Race & Sexuality

Today in my Men & Masculinities course we discussed racism.

People who are white are often viewed as not having race or without race. People who are white don’t need to think about race because it’s not really something that they are constantly confronted with as a part of their identity and where they fit in to the world. For me, the discussion about race is much more a practice in listening.

This has been a tough thing to learn because, like so many others, privilege has difficult for me to understand. When you don’t fit into a particular group of people, you don’t know what it’s like to be them. There are also lots of intersections here (overlapping categories) like if you are a black man (race + gender) or a black gay man (race, + sexuality + gender.) These different parts of a person will alter the lived experiences that they have.

Writing about racism can be as difficult as talking about racism. For me, the biggest problem I have is the language. Just reading over what I wrote up there, here are some words/phrases I pulled out:

  1. difficult conversation
  2. identity
  3. privilege is difficult to understand
  4. intersections
  5. lived experiences

When I talk about race I found the language difficult because:

a. Not everyone learns this language and it can be difficult to communicate if you’re not using the same words in the same way.

b. I often feel that I am being “radical” when I start using this language and people will start to perceive me a certain way and won’t want to listen to what I’m saying. If I say racism they might think “yeah I like black people” and push the conversation aside because they think that there is nothing else to hear. They aren’t racist, not them, and the conversation is uncomfortable to have.

The problem is that:

a. There is no good time to talk about racism

b. There may be no safe space to talk about racism

c. It is difficult to grow up in America without being racist.

Point c. reflects that idea that we learn certain ways of thinking about people that are racist. It does not mean that we are bad people or go out of our way to prevent others from being equal. It means that we are a part of a system that is larger than us that continues to oppress people of color. This can be difficult to understand if you are white or if you have not experienced that oppression. 

An example of this system might be someone saying: they just need to work harder. The opportunities are all the same. This is backed in racist mentalities. That black families don’t work hard enough. That they are given all the same opportunities. That they get the same help and support growing up. That they start on the same page as their white-family counterpart. It doesn’t mean you are racist. It means that you don’t see the real experiences that many families have. You are unable to see it because that was not your experience and you see what you are able to see.

We discuss race with masculinity because of these intersections. Some people believe you can’t talk about gender and the experiences of men without also talking about race and sexuality. You can’t consider the experience of a gay man to be the same as a straight man, for instance. There are also different types of masculinity, and different men from different parts of the world are judged by different standards.

It can be hard to talk about race when (back to point b.) you feel that you cannot safely talk about race. It might be helpful to find a friend that you feel comfortable with who you can ask questions with. Just asking about their experiences and how they navigate the world and the unique pressures of being them. It’s not necessarily about “getting it” but it’s about appreciating the humanity of different peoples experiences. In that, we can develop a clearer perspective of gender and sexuality.

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  1. Agreed. You make several good points. I think one of the biggest challenges to discussing racism, with or without overlapping gender or sexuality, is perception. Or more specifically, how the person bringing it up will be perceived by those with whom they wish to talk.

    For example, as an identifying black male (because we know I’ve got a few other ingredients mixed in), bringing up the topic with others usually generates one of three responses, 1) “Uh oh, this black guy wants to vent his frustrations”, 2) “Yeah! Fight the power! Let’s come together and stick to the man!”, or 3) “Aww, you poor black person, let me coddle you with awkward pity and thoughtful agreement.”

    I’m more of the, “Let’s leave the stereotypes, preconceived notions and assumptions on the table and start from a place of personal experience.” In other words, let me share my experience and then you share yours and from there we’ll see how and why the do or do not intersect.

    1. We practiced something like this in class when we were talking about race. Instead of having conversations with those around us we had to talk for three minutes with the other person listening. Then they had to talk for three minutes without referencing what the other person said. It was a useful tool for getting your thoughts out and then just soaking up what everyone said.

  2. From my upbringing, I wasn’t too conflicted in my gender despite the stereotyped machismo of my parents’ culture. They weren’t particularly oppressive, and living away from them allowed me to reinforce my self. Sexuality is more of something I feel was more independent of the whole race/culture identity.

    In fact, it seems as if some cultural effects of being second generation ethnic minority near the border with our “country of origin” nulled many of the effects that I might have experienced. This doesn’t even acknowledge that said cultural identity was more “white-washed,” either by choice or circumstance (first by invasion, then by physical boundary dynamics). This, I consider some form of privilege that the establishment appears not to bold-face oppose (coupled with a large and growing voter base).

    I feel like this might be why I think that there are appropriate times to bring up race if and when it becomes a conflicting issue. That also seems counter-intuitive because one would think that unless something is done to prevent racism that it may occur or continue to occur. I’m not sure if there is a definite way to absolutely prevent it as discussion enables misunderstanding, but the methods you presented here don’t seem dysfunctional.

  3. That was a wonderful way of stating it. I’m a white woman who has lived in Mississippi all her life. Discussing race and racism here can get, um, interesting. (Obvious statement is obvious.) But, my stepmom is black and talking to her about race is so refreshing. I wish everyone would take the time to have the same conversations. It’s eye-opening.

    1. Thanks for sharing! A lot of what I write about is “no big deal” here in Portland, OR. The great thing about having a blog is getting to see how different people feel about these things all over the world. I have never been to Mississippi (or anywhere in the south/midwest) so I always wonder how much truth there is to the judgements. It’s good to hear that there are so many open minded people all over the place.

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