But What Does Every Black Celebrity in America Think About Gay Marriage?

Just as the appearance of a black presenter at the Academy Awards prompts the camera to track down the most famous black celebrity in the audience (Will Smith, Samuel L. Jackson or Halle Berry), President Barack Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage has prompted the media to seek out quotes from some black household names in America.

Jay-Z approved of Obama’s evolution in a CNN interview. Smith gave gay marriage a thumbs up while promoting Men in Black III in Germany (just don’t try to kiss him). Other rappers like T.I. and 50 Cent have given their support with a “it doesn’t affect me so why should I care” slant, though in 50 Cent’s case, he’s terribly concerned about gay guys wanting to “grab your little buns” on the elevator and thinks straight guys need a support group for that. The Root even has a slide show of black notables who support gay marriage.

Samuel L. Jackson had already declared his support and participated in activism against Proposition 8 in California in 2008. Then after Proposition 8 passed, blacks were blamed for voting in favor of banning gay marriage in higher numbers than other races, though after the numbers were analyzed, blacks only voted in favor of Prop. 8 in numbers six percent higher than the rest of the population. Given that blacks make up only six percent of California’s population, it seems a bit of a reach to blame it on them, but the narrative has stuck (well, them and the Mormons).

The argument over blame was strange and a little telling. I was left wondering what the 42 percent of the blacks who voted against Prop. 8 felt about being blamed for its passage anyway. But that has always been a problem with collective or tribal politics – the voting booth makes a mockery of it. Looking at blacks or gays as a monolithic group has always been profoundly stupid, and a barrier to actual engagement between individuals within these groups, and yet it continues.

But what the hell do I know? Pundits, playing into collective identity narratives, wondered whether Obama’s position on gay marriage would hurt him with black voters in the polls. Instead, Obama’s evolution on gay marriage is causing shifts in black voters’ positions.

Adam Serwer at Mother Jones reports on major polling number shifts in Maryland, where state-recognized gay marriage is up in the air due to a ballot initiative:

Polls taken since President Obama expressed support for same-sex marriage have shown an astonishing shift in black support on marriage equality. The shift in Maryland is so dramatic that the state may become the first state to actually uphold same-marriage rights in a referendum.

According to Public Policy Polling [pdf], the polling numbers for black voters in Maryland have completely flipped over the past two months. Originally 56 percent said they would vote against recognizing gay marriage (similar to California’s Prop. 8 numbers). In poll numbers released Thursday, 55 percent of black voters said that they would vote in favor of recognizing gay marriage. A Washington Post poll shows similar shifts in numbers nationally.

So am I wrong for thinking it’s inappropriate and counterproductive to look at African-Americans collectively as voters? In another blog entry at Mother Jones, Serwer took note of a relevant study mentioned by John Sides:

Although the polling data thus far generally support the finding that presidents don’t move public opinion very much or very often, there is some reason to believe that Obama himself could move opinion among African-Americans.  In a 1994 paper (gated), James Kuklinski and Norman Hurley conducted an experiment in which respondents read a statement urging African-Americans to demonstrate more self-reliance.  The statement was attributed to Jesse Jackson, Clarence Thomas, George Bush, Ted Kennedy, or no one.

Among black participants, the most persuasive cue-giver was Jackson, following closely by…?  Thomas.

Sides adds: “This is nothing unique to Jackson or Thomas or even African-Americans, of course.  Sources of information are generally more credible when they are perceived as sharing our identities, values, etc.”

Indeed, appeals coming from a position of authority are bound to be more effective and feel less condescending when they come from somebody with whom you have commonalities. But is this a good thing? Ultimately, I benefit from the polling shift (assuming it isn’t just lip service), and I believe the “get government out of marriage” crowd will ultimately benefit in the long-term if the “What business is it of mine?” attitude spreads, but isn’t it just a bit creepy?

Reason-Rupe explores changes in public attitudes in gay marriage.

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  • ||

    So am I wrong for thinking it’s inappropriate and counterproductive to look at African-Americans collectively as voters?

    No.

  • Randian||

    Well...yes and no is the more correct response. If I said that generally speaking, black voters are Democrats, that's a collective statement on that group's voting habits.

