Thursday, July 10, 2008

American default modes: white men

From page 72 in psychologist Maria Root's book, Love's Revolution: Interracial Marriage. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001:

"The philosopher Lewis Gordon provides an analysis of the structural power enacted through race and gender that links the dialogue between them. Gordon points out that from a white point of view, the assumed race of the human race is white. To be non-white is to be racialized in an anti-black world. To be raceless is to be 'pushed up toward whiteness. Gordon also notes that for centuries the Western tradition has configured the gender of the human race as male. So although power may be defined as genderless and raceless, the default values for power are male and white.

Gordon contends that a hierarchy of sexual desirability naturally follows from this view of gender and race. Given the traditional Western view of power as white and male, white women can be constructed as black by their gender. This might help to explain why pairings of white women with black men are more common than pairings of black women with white men, a phenomenon that flies in the face of early exchange theories. White women and black men are not so distant from each other in social location."


Lesboprof said...

I have to read more, but I am not sure I buy that. I think it is too simplistic. I think that white privilege is lost in that discussion as a force that drives white women and black men apart. As a white woman who has dated a good number of black men (before I started dating women), I think that a true interracial relationship of equals is only possible if the white person in the black-white relationship becomes aware of her whiteness as a culture and as a source of unearned privilege. Now, being in an interracial relationship helps point those things out in a hurry... esp. as you are shunned by whites and blacks, and you are quickly identified as white by all the blacks around you, including your partner. IF there is learning and intentionality about it, I think interracial relationships can be positive. If not---ew.

But I don't think my gender is equal to my partner's race--nor do I think being a white woman makes me the same as a black man. Our social locations tend to be very different.

Jennifer said...

Hi Lesboprof,
I'm not sure I agree with the second paragraph either. But Gordon is a philosopher, which means he's dealing in the abstract theory of race and interracial relationships, whereas Root actually conducted a variety of interviews, 1:1 and within focus groups, over the span of about 7 years across different geographical sites.

I have to admit that as far as Root is concerned, her findings are interesting and she doesn't go for easy answers or cliches and tries to include a variety of voices and perspectives (both in terms of secondary material as well as the interviewees).

I don't know about Gordon's analysis (for that we have to go to the source, which is his original writing "Race, Sex, and Matrices of Desire in an Antiblack World: An Essay in Phenomenology and Social Role" in RACE/SEX: THEIR SAMENESS, DIFFERENCE, AND INTERPLAY (New York: Routledge, 1997) 119-32). Root does do a longer discussion of white privilege and its role in interracial relationships.

Why I included this particular section of Roots gloss on Gordon was both the articulation of the "default" mode of "white" & "male" related to the "normal" or "expected" in American society as well as the acknowledgement that certain raced/gendered pairs occur more frequently than others. Gordon offers a type of rationale--the idea that the "social distance" between black men and white women. Of course another element not under discussion is the degree to which various stereotypes get filtered into our culture and affect our ideas of who we find an "attractive" mate and desirable spouse.