PBS ‘The New Black’ is divisive fear

Recently a quote from Mahatma Gandhi came up into my Facebook feed: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” That most aptly describes the problem in Yoruba Richen’s documentary “The New Black.” Airing on PBS Independent Lens on 15 June 2014 and currently available for instant streaming, the movie, “The New Black,”  isn’t to be confused with the Netflix original series, “Orange Is the New Black” although it does touch on issues of gay rights.

“The New Black” is about the black community grappling with the issue of the gay marriage movement while continuing its fight over civil rights. If you think that this is simply a black issue, it is not. Similar problems can be seen in other communities. It’s as if minority groups believe that only one issue can define them and take their attention at a time.

Asian Americans saw similar problems when men and women pushing feminist issues were deemed as traitors to the cause or possibly even selling out their race and becoming too white. Instead of being united by a common enemy (racial prejudice), Asian Americans were divided by fear–men afraid of losing their elevated status to women and fear of change.

In “The New Black” the fear is at once familiar–homophobia–and unfamiliar, the issue of African American self-image but not in New York City or South Central Los Angeles. The documentary follows the fight for marriage equality in Maryland. The characters aren’t familiar faces. We don’t see Jessie Jackson or some famous rapper. Instead we have people like the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition Sharon Lettman-Hicks.

The voice of New York isn’t totally ignored; the documentary includes a field organizer for the Equality Maryland and The Human Rights Campaign, Karess Taylor-Hughes from Long Island, New York.

There’s a voice from the West Coast as well in San Diego, CA-born gospel singer Anthony Charles Williams II.

Yet this is really about Maryland and so we hear from Reverend Delman Coates, the pastor at the Mount Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland as well as the Pastor Derek McCoy who serves as the president of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council. McCoy is based in Beltsville, Maryland as the associate pastor of Hope Christian Church.

Then there’s Samantha Master, a 25-year-old student at Morgan State University in Baltimore. She volunteered for Equality Maryland and believes that marriage equality is the first step for Black LGBT.

Why has marriage, at a time when so many people just co-habit instead making it legal, has become such as issue is hard for me to understand, but perhaps that’s because I’ve never seen marriage as a political tool or institution. One forgets that in amongst the upper classes it always was a political consideration.

“The New Black” doesn’t compare the marriage equality civil rights movement to the previous marriage and yet does leave the non-Christian Black community out in the cold yet the director didn’t originally intend to film in Maryland at all.  The focus is Christian black and LGBT black in Maryland because Maryland is 30 percent black and the main opposition to the marriage equality movement in Maryland was a Black  minister.

The New Black” isn’t about just any community; it is specific to Maryland, but there are many universals. You’d think ministers would be rejoicing that in this day of sexual freedom, casual hookups and casual serial cohabitation, they’d rejoice that someone wants to marry and is willing to fight for the right. It should make heterosexual couples better appreciate their right to marry and heterosexual and gay couples may find that the new black is actually the traditional wedding white.

The New Black” broadcast on PBS earlier in June 2014, but is currently available VoD on the PBS website.


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