The intersection of sexuality and race is one of the origins of the intersectional approach. Kimberlé Crenshaw argued that sexual abuse of women of color is impossible to study and address without considering the intersection of structural racism, sexism, and economic disfranchisement (Crenshaw, 1995). It is also one of the fundamental problems of social justice in the United States. Different processes and realities - conquest, slavery, voluntary migration, segregation, exclusion, stratification, detention, and civil rights struggles – shaped attitudes towards erotic, reproduction, identity, and kinship across centuries (Shah, 2014).
When I started this assignment, I thought that I have an idea about the interaction of racism and sexism and its outcomes. The information which I found reminded me of our favorite in-group feminist expression – “welcome back to our world from the country of pink unicorns.” We use this phrase when one of us faces reality, which she thought might look much better.
I divided the information into three themes that I think are fundamental for understanding how the intersection of sex and race works for discrimination – stereotyping, power distribution, and tools of control.
The intersection of racism and sexism is that case when contrary by negative does not give positive. Intersectionality states that race, gender, sexuality, and class are not mutually exclusive but intertwined and mutually enforcing. Stereotypes taken from both categories create a more complex network of discrimination (Lens, 2019).
It is a mistake to think that sexism and racism are the parts of the past – there’s still a tendency to divide whites and non-whites. Thus, Branigan et al. (2013), when described the relation of skin color and educational attainment, noted that race-related studies tend to exclude whites from the research, as if white Americans remained out of reach, like in times of slavery. They also found that there is still an impact of skin color on how you would be perceived and treated – and thus, on social outcomes. Several studies pointed on term colorism that describes the phenotypical distinguishing of “more white” and “less white” people and introduces the term “exoticism” to refer sexual attractiveness of people of color (Branigan et al., 2013; Reece, 2016).
Prejudice is reflected in different experiences, for instance, the higher expectations for female parents, when in case of child maltreatment, women are labeled as failed their gender roles. Or, there is a strong bias that connects victim-blaming and sexuality, as well as victim-blaming and poverty. Poor people are often portrayed as inferior, with low responsibility and not trying hard to earn for living. And it is especially evident in the case of poor black women. Thus, Lens (2019) described a stereotype of the “welfare queen” – a black woman who is “poor because of laziness and aversion to work, conniving in her welfare dependency, promiscuous in her sexual habits, and by extension, deficient in her mothering ability” (Chapter II).
Side of Power
The study of sexuality from a racial perspective is related to the problem of power distribution. The issue of power organizes sexuality and racism studies in different contexts, such as culture, nation, history, and globalization. Though sexuality is hard to regulate from the point of power, it has a wide instrumental range that provides the highest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies (Foucault, 1990, as cited in Ferguson, 2007).
Having heterogeneous nature, power, and sexuality intertwine with racist hierarchies that, in their turn, regulate power distribution. As an example of this interaction, the study has shown that black and Hispanic minority males are less likely to get a plea, dismissed criminal charges, like white heterosexual males; the race and gender of the victim also contributed to a final trial decision (Sommers, Goldstein, & Baskin, 2014). Current events that we have to witness align with that point. Another study showed that gender also plays a role – black female adolescents experience higher rates of racial discrimination than black males (Seaton & Tyson, 2019).
Power and power distribution are connected to political orientation, which determines the rate of sexual prejudice and racism. This connection may refer to the two dimensions of essentialism – social essentialism for race and gender, and trait essentialism for sexual prejudice and stereotypes. Interestingly, essentialist beliefs are not stable or constant. Instead, essentialists tend to use their beliefs casually when it benefits them (Hoyt, Morgenroth, & Burnette, 2019). This allows us to add essentialism to the racial and sexual discriminative toolset. But there are also other tools.
Racism refers not only to social living and interpersonal relationships but also to control the body. According to Sewell (1994), social structures consist of cultural schemas that inscribe resources (as cited in Beisel & Kay, 2004). Literally, race and gender consist of cultural schemas that control the body through regulations of sexuality, especially reproduction-related issues. Abortion historically is one of the tools of population regulation, or racial composition according to the goals of a dominant group (Beisel & Kay, 2014). The opposite to abortion – motherhood – is also a tool of sexual regulation within heteronormativity framework; the high status of parent claimed by compulsory heteronormativity, in closer examination turns out to give privileges to dominant group (white males) first and serves their goals as well (Ragone & Twine, 2012).
Specialists found that the creation of collective identity is also a tool of sexuality regulation among non-white groups, used by colonialism. The regulative role of diaspora sensitivity, primarily for non-white females, seemed to be an umbrella for sexual norms, sexual behaviors, and attitudes using racial and national identification (Crane & Mohanram, 2013).
