Monday, June 22, 2009

(White) GOP sexuality and the expectations of black sexuality

Today at Pandagon, Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent analysis of how straight Republicans guarantee their right to sexual freedom while they deny sexual agency on the part of women and GLBTQ folks:
And it’s true---one wonders why, when straight Republican politicians are caught with their pants down, anyone thinks they owe the world an apology. Apologies are hypocritical. Their stance is clear---straight men get to have all the sex they want with all the women they want. It’s not straight male sexuality, in any of its manifestations, that’s bringing down society. It’s women having sex without being punished repeatedly for it, and of course, gay men need to be run out of town for it.
I recommend the piece, but I thought it left a lens out. All of these dudes are also white, and being white is essential to their sexual blamelessness. White sex in general and white straight male sexuality in particular are constructed as productive, healthy, and family-oriented. Black sexuality is framed as debased, irresponsible, criminal, and violent.

Women of color, particularly black women, are expected to be sexual, but in a very narrow frame by the patriarchy supported and entrenched by the GOP. Unlike virginal white women, women of color are constructed as silent sexual outlets. In the construction of the patriarchy, they are not agents of sexuality, but objects. This is rarely as overt as it once was, and black women are now often expected to hide their sexuality so they don't reflect poorly on other black women. In today's terms, they are as harshly punished for active sexuality as white women - especially in cases in which they are not the owners of class privilege.

Black men fare no better. They are as basely sexualized as black women, constructed as base and predatory. Whereas the predatory actions of Republican men are written off as aberrations, men of color (black men in particular) are automatically suspected of sexual misconduct or framed as irresponsible fathers.

Republicans are in no small way responsible for this discrepancy. The GOP usually ignore persons of color, but their few contributions are not positive. They endeavour to punish black women and particularly poor women along with all other women, and participate in the sexualization referred to above. They caricature black men as threatening and deny them full agency.

What happens to politicians of color who have affairs? One advantage that persons of great privilege exist with is that their every action and mistake will not be taken as evidence of the failings of the minority group they belong to. Case in point: Kwame Kilpatrick, the former mayor of Detroit who resigned after evidence of extramarital affairs surfaced. Even before his scandal, Kilpatrick was infantilized and patronized, with Time Magazine asking whether this fully grown and responsible man could "grow up". While Kilpatrick was certainly guilty and his misdeeds serious, his case was held up as evidence of the immorality of black America. He was expected to hide himself in shame for disgracing other black Americans. Furthermore, the violent parts of his downfall were highlighted where they may have been ignored or hidden in the case of a white politician. His identification as a hip-hop politician was viewed as proof that hip-hop was ruining the country.

What would happen if Obama were revealed to have had an affair? Certainly, there would be the usual sturm und drang that typically accompanies this sort of story. But how racialized would it be? Would Obama's infidelity be taken as evidence of the irresponsibility of all black men? How heavily would it impact his chances at re-election? If the other party in the affair were white, would he be constructed as a rapist?

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