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Race in Sex

Categories: Midd Blogosphere

Maggie Nazer“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” Oscar Wilde has got it right. Sex is a complex social issue which embodies layers of hard-to-handle gender and social status controversy. Adding politics of race in the equation only serves to further on heat up the already problematic topic of sexuality. Exploring how racial matters influence sexual perceptions, stereotypes and misconceptions, however, is more than needed. It is an eye-opening process that gives insight on the ways devaluation of people is done in present days, dating back to the slave era. Evidently, Afro-Americans and individuals from other racial and ethnic groups present in the States have gone a long way since the abolition of slavery. Yet sexuality is everything but “race-blind” as seen in both the prevalence of endogamous marriages and the “white-supremacist” nature of many interracial marriages; the objectification of both women and men of color in interracial sex and porn; and the domination of widely spread sexual stereotypes discriminating the same groups.  

Since in 1967 the US Supreme Court deemed anti-miscegenation laws (laws prohibiting individuals from different races to marry) unconstitutional, the public approval of interracial marriages has risen with eighty percent- a figure worth our admiration, yet failing to tell the whole truth about the persistent racial and racist issues affecting deeply the way people connect and build relationships within and outside their race. The 8,9% number of interracial marriages can be considered rather low for a country as multiethnic and diverse in population as the USA. While the popular modern trend of “cohabitation” should undoubtedly be considered, it is also an easy solution to the problem of dealing with the reaction of the society which respects the abstract idea of an “interracial marriage”, but is still immature as to how to react when faced with it.  Another example of racism in action in the context of intermarriages is the legal union between rich white men and poor women from developing countries or different racial backgrounds in general. Popular among American and European men this practice reinforces superiority claims from whites, while encouraging poor women to consider voluntary prostitution and arranged interracial marriages as tempting options to secure a living. “Bride-hunts” conducted by wealthy white men in countries like Thailand, for instance, or their respective parallels in one’s own country reinforce the racist stereotypes which often qualify women of color as the negative  “submissive, easy, pleasing” or even the positive “motherly, perfect- house-wives”, in addition to creating the contrasting image of white women depicted as “feminists and unsuitable for family life workaholics”. The case of “marriage squeeze” offers yet another opportunity to look at racial and sexual issues within out-marrying. “Marriage squeeze” stands for the trend executed by “well-educated”, “wealthy”, “desirable” Afro-Americans to marry white women rather than women from their own race because of the higher societal status white women inherit. Leaving more than 50% of Black women between 30-35 unmarried, this practice also contributes to the reinforcement of the racist perceptual superiority of white women.

The above examples illustrate not only the prevailing racist issues surrounding the practice of marrying outside of one’s race, but also the constantly occurring objectification of men and women of color within the context of interracial sex. Objectification is a philosophical term that stands for the treatment of people as things. It is exercised through the assumed ownership of humans, the denial of their autonomy and their treatment as interchangeable tools. The wide-spread modern myths of black men’s sexual prowess and black women’s submissiveness and sexual appetite are easy to name examples of racial and sexual objectification that are historical offspring of the slavery period in the US. Slave breeding practices and statutory rape laws both enhanced sexual debasement and cruelty against African-Americans who were considered moveable property across the United States. These inhumane practices led slaves to either confront their masters, and thus be beaten and tortured, or accept the savagery and use it as a way to secure protection. The English regulations executed in the colonies stated that “Indians and Blacks, as well as their children, were prohibited by law from defending themselves against abuse, sexual and otherwise, at the hands of Whites” (Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, Failing Our Black Children: Statutory Rape Laws, Moral Reform and the Hypocrisy of Denial (2002)). Additionally, after the termination of the Atlantic slave trade slaveholders forced coerced sexual relations and reproduction between male and female slaves and favored Black female slaves who produced a lot of children. Since the laws declared that every child born by a slave mother became a slave, masters attempted to increase their profits by becoming “slave breeders” and reducing their costs on purchasing human labor. Exploited by their mistresses and used as walking “sperm banks”, male Afro-American slaves held a similar disadvantageous position: they did not own their bodies. Even worse: they were perceived as if they were only bodies.

Sadly, objectification of people is still prevailing. And despite no one is protected, marginalized racial groups are even more vulnerable to sexual stereotyping and dehumanization. While it is already hard to be a woman and not be perceived as powerless and submissive, imagine being an Asian, Latino, African-American or even an Eastern-European woman. It is important to note that stereotypes play a crucial role in sexuality and result in serious psychological and social repercussions which endanger the well-being of individuals within the society, create misunderstanding and disturb the natural processes of creating connectedness between humans. Stereotypes kill intimacy and establishes sex as a mere physical process in which people are reduced to their body parts and are limited to exhibit only certain sexual attitudes. When people are put in categories, rather than seen holistically, the relationships they create are castrated. Robbed of genuine appreciation for the uniqueness of the other person, they can only reach mediocre levels of substance, depth and, thus, satisfaction. Unfortunately, men and women from different racial and ethnic backgrounds not only suffer from sexual prejudices, but also reinforce them. Black men, for instance, are commonly described as very athletic, muscular and promiscuous, and often try to maintain these stereotypes through stylizing their bodies and adopting behaviors perpetuating the very same attitudes which are destructive and limiting to them.

In a world obsessed with sex, race is a factor which cannot be underestimated. Exploring race within the framework of sexuality reveals layers of unsettled social polemics and points at various challenges which are yet to be overcome on our way to becoming indiscriminate. Nevertheless, it serves as motivation to be more aware and mindful of the ways we objectify both ourselves, and others; more committed to being truly authentic and more sensitive to the factors which prevent us from creating valuable human connections.