Obstacles to Understanding Orlando

Xenophobia (irrational fear and loathing of foreigners/others), homophobia (irrational fear and loathing of gays and lesbians), negrophobia (irrational fear and loathing of blacks), and other analogous psychological-level phenomena are not randomly, naturally, or universally occurring phenomena. They are the result of socialization and indoctrination in systems of beliefs and institutional arrangements with a particular historical and cultural character.

The teacher of negrophobia is the ideology of white supremacy, a system of beliefs and institutional arrangements that sort people into superior and inferior races, with whites on top and blacks on bottom. No child is born negrophobic. The child is taught to fear and loathe black people. Sometimes a child even learns the abstract content of the ideological system and embraces the institutional arrangements that taught him to be negrophobic.

We have been dealing with the problem of negrophobia not by mystifying its causes, but by criticizing and, in some cases, eliminating the ideology and institutions that create and sustain it. We have made a lot of progress in this area by dealing with the problem forthrightly and rationally.

Those who have been socialized to believe that criticism of religion is analogous to racial and other prejudices have tried to deal with the reality of the Orlando massacre by denying its cause. In a textbook example of cognitive dissonance, they desperately seek to disassociate the shooter’s homophobia from its source, namely Islam. The problem, they rationalize, is not Islam, but homophobia. For some it is more than that. Black Lives Matter release a statement: “Despite the media’s framing of this as a terrorist attack, we are very clear that this terror is completely homegrown, born from the anti-Black white supremacy, patriarchy and homophobia of the conservative right and of those who would use religious extremism as a weapon to gain power for the few and take power from the rest.” BLM explained the shooting as “the product of a long history of colonialism, including state and vigilante violence.” Warning that forces were conspiring to “blame Muslim communities,” BLM identified the enemy as “the four threats of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, and militarism.” Everything but religion. 

This rhetoric mystifies the cause. But here is the scientific path to understanding the situation: Ideas people have about the world come from systems of ideas and prevailing institutions they encounter. To explain homophobia, we have to ask ourselves, “What is the ideology and institution that sorts people by sexual orientation and judges some righteous and others wicked?” Islam sorts people by sexual orientation and judges some types of activities and relationships righteous and others wicked.

When it is objected that there are Christian homophobes, this only strengthens the point I am making, as well as exposes political correctness as selective. It also, hopefully, suggests that, with a bit more work, the truth may be within grasp. Indeed, the Judeo-Christian tradition also sorts people by sexual orientation and judges them righteous or wicked. Homophobia has its source in more than one religious tradition. Unfortunately these religious traditions include two of the most widespread in the world.

Just as we have been dealing with the phenomenon of negrophobia by identifying its sources and relentlessly criticizing and condemning them, we should deal with homophobia by identifying its sources and relentlessly criticizing an condemning them. Unlike white supremacy, however, religion is given a special status among ideologies. Religion is a form of ideology that – if accepted as valid – becomes classified with things that are not analogous to it at all, things like race and gender. This leads to a paradox: criticism of an ideology that preaches homophobia is itself a form of prejudice: “Islamophobia.” This is a clever device developed by those spreading hateful ideology to shut down its critics.

Thus we have two hurdles to overcome in seeking justice, freedom, and security for gay people: the ideological-institutional sources of homophobia and the ideology of political correctness that seeks to mask the ideological-institutional sources of homophobia.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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