Capitol Thoughts
Capitol Thoughts Archive

Priorities: Defined by Janaye Ingram

May 18, 2012

Last week people were on the edge of their seats, foaming at the mouth with news that President Obama might just make a statement about marriage equality. I had friends who worked in news and politics that waited with baited breath to see when the story would break. Others were already talking about the implications of the statement before we were even sure there was a statement to be made. When the President finally made the announcement that he supports same sex marriage, twitter was aflutter with the news. From the most politically immersed person to Pookie down the street who probably thinks Joe Biden is simply Joe Budden misspelled, there wasn’t a person in my twitter log that didn’t at least mention it. And while there were those who were just serving as armchair reporters and others who were supportive of the President’s position, there was a faint undercurrent of opposition that was waiting to swell. It was the voice of those in the church who also wanted to weigh in and make their displeasure known. Soon that undercurrent would turn into a tsunami that washed over all of the critical issues that we should be concentrated on and seemingly swept them away. The whispers of a few disparate preachers and their faithful had turned into a vociferous roar whose reverberations we still haven’t been able to escape.

A friend of mine text me earlier this week about what he perceived to be a lack of focus in the black community in what has played out in the media, on social media, and in private dialogues across the country. He was rightfully upset that the people who were talking about this issue were taking the attention off of what is truly important – jobs and the economy. With the national African American unemployment rate remaining in the double digits at 13%, there is still much work to be done to ensure that blacks can find gainful employment that will help support their families and stabilize our communities. Yet at every turn, the conversation is being shifted by people merely expressing their opinion as if we are partaking in a heated dinner table conversation, not in a critical election year with high stakes. At this time, the President has not stated a desire to create legislation around this issue, no bill to throw support at or against, he simply stated his opinion. Yet somehow, we are being held hostage by the debate over whether his opinion is right. Discussion is needed, it’s appreciated and it has the potential to lead us to legislative action, but in an election year and coming out of an economic climate that has cost many blacks their savings, their livelihoods, their homes, there are just too many things that African Americans have to be focused on. I’ve talked to people who say we’ve taken the eye off the ball, that we are watching someone else’s game. I have to agree. There are people who see this as an opportunity to use the President’s position for their political gain and to come into the national spotlight and unfortunately, they have people who will follow their lead.

We are less than six months out from one of the most important elections I think I’ve ever lived to see. Since the election of President Obama, we have seen a desire by some to take this nation back in time to a place where certain segments of the population can’t vote without paying the poll tax of obtaining a voter-id, where women who even think about using contraception are thought of as “sluts” or “prostitutes”, where workers rights are at jeopardy, and where black entrepreneurs have trouble getting a loan to start or grow their business ventures, much less getting a contract that will allow them to provide jobs. A recent story revealed that Georgia is making it harder for black, Latino and poor students to get to college, Congress hasn’t been able to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, and a 2011 report by the College Board’s Advocacy & Policy Center says 45% of black males between the ages of 15-24 will end up unemployed, incarcerated, or dead. These are our issues. Jobs, education, housing, entrepreneurship, the over-incarceration of black men, healthcare – these things should be the focus of our conversations. Where are all of the people who feel the need to speak out against marriage equality when it’s time to talk about creating jobs? Where are they when our black boys are dropping out of high school and young men are being incarcerated at an alarming rate? And for the ones who actually do address the issues, why aren’t people talking about it on social media or around the conference table? It is imperative that we focus on the issues that are truly plaguing us. Until same sex marriage produces or eliminates the potential for black wealth, we don’t need to focus our energies toward explaining a position. Unless we can somehow correlate marriage equality with educational disparities among black children, we shouldn’t have to have conferences and meetings to figure out a response strategy. Our priorities are clearly defined and I am sure that same sex marriage is not one of them. Let’s get back in the game and focus on what will help us achieve change. Time is ticking and our future is waiting.