Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Case-study: Part 2

Part Two: The Role of Gender and Sexuality in Whiteness

The new understanding of womanhood [addressed in the previous post] intersects with a similarly (then) new narrative of so-called “normal” sexuality; a concept which was coming to be understood during the same era through the work of psychiatrists like Beatrice M. Hinkle.[1] “Between 1920 and 1940, modernization’s impact on marriage was a central issue in American popular culture