Blog By Barry

January 19, 2009

Comparing struggles

Renee writes:

Say it with me, gay is not the new black. African-Americans did not cause the passing of prop 8, and the gay community does not have the right to compare its struggles to the black civil rights movement.

I completely agree that gay is not the new black, and African-Americans did not cause prop 8 to pass.

But I’m not sure I can agree about “the right to compare.” I’m not sure what that means. Is Renee saying that gay people don’t have the right to bring up Loving vs Virginia in legal arguments about equal marriage rights, for instance?

Despite all the differences between different struggles for civil rights and justice, there are some experiences that different groups will have in common. To pick a famous example, MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail has an unbreakable connection to the black civil rights movement. But I don’t think it takes away from that to say that it also contains practical and moral advice for anyone engaged in a justice movement today:

We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

There are few, if any, oppressed peoples who wouldn’t find a reflection of their own experiences and struggles in what King wrote, about how “wait!” in practice always seems to mean “never.”

As Ta-Nehisi points out, the Black civil rights movement itself often compared the black experience and the Jewish experience.

As a Jew, I think that’s fine, because although the experiences and history aren’t identical, many of the comparisons made were useful and relevant. No justice movement is exactly the same, and no two oppressions are exactly the same; but there are similarities, and movements can draw lessons positively from other movements. The trouble comes when the comparisons made are facile, or disrespectful, or ignore history rather than comparing history.



  1. Comparisons can be an eyeopening experience. They can serve as a tool that allows a person to get a little bit more of an understanding of someone else’s struggle/suffering.

    Now this is not to say that a comparison gives one full insight to understand someone else’s struggle/suffering nor should one try to use said comparisons (no matter how valid they are) to try to say two things are really the same.

    I’m betting that when Renee said that she did not mean to say that such comparisons are not valid (because frankly speaking there are valid comparisons between both movements) but to mean that the gay rights movement should not try to ride the curtains of the black civil rights movement. I dont think there would have been a problem if the members of the gay rights movement were touting it as another great struggle instead of the last great struggle.

    Comment by Danny — January 21, 2009 @ 9:43 am

  2. Homophobia has close ties to anti-Semitism. I visited the concentration camps in Europe and saw the yellow stars and pink triangles myself.

    Comment by Dan — February 13, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

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