The recent Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage and voting rights is a strong reminder of the hazards of ignoring class and culture in thinking about politics.
We tend to consider these things one dimensionally as if the Supreme Court was only deciding law – and not culture, class and politics. As if the only issue was basic identity and not its complicating factors.
But when you have a legal institution that repeatedly splits on what the law means, and when the splitters are usually the same justices, you know there’s more going on than the law. Consider, for example, that there are six Roman Catholics on the Supreme Court, three Jews and no Protestants or secularists. And we hardly even mention this even if it obviously plays some role in the court’s practice.
And while black or latino is an ethnicity and homosexuality a gender, there’s much more to it than that.
For example, the voting rights decision directly affects poorer Americans. The injustices are aimed at discouraging a class of voters many of whom need to be urged to vote in the first place. Wealthier blacks and latinos tend to live in neighborhoods where voter mischief is not underway and they can manage even annoying bureaucratic hassles. Further you couldn’t have long lines in such neighborhoods – like those that killed an estimated 50,000 votes in Florida in one recently election – without forcing well-off white voters to wait as well.
As the Review noted last year:
The ACLU and others have reported that the number of registered Pennsylvania voters who are at risk of being disenfranchised because they do not have state-issued ID is more than one million. To get some idea of how bad this is, consider that in the 1960s there were only about 900,000 blacks in segregationist Mississippi including children too young to vote. Thus the impact of the GOP assault on Pennsylvania rights will affect more minorities, seniors, and poorer citizens than one of the worst attacks on civil rights in our history. Further, the cost of getting a voter ID amounts to a hidden poll tax, which the civil rights movement thought it had eliminated a long time ago.
Then there’s the question of who has what sort of clout in the culture. Obviously poor blacks and latinos don’t have much. And wealthier blacks and latinos have not had near the cultural influence of gays.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t poor gays. A report of the American Psychological Society, for example, noted that:
While LGBT persons tend to have more education on average than the general population, evidence suggests that they make less money than their heterosexual … counterparts. Studies on income differences for LGBT persons indicate that:
– Gay men earn up to 32 percent less than similarly qualified heterosexual men.
Up to 64 percent of transgender people report incomes below $25,000.
– While 5.9 percent of the general population makes less than $10,000, 14 percent of LGBT individuals are within this income bracket.
And CNN reported that “Same-sex couples spent an average $9,039 on their weddings, while 31% spent $10,000 or more — though that’s still not as high as the $27,021 that the average couple spends on a wedding.”
But there is still a substantial difference in the effect of upper class gay culture on current America compared with that of upscale blacks and latinos.
Through their role in show business, for example, LGBT leaders have had a chance to affect America’s perception of gayness. Blacks haven’t done nearly as well. Patrick Goldstein described it in the LA Times this way:
Hollywood has made a slew of films about the black experience, from “The Help,” “Ray” and “The Great Debaters” to “Amistad,” “Remember the Titans” and “Malcolm X.” But those films have one thing in common – they’re all set in the past. Even “Precious,” which earned a host of Oscar nominations in 2010, took place in 1987.
“There are too many decision makers in Hollywood today that look at the modern black experience and you can tell it’s a big mystery to them,” notes John Ridley, who co-wrote the script for “Red Tails.”
It’s easy enough to understand why – the present is less comfortable, while the past offers the opportunity to show the struggles and hurdles for people of color. But where are the movies that chronicle today’s African American experience? Or for that matter, films that offer any kind of serious look at any people of color, be they Asian, Latino or black?
Hollywood has no problem making African American comedies, often crammed with cringe-worthy racial stereotypes. We also get an occasional romantic comedy or a hip-hop biopic like “Notorious.” But a real movie with real black people?
Or consider this by Timothy P. Carney in the Washington Examiner:
While raising money for Bill Clinton (who signed the Defense of Marriage Act) in 1992, Rahm Emanuel proclaimed “Gays are the next Jews of fundraising.”, , ,
About 20 percent of Obama’s bundlers — volunteer fundraisers — are gay, according to media reports, with many of them being gay rights activists. For example, Sally Susman has raised at least $500,000 for Obama’s re-election. Millionaire banking mogul Eugene Sepulveda is another gay half-million-dollar Obama bundler. Rufus Gifford is the finance director for Obama’s re-election campaign, and Andrew Tobias is treasurer of the Democratic National Committee — and both are gay.
There is little clout like this among blacks and latinos.
Sometimes, the littlest things can be telling. After the Supreme Court decision, Goldman Sachs flew a rainbow flag over its headquarters. Would it have flown a black or latino celebratory flag if voting rights had won?
While there is absolute virtue in both causes, there is no doubt that the majority culture is far more comfortable with gay intrusions than with ethnic ones.
Besides, the voting rights issue remained unresolved while we were clearly making progress on gay marriage even before the decision.
In the end voting rights challenges culture, class and politics while gay marriage only challenges cultural norms. Gay marriage only alters what gays can do. Voting rights could change what the whole country does.
If the Supreme Court was going to ease its biases, it picked the easiest course.