One more method of control over race and sexuality is sexual attractiveness standards. On the intersection of race and sexuality, three areas are controlled from the point of sexual attractiveness – race stereotypes that shape interracial sexual interactions, mass media that impose whiteness as a beauty standard and sexual violence/assault/harassment that, in combination with racial differences, may significantly affect victim’s self-esteem and increase the rate of victim-blaming (Silverstini, 2020).
The white race is nearly 10% of the world population. From this point, we should experience all types of discrimination that minorities experience. I think this is the main fear of racists. The very first time I faced racism was back in 2009 when President Obama won the elections. I worked in a newspaper, and there was a derogatory caricature that ridiculed his skin color, which I refused to publish. Until that time, I was sure that there’s no racism in post-Soviet countries for several reasons. First, because the Soviet Union consisted of different republics where lived different races and nationalities. Second, nearly 27 million Soviet people, our grandparents, died in the war with the supporters of race supremacy. Finally, the Soviet Union was always proud of its opposition to the United States on colonialism problems.
And suddenly I saw that caricature, I remembered the people from Asia and Southeast, from Caucasus mountains and Tundra – how many of them I have seen in my University? Most of them worked as builders, traders, daily workers, just like some of my relatives. Here I realized that those were males. Females worked as outside saleswomen, staying there all day long, seven days a week and all year round, or they were cleaning offices, marketplaces, salons, being absolutely invisible. No one knew who are they what their names were and where they lived. Later I found out that they were living like 5 women in one room, sometimes in trailers, their “owners” (both white and non-white) forcefully took their documents so the could not even return back to their towns and villages. They had no access to medicine, legal support, or shelter, but they did have a risk of being raped, beaten up, and even killed.
When I moved to the United States, it seemed to be a country that overcame all types of discrimination. Indeed, things here are much better than in Russia or Ukraine, and that really was inspiring. But now I feel right like in 2009 – “welcome back from the country of pink unicorns.” References:
Beisel, N., & Kay, T. (2004). Abortion, Race, and Gender in Nineteenth-Century America. American Sociological Review, 69(4), 498–518.
Branigan, A. R., Freese, J., Patir, A., McDade, T. W., Liu, K., & Kiefe, C. I. (2013). Skin color, sex, and educational attainment in the post-civil rights era. Social Science Research, 42(6), 1659-1674. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ssresearch.2013.07.010.
Crane, R. J., & Mohanram, R. (2013). Imperialism As Diaspora : Race, Sexuality, and History in Anglo-India. Liverpool University Press.
Crenshaw, K. W. (1995). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color. In Crenshaw, K. W., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (Eds). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. New York: The New Press.
Ferguson, R. A. (2017). The Relevance of Race for the Study of Sexuality. In by George E. Haggerty, G. E. & McGarry, M. (Eds). A Companion to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Studies. Wiley-Blackwell.
Hoyt, C. L., Morgenroth, T., & Burnette, J. L. (2019). Understanding sexual prejudice: The role of political ideology and strategic essentialism. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 49(1), 3–14.
Lebow, J. L. (2019). Editorial: Social Justice in Family Therapy. Family Process, 58(1), 3–8. https://doi-org.ezproxy.adler.edu/10.1111/famp.12430
Lens, V. (2019). Judging the Other: The Intersection of Race, Gender, and Class in Family Court. Family Court Review, 57(1), 72–87. https://doi-org.ezproxy.adler.edu/10.1111/fcre.12397
Reece, Robert L. (2019). Color crit: Critical race theory and the history and future of colorism in the United States. Journal of Black Studies, 50, 3-25. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021934718803735
Ragone, H., & Twine, F. W. (Eds.). (2012). Ideologies and technologies of motherhood: Race, class, sexuality, nationalism. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Reece, R. L. (2016). What are you Mixed with: The Effect of Multiracial Identification on Perceived Attractiveness. The Review of Black Political Economy, 43(2), 139–147. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12114-015-9218-1
Seaton, E. K., & Tyson, K. (2019). The Intersection of Race and Gender Among Black American Adolescents. Child Development, 90(1), 62–70.
Shah, N. (2014). Race-ing Sex. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 35(1), 26–36. https://doi-org.ezproxy.adler.edu/10.5250/fronjwomestud.35.1.0026
Silvestrini, M. (2020). “It’s not something I can shake”: The Effect of Racial Stereotypes, Beauty Standards, and Sexual Racism on Interracial Attraction. Sexuality & Culture, 24(1), 305–325.
Sommers, I., Goldstein, J., & Baskin, D. (2014). The Intersection of Victims’ and Offenders’ Sex and Race/Ethnicity on Prosecutorial Decisions for Violent Crimes. Justice System Journal, 35(2), 178-204. DOI: 10.1080/0098261X.2013.869153