  • ||

    No, that's semantics. If 80% of black people vote TEAM BLUE, then 20% of them don't. Saying "most black people vote TEAM BLUE" is technically true, but is a disservice to the 20% who don't. They've been lumped into a collective.

    Do see now why the Borg's transformation of Picard into Locutus was a mistake? Do you?

  • Azathoth!!||

    How is saying "MOST black people vote TEAM BLUE" a disservice to the 20% of black people who don't vote TEAM BLUE? They're not included in that 'most' because they're not part of it. By using 'most' you aren't lumping anyone in--you're deliberately excepting some people.

  • ||

    So you're saying that you root for the Borg. Fine, whatever, dude. I'm just glad you're honest about it. Jeri Ryan's still not going to bang you, you know.

  • 16th amendment||

    I think the issue is that you want to see people as individuals, so the statistical method (which averages people) removes their identity.

    Still, we can make statistical measurements. I agree that we're all individuals, but we wall into patterns of behavior, so it's fine to study that too. It's similar to the Ehrenfest of quantum mechanics, which says that while each particle has an indeterminate position and velocity and do not follow Newton's law of physics F=ma, a collection of trillions of particles will follow F=ma. Their random fluctuations cancel each other out and they obey the laws of classical mechanics.

  • Anacreon||

    But you are forgetting that any black who doesn't vote a straight Democrat ticket is a Traitor To His Race ©.

  • David_TheMan||

    Who told you this, Rush Limbaugh?

  • 16th amendment||

    No. It's sort of established in the culture that if you do this, you are a sell out. Consider the story of black republican candidate Charlotte Bergmann, running in Tennessee, who was called stupid: http://www.foxnews.com/politic.....andidate/.

  • jacob||

    I remember that episode. I was livid. I wanted to spit on that fatass DJ.

  • fried wylie||

    though in 50 Cent’s case, he’s terribly concerned about gay guys wanting to “grab your little buns” on the elevator and thinks straight guys need a support group for that.

    And Jezehomme (accepting suggestions for a better name) is born.

  • Sudden||

    Hommes Don't Play Dat?

  • Randy Bottoms||

    I'm okay with two men getting married, but the sure as hell better be from the same race.

  • fried wylie||

    *applause*

  • 16th amendment||

    Remember how Jews were blamed for causing Bob Turner, a republican, an evil republican, to win in New York? I always doubted this, but I guess people like group identity answers.

    Now I wonder if Romney's embracing straight marriage only could backfire. Personally, I think he supports it, but he needs support of the base. But if the base is becoming more accepting of gay issues, he loses his base.

    Then again, he has no chance winning more than 20% of the black vote anyway, and evangelical voters aren't going to change their support of gay rights anytime soon. In other words, the people shifting their attitudes on gay rights are not part of Romney's base, and he didn't have their vote anyway. Then again, maybe he will lose some of the black vote.

  • jacob||

    Now I wonder if Romney's embracing straight marriage only could backfire.

    Doubtful. Anyone who is basing their vote for the '12 election solely on gay marriage wasn't voting for Romney anyways.

    But if the base is becoming more accepting of gay issues, he loses his base.

    Part of what defines the Team Red base is that they don't support gay marriage.

  • 16th amendment||

    but isn’t it just a bit creepy?

    Yes. It implies that group identity is part of our way of thinking, for better or for worse. I think it's genetic. It is both good in that it allows to work together, achieve bold new things. But it can close our minds too. Because when White people say sensible things, things that will advance society, like we need limited government, people of other races won't listen to them. But I will, even though I'm not white.

    Condi Rice said many of her heroes are "old white men". She's escaped the group identity. I'm excited about her being the VP, and was excited about Cain. Cain's 999 plan long term goal was to eliminate the income tax. Now that's what I'm talking about. I believe these people could move the black vote to the right.

  • sweeterjan||

    ingers, with his desire to kill the income tax, end government interference in medical care, and get to a balanced budget in three years with no tax hikes. Yet despite Paul’s impeccable Tea Party credentials on tax and spending issues, he would be a more appealing choice to progressives http://www.vendreshox.com/nike-shox-r4-c-9.html dissatisfied with President Obama. Even while running for the GOP presidential nod, Ron Paul has presented a political vision in many respects to the left of the Democratic Party.

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