the movie 'Bulworth', Warren Beatty's character, a US Senator who
decides to fight racism the same weekend he decides to commit suicide,
appears on a TV show. He
suggests as a cure to racism 'a free-spirited, voluntary
deconstruction of racial identities'.
When the TV reporter stares at him as if she doesn't
understand, he clarifies: 'Everybody keeps fucking everybody until we
all look the same.' It's
worth thinking about why it never happened.
it did happen. After all,
estimates are that in the US 1 in 4 whites have a black ancestor and 3
in 4 blacks have a white ancestor (Joe Feagin, 'Racist America', 2000
and Matthew Frye, 'Whiteness of a Different Color' 1998).
These numbers are even higher for native people.
Interracial couples exist.
And yet: barring some ambiguous cases, racist society manages
easily to place the children of interracial pairings into its neat
racial pigeonholes. Generally
speaking, a child with a parent of colour is a person of colour.
Part of this is physical, in that colour is inherited.
But most of it is social: the whole idea of 'race-mixing'
depends on the idea that there are 'pure' races, which is biologically
speaking, not true, but socially real.
But in a racist (or caste) system, anything 'impure' gets a
lower status, while only purity gets full prestige.
important as assigning purity and impurity to people based on heredity
is policing that purity and those boundaries.
Interracial couples might exist, but they face all kinds of
difficulties and sometimes physical danger.
this boils down to is that for racism to survive, a racist society has
to control who has sex with whom and the fate of their children.
How lucky for racism that our society comes with a system for
doing just that-- sexism, which does its job by oppressing and
controlling women, and sexuality and parenting more generally.
Racism certainly helps sexism, by preventing unity between
white women and women of colour (the same way it helps economic elites
by keeping working people disunited).
But sexism helps racism as well, by creating a special 'double
oppression' on women of colour, by creating boundaries and taboos of
sex and intimacy, and ideas of racial purity that help maintain the
biological fiction that there are races.
who suffer most from this intersection of racism and sexism are women
of colour. They face the
institutionalized power of men: the sexual harassment, the curtailed
opportunities, the objectification, the fear of rape and physical
violence, the demeaning depictions of them in the cultural arena, a
lack of political power, a disproportionate share of the work of
caring for children. They
historically have faced sexual abuse by white men without much chance
for redress through political channels (the history of rape of black
slaves and the justice system's failure to protect them is told in
Randall Kennedy's 'Race, Crime, and the Law').
And they face all the ills of racism described throughout this
instructional. When they
fight for liberation, they often are stuck with a choice of male
dominated antiracist movements or white dominated feminist movements
or white male dominated labour movements.
If those who fought the system in one sphere, like class, also
fought the system in other spheres, like race and gender, the system
would be having a much harder time than it is having.
of racism, women of colour can be subjected to even worse sexist
violence, in prisons or on the streets.
But this violence has effects on its perpetrators which rebound
to the white community. In
Angela Davis's 'Women, Race, and Class', she suggests that in Vietnam,
the US government encouraged the use of rape as a weapon of war,
pouring the racism on to encourage soldiers to do it.
When the GIs came home, would they treat 'their' own women the
same as if they hadn't committed these crimes?
(Angela Davis, 'Women, Race, and Class')
The US army is associated with prostitution around all its
bases in colonial countries. The
devastating effects on the communities and the women are the worst
impact. But there is also
an effect on the balance of power, and the violence quotient, between
men and women at home.
of many important things feminists do is study how cultural messages
and everyday attacks negatively affect women's images of their bodies.
The use of sexualized images of women to sell products and the
holding up of fashionable ideals of beauty have devastating effects on
women's self-esteem, as do the way women get treated by their
families, lovers, and co-workers.
Racist society's culture also holds up ideals of beauty and
purity that are particularly devastating to women of colour, resulting
in the need for slogans that proclaim the obvious (that Black is
Beautiful) or children's books that teach the obvious (like bell
hooks' wonderful book 'Happy to be Nappy', which teaches that nappy
hair is beautiful), to counter an onslaught of images that say the
reverse-- that beauty is white.
is also a combination of racist and sexist stereotypes.
Blacks represent dangerous sexuality.
People of colour in general represent 'exotic' sexuality.
White sexuality is 'proper', 'normal'.
Asian women are stereotyped to be submissive, Asian men to be
'project' their sexual fears and taboos on other cultures.
boundaries made by racist sexism are also enforced by violence.
Lynchings often were the punishment for being accused of having
an interracial relationship. Between
1882 and 1968, at least 4743 people were lynched in the US.
73% of the lynchings occurred in the south, and 72.7% of those
lynched were black. (Randall
Kennedy, 'Race, Crime, and the Law')
These brutal responses not only show the hysteria that occurs
when boundaries are threatened, but they serve to remove focus from
sexism in the white community. By
portraying men of colour, here and abroad, as the true sexual
predators and enforcers of sexism, the media lies to white women about
where danger is likely to come from.
Most women are assaulted by men they know, and because racism
segregates, this means most women are assaulted by men of their own
Antiracist Strategy Previous:
Race and the State