by supporting Republican candidates; if one of you can convince me otherwise, I've learned something new and so much the better).

[Update: On a completely related note, Bodenner also links to this post at The Black Atheist blog. As a straight white atheist who oftentimes feels alone and misunderstood in 21st century America, I can only imagine what it must be like for an atheist who is also black and gay. Sometimes I have to see how hard some other people have it before I can appreciate how good my life, despite any personal hardships, really is.]


Trashman said...

Being a straight Southern white, I'm really confused. I assume this is due to inbreeding. Personally I believe in God and gay rights (going to hell for that). I don't care who you're sleeping with. I say if you want to be miserably tied to them for life. Go get married. Seriously finding someone that loves you as much as you love them is hard enough, so if that person happens to be the same sex as you and you're OK with it, then the church and the government need to stay out of it. Plus it's good for the lawyers come divorce time. More money in circulation. I don't know anything about an Obama non-believer shout out, but it wouldn't surprise me. Just the beast showing his true colors.

JoeBama "Truth 101" Kelly said...

I am glad to not wear out JBW with my views on faith if he doesn't wear me out trying to convert me to atheism. If I had to choose though, I'd rather listen to JBW than a Jesus freak. I have no idea how these nuts are able to inject scripture into a discussion about who's going to win the super bowl.

Van Zan said...

I don't not believe in God so much as believe it is logically beyond human ability to know what divinity is. And I have no use for organised religion, although I do see that it very important to many people - who are not all universally simpletons or bigots.
My 2 cents on that.

In answer to your question, does it not have to do with traditional voting lines that trace their origins back to civil rights legislation in the 1960's (as you would recall LBJ is said to have quipped "we have lost the South for a generation"), plus republican connivance on beating up the fears many people appear to have about their guns?

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

01 23 09

If you really wanna know why Blacks have conservative social attitudes yet overwhelmingly vote Dem, see history. Robert Kennedy really reached out to Blacks back in the day and his rhetoric really opened necessary dialog about racial inequalities during the Civil Rights era.

Also, if a group is historically oppressed and just came out of being legally seen as chattel, how were they able to survive such indignity? HOPE and FAITH that one day things would be better. I oft ask my grandparents these questions and this is how they see it.

Although I am an Independent libertarian capitalist, I understand the historical precedent for Black alignment with the Dems. After all, the GOP was seen as the party that ignored Blacks for a while. And that is interesting because prior to the sixties most Blacks voted Republican as Abe Lincoln was a Republican.

Lastly, I take issue with the statement that there is a lot of homophobia in the Black community. Perhaps the term is offensive to me. I much prefer the term homonegativity.

Much of the issue with homosexuality comes from deep religious convictions, and I am not certain how many folks who believe that 'gayness' is morally wrong are afraid of gays. You can disagree with something and see it as repugnant but that doesn't mean you are afraid of it.

Good post with good questions.

Anonymous said...

First of all, if you think blacks are any more homophobic than whites than you have clearly never heard about the "down low". I remember watching this guy get up on one of those talk shows (maybe Oprah, probably somebody like Maury though) and talk for 20 minutes about how he wasn't gay, he just had sex with men, on the side, for fun. Apparently the "down low" community is huge too. One of my brother's best friends is a little like this. Supposedly he's totally gay now, but I'm not sure I'm buying that. Not for physical or philosophical reasons, so much as observed behavior and attitudes.

Anyway, I don't think this should be so interesting a discussion for for you. I personally don't believe there's substantially more moral virtue in either party. If you're truly trying to live by the book, you're probably somewhere down the middle. The thing that drives me crazy are the folks who boil it down to Republicans being the "religious" party because they're against abortion and gay marriage. Well what the hell? Aren't the democrats trying to take care of our elderly and orphans? I mean, the good work and ideas of the Democrats can be very biblical in its own right.

If you ask me, our current political parties can not be safely divided into the religious and the non. We have very close (Christian) friends who are staunch Democrats for good reasons. We also have very close (Christian) friends who are staunch Republicans for good reasons. They love each other despite their political differences, but neither is shy about saying why their party is right or better. Seems futile to me.

JBW said...

On the non-believer tip:

Trash, the term "shout-out" was texted to me by one L and I have labeled it so because this is the first inaugural speech I know of that explicitly acknowledged those of us who do not believe in a god. And having read and knowing as much about Obama as much as I have and do, I assume that it was done with deliberate forethought.

Truth, my beliefs do not require that you believe as I do. Always appreciate your input.

VZ, I agree with you on the religious question. I'll address your comments below.

one L, I don't think that blacks are any more homophobic (I'll address that word below) than whites, just that their discomfort is more widespread throughout their demographic group.

The reason this interests me is because both of these groups of people (blacks and Southern whites) are extremely similar in many respects, yet blacks overwhelmingly support the Democratic party despite it's championing of gay rights while Southern whites overwhelmingly support the Republican party despite it's antipathy to the poor (of which a significant portion of this group is composed).

And yes, I do not think that either party has a claim on religion, ethics or morality. They're both filled with saints and assholes but the major difference I can see is that the Republicans have tried to claim that they are the party of religion and the Democrats have for the most part let them get away with it.

Mahndisa, aside from my good buddy/ opponent Don, you're the only person of color to comment on this blog that I can identify by your avatar. As such, I welcome your relatively unique perspective on this issue.

As you and VZ both said, this goes back to the 60's and the Kennedys during the civil rights movement (yes, of course I already knew this but the point of the post was to encourage ideas and debate rather than to merely focus on my own thoughts, a running theme and purpose of this blog as a whole).

I can indeed understand the infusion of religion into black culture because of the struggles that group of Americans have had to overcome during this country's history and despite some of my more dickish comments here, I also understand what an important role it can play in the lives of all Americans and others worldwide.

The statement that there is a streak of homophobia running within the black community was a blanket one made based on what I have observed in voting patterns, discerned in the lyrics and comments from many popular black entertainers and seen amongst the many black folks I have known over the course of my life. If you take issue with the terminology I have no problem using the word homonegativity as a more refined term, but I suspect that most people will look at me in a quizzical manner when I use it.

My only retort to your supposition that it is disagreement based on religious beliefs rather than fear that drives this collective attitude is that oftentimes the outcome of both attitudes is the same for the gay community (read=denial of rights).

That said: why you gotta be such an Aunt Tom about Obama and all of this anyway? If you are non-PC enough to read that last sentence and still smile, there is definitely a place for you amongst the collection of folks that frequent this blog. I sincerely hope that this is the case.

Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

01 24 09

Thx for the response. I don't think I am an Aunt Tom for my views on Obama. I am consistent. M Grandpa told me to vote my conscience and that is what I do. For ideological reasons I could neither support him or McCain. I voted libertarian, which means Bob Barr. I slept that night and this is despite the fact that I was happy to see a Black man in the white house, but on a visceral level only. Intellectually I was saddened by his proposed policies.

JBW said...

Mahndisa, the Aunt Tom comment was in reference to your own comments about not being an Uncle Tom back on your own site. I thought you would get that and find it funny. I'm going to posit that perhaps you are too serious.