As the nation prepared to remember Martin Luther King, Jr., as we mark 40 years since the historic March on Washington, how telling that the most important race-related words from the president of the U.S. were his attacks on affirmative action. No matter that his token African-American female sidekick tried to water down the impact the next day. It is clear that George W. Bush wants to push this country back to pre-civil-rights days, pre-Roe v. Wade days. He has dismantled domestic and foreign programs aimed at helping women and minorities, much of it done in the dark of night.
We live in historic times, on the brink of war ... and on the brink of setting back the clock on social progress.
How do these bigger world issues impact the Chicago GLBT community? Every day in every way.
There is vicious racism and sexism within the GLBT community. I have heard the comments and witnessed the impact for nearly two decades, and it is not pretty, and it is not small in importance.
The recent Windy City Times series on race in the GLBT community was just a starting point for a dialogue on race issues. Out of respect for the organizations' concerns, the guidelines for the forums were strict, the format and questions set in advance.
What do these groups have to fear? All of our community's institutions serve the entire GLBT community, and all of them have baggage on race, gender, trans and other issues. They can not help but reflect the larger society.
Failure only comes when these organizations refuse to acknowledge that race does impact their decisions about staff, clients, board members and volunteers. If you are raised in a racist society, you can not just wake up one day and proclaim 'I am not racist.' We all are racist in that we come to the table with stereotypes and personal experiences and society's (mis)education—the only difference is, some people acknowledge this and work on their issues, and others bury their heads in the sand.
I am amazed when I hear some of the debates about affirmative action, the death penalty, education, housing, economics, whatever issue might have an element of racial significance.
We are just decades away from the direct impact of slavery, of laws outlawing the rights of Blacks and women to vote, of inter-racial marriage bans, of police water hoses turned on Black youths, of police cooperation with the Klan. There are people alive today who can trace their lineage to slaves, whose relatives were killed during the civil-rights struggles of the 1950s and 1960s, who attended the March on Washington in 1963, who lived through the assassinations of civil-rights leaders and riots in major cities. Who are racially profiled today.
To bring it even closer to home, there are people alive today and in this Chicago GLBT community who were not allowed entrance into certain gay bars. And some of those gay bars are still operating. There are survivors of the race wars among us—and there are perpetrators of racial profiling and stereotypes also still among us.
So our baggage is front and center in this debate on how race impacts the Chicago GLBT community.
One thing that is so critical to understand when it comes to discussing almost every issue of race is the long-term impact of slavery and the post-slavery racist laws.
Let's do a small test. Take yourself and nine other friends. Blacks on one side, all other races on the other side. Ask this group of people the following questions:
1) Have you ever inherited money or property, or will you in your lifetime, from older generations of your family?
2) Did you attend a public grammar school and high school?
3) If you attended a public school, was it an under-funded and under-performing school on standardized tests?
4) Was your family ever unable to receive a mortgage, business or car loan because of where the family lived, or where the business was located?
5) If you attended college, was it based on any of the following: a) alumni/legacy preferences; b) your family could afford the tuition; c) achievement scores aided in part by solid education you received?
6) Were any of your significant work experiences the result of personal connections through your family or friends?
7) When applying for any significant purchase (car, home, etc.), did you use a co-signer to help guarantee the loan? Or to help get a better loan rate?
The bottom line is that it takes several generations of equality and access to power to make any significant changes in the uneven distribution of wealth in this country. These are of course generalizations. There are many African-Americans who are wealthy and who have great access to power. And there are many whites, Latinos, Asians and others who are at the bottom rung with no hope of getting help.
But in a society with such horrific policies on African-Americans specifically, the impact is tangible and significant. It not only keeps most people down financially, it also impacts psychologically and spiritually.
Bush used his own legacy to get into college (and stay there), but he does not want other immutable characteristics such as race to come into play. His arguments are shallow and ill-conceived. Most universities use many factors to decide who gets in, with race never the sole factor, just as with gender, socio-economic background, if you are from a rural or urban area, and even if your daddy happened to be important and powerful—and an alumni.
So what's the point? Affirmative action is not the only solution. In fact, it helps Bush and others avoid the real issue: access to education. The media is full of dismal reports about high school drop-outs, gangs and drug use among teens. If there are two truly qualified high school seniors who want to go to college, they must both be allowed access to that higher education, no matter their race. This of course is especially true for public universities.
The solution is that any child who wants an education should be able to achieve their goals. The build-up to war against Iraq is a political diversion tactic that will cost billions. Shave off a corner of that military budget to return to the education systems in the inner cities and in public universities, and more children will be allowed access to higher education.
The true problem is not the case-by-case basis of one white child denied education in favor of an African-American. It is getting more resources into all levels of education, so that no child is left behind, no matter their race. After all, it would mean less crime, a more educated workforce, and other societal benefits.
In the end, it's cheaper to educate rather than incarcerate.
This is a round-about way of discussing race issues in the Chicago GLBT community. Since I began covering the community here in 1984, I have certainly seen signs of progress, at least on the surface. We have had African-American and Latino leaders of major GLBT and AIDS groups. Boards, clientele and volunteers are becoming more diverse. But the impact of race is also alive and well. Many minorities feel tokenized by the white GLBT community, used as spokespeople or pieces in the diversity puzzle, but not truly having access to power to impact changes. Some have simply broken off and formed groups just for minority GLBTs.
Almost every major GLBT or AIDS group has gone through allegations of racism or racial insensitivity. As budgets shrink in a down economy, layoffs come to those often 'last hired, first fired.' The bottom rungs of the non-profit ladder are cut off, and many minorities are left without a safety net.
Some groups have addressed the issue head-on through dialogue and trainings. Others have aggressive recruitment and retention policies. More businesses are open-minded about their diverse clientele.
But we have a long way to go. We need to acknowledge the rainbow-colored elephant in the middle of the room, or we will continue to have long-term problems resulting from racism, sexism, ageism, even internalized homophobia in our community.
Windy City Times thanks those eight organizations who chose to participate in our race forums in November and December. During the coming weeks, we will continue to have articles and analysis pieces about the question of race, as it impacts all GLBT and AIDS groups.
There are no easy solutions. But we can not pretend the problem does not exist; it will not go away just because our heads are buried in the sand.
— Tracy Baim, Publisher
[You can view the race forums in their entirety at www.WindyCityTimes.com]
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