Lee is a middle class white male with no black female friends, rare interactions with black families growing up, and who states his interactions with black women only consist of work-related experiences. Yet, he expresses strong negative views of black women as unattractive and uneducated as the first thoughts that come to his mind. This quote by Lee and several other white m ale respondents in this essay dispute notions that only a few highly identifiable, old, deep-south bigots hold strong deep seated racialized views of black women.
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These expressions by white male respondents are indicative of the consistent exclusion of black women as relationship partners by white men, and representative of a powerful mental processing at play that goes beyond the limited language of stereotype. Census data and interracial dating studies show a longstanding persistent trend of black women as an excluded heterosexual relationship partner for white men and other men of color Quian and Litcher ; Phua and Koffman ; Yancey These trends exist in a society that today prides itself on colorblindness.
Current research studies on interracial marriage decisions and the current hegemonic race discourse often le one to believe that racism exists only within the hearts of a few bigots and that race encompasses a greatly diminished role in interracial relationship decisions Rosenfeld ; Yancey and Yancey Quantitative polls that measure racial attitudes of whites today show a marked decrease in racial hostilities, however, these polls do not for the complexities of frontstage and backstage racism, whereby whites manipulate racial performances for the settings that they are in Picca and Feagin Research by Pica and Feagin shows that when in frontstage settings around people of color or in social settings where racism is politically incorrect, whites are more likely to engage in racial performances of colorblindness, however, when in backstage settings around other whites, these same whites are likely to express or engage racially discriminatory thoughts and behaviors.
Hence, this essay critically examines the integral role of race, gender, and class in the consistent exclusion of black women as relationship partners for white men. Historically, dominant and influential white men have constructed black female bodies in raced, gendered, and classed terms.
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This construction of black female bodies has been that of sexual licentiousness, natural immorality, disease, animalism, prostitution, and masculinity; the opposite of hegemonic, white, femininity Collins ; Hammonds ; Jones and Shorter-Gooden ; St. Jean and Feagin Black women, in the past and today, are considered everything that a white woman is not in terms of beauty, sexual morality, femininity, and womanhood.
This global overarching construction of black female bodies has persisted throughout society through pervasive raced, sexed, and classed dominant narratives and visual discourses, including controlling images or myths, such as the jezebel, sapphire, matriarch, mammy, and modern mammy. The construction of black female bodies and the classed and gendered construction of whites as well as other racial groups have come to represent hegemonic edifices.
A deep frame represents our deep world view and mental infrastructure of our mind Lakoffwhich consists of cognition, knowledge, emotions Feaginand discourse used to make sense of our everyday world.
The social construction of black female bodies as the abject opposite of white women is an integral component of the deep frame of whites as well as people of coloralong with other racialized, gendered, and classed elements. One hundred and thirty-four white males, ranging from the age of 18 to over 50 and representing 38 states, completed this in-depth online questionnaire.
Due to the framework of this study, including the sensitive subject area, the research technique best called for the use of online open-ended questionnaires as opposed to the traditional qualitative technique of face-to-face interviews or the use of phone interviews. By using a self-administered online questionnaire, I am able to eliminate the bias that I cause as a black female researcher asking white men questions on their views of black women in a face-to-face format.
A body that does not compare: how white men define black female beauty in the era of colorblindness
Research shows that discussing sensitive subjects, such as race, drug abuse, or sexual behavior could lead to socially desirable responses, however, removing the interviewer and using self-administered questionnaires lessons the likelihood of this social desirability bias Kellner ; Sudman and Bradburn White male respondents may also be unwilling to share their honest racial thoughts with a white male interviewer that they perceive as having dissimilar views.
In short, most people in society, particularly whites, do not want to be perceived as racists. The internet; however, acts as a backstage setting, allowing white men privacy to reveal their deep frame of black women, including emotions, thoughts, and perceptions, without fear of reprimand. Moreover, embedded within the deep frame is the normalization of whiteness, or the white norm.
According to Foucault normalization is an instrument of power and plays a role in classification and hierarchization. Thus, the normative standard of whiteness continually inscribes white as the ideal entity, as innate superiority, and maintains white privileges and domination, yet in a more tacit fashion than in the Jim Crow era.
The ways in which many whites see, understand, and analyze society and the people in it isrooted in an understanding and interpretation of society as defined by whites.
The white male respondents employed what I refer to as a discourse of racial comparisons. Some respondents reprimanded black women to strive for this norm, while certain others viewed black women as genetically incapable of meeting the white standard. In analyzing and interpreting the responses and in understanding the dyadic and hierarchical nature of how western thought has been constructed, it is readily clear that what goes unspoken as normal is whiteness.
However, at times Latina and Asian American women were used to represent this norm as well, as these groups are seen as being closer to the white standard than blacks. However, this classification is tenuous and always subject to change.
Ultimately, whites place blacks the furthest away from the white ideal. It is important to note, that while southern respondents were attracted to black women at a similar rate as other regions, respondents from certain southern states, such as Texas and Tennessee, were generally more likely to engage in racially inflammatory language and less likely to use colorblind discourse.
This finding is representative of the historical differences in racial discourse and interactions across regions. However, some of the respondents that described themselves as attracted to black women stated that they were not attracted to black women with kinky hair, wide noses, and large body shapes, and some had preferences for black women with light skin and straight hair.
Alicia Keys comes to mind. Sexual attraction for me is a combination of physical and personal attributes. If that aspect is attractive, then their speech and intelligence level would have to be more representative of that found more prevalent in other races such as [C]aucasian or [A]sian - i. Thus, he causally made the connection between whiteness and beauty. Furthermore, he makes a causal connection between whiteness and intelligence. Despite admitting to having no close black female friends and few personal interactions with black women, outside of work and church acquaintances, he places whites and Asian Americans as naturally more intelligent than blacks, with his assumption that intelligence is not as prevalent in blacks.
Indeed, there has been a long history of presenting black women with a multiracial background of white ancestry, formerly referred to as the derogatory term mulatto, as the ideal black women. During slavery, mulattos and quadroons, the products of nonconsensual sexual relations between enslaved black women and white slave owners as well as overseerswere heavily sought after and paid handsomely for by white slave masters.
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For example, in the early s, the ideal black woman was of Egyptian type. According to the New York Age, this woman was defined as having:. A well balanced and symmetrical head, full slender neck, the features clear cut, with the appearance of being chiseled rather than cast;…a fine Negro nose with a trace of the Egyptian and a slight aquiline curve; the mouth fairly small but well proportioned and a slightly pointed, round, firm chin…the marvelously fine curving eyelash of which the Negro race can be justly proud Pp.
He described what he believes an attractive black woman to be:. There are some black women who are attractive. And they aren't full black. The only black women I find attractive are a mix of black and [E]uropean, black and [L]atino, or black and [A]sian. They end up with the tan complexion, and hair that doesn't look frizzled or like a brillo pad.
Davis cited the racial hierarchy in his comments, ranking attraction as first Europeans, then Latinos, and then Asian Americans. Davis classified only mixed-race black women as attractive.
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Another respondent, Brock, a lower middle class Nebraskan in his 30s, also categorized mixing with other racial groups, besides whites, as ideal. This reflects the placement of black women at the bottom of the race and gender hierarchy in the deep frame of many whites as well as some people of color. Dating back to early European travelers in various African nations, whites have defined what they perceived as black features in negative terms. This construction of beauty is firmly grounded in the racialized and gendered deep frame that whites and many people of color see, understand, and make interpretations from.
Consider Bob, a middle class respondent from Missouri over the age of He stated:. I think black women's features are too extreme; they are too dark, and they usually are much too large for my tastes.
The black women I have know[n] are very aggressive and have terrible attitudes…The only black women I have found even marginally attractive are smaller, lighter-skinned black women with nice rear ends. I just think they are more attractive than women of other races. Occasionally a black woman whose black features are less prominent will be attractive, but rarely.
Most of the black women I find attractive…are of mixed ethnicity and appear more white than black. Levi, a white male in his 20s from Tennessee explained what he finds unattractive about black women:.
Not attracted to the stereotypical hair or sometimes greasy looking hair and skin that i have seen enough on black women to associate with them. Levi, who has had rare personal interactions with black women, expressed that he is also not attracted to features associated with blackness, including skin color and hair. He noted that he tends to specifically notice this on black women and not other racial groups, which is not necessarily surprising as there tends to be a preoccupation among whites with blacks, more so than with other racial and ethnic groups.
The important thing to realize here is that often what white men view as attractive and unattractive is rooted in how society has been socially constructed in racialized, gendered, and classed terms, a construction that privileges whites and makes it seem generally natural that blackness, such as black facial features, dark skin, or hair texture, is unattractive. Important findings of the study are that the predominantly white participants perceived black faces as more masculine than white faces, that participants had greater accuracy in guessing the gender of black men as opposed to black women, and white women as opposed to black women, and that participants perceived black men as slightly more attractive than white men and white women as more attractive than black women.
According to Lakoffthe frame is often used unconsciously, without people knowing it. Black female bodies were also constructed as the opposite of femininity so that black women would not be a legitimate source of competition for white women, because as masculine, a black woman is not a worthy and legitimate partner for a white man or even a black man, for that matter.
She can be desired behind closed doors by white men or experience rare circumstances of outward affection by white men, but in an open and legitimate sense, she is not an acknowledged body of competition to white women because she has been constructed as a body that does not compare.
As with facial features white men engaged a discourse of racial comparison, whereby a white standard was directly or indirectly expressed in their thoughts on physical and sexual attraction to black women. Drake, who is in his 20s and resides in Nevada, discussed his attraction for black women with a larger buttock:.
I am sexually attracted to most all women, but black women have a certain 'exotic' look to them, and I like that. Specifically, I really love black women with bubble butts and nice legs, and who are fit. They have beautiful skin and eyes. I also love that they have a generally fuller figure and more voluptuous. I like a nice bubble butt. In high school I read and looked at King magazine, which is like Maxim but for a black audience, and all the models have really big butts. Clothing companies financially capitalize on this new desire for the protruding black butt.
Not all white men have accepted the beauty of the black butt; for some it is too visible a or a reminder of blackness. In order to be acceptable, the butt must be white-defined proportional; if not, it can be considered pathological, as it was during the days of Saartjie Baartman. I know lots of guys do. White in ethnicity, tan in complexion. Between 5'3 and 5'7 to lbs.
Breast and ass should be well proportioned to the rest of the body. Long hair is good. And blue or green or grey eyes. Alicia Keys is very petite with gorgeous eyes. That is about as far as it goes with me being sexually attracted to black women. Most black wom[e]n have fat butts and are ugly. In rarer circumstances, when a discourse of comparison was used by white males, black women were the standard, not white women, nor the achievement of a particular aesthetic akin to white women, such as fair skin, straight hair and aquiline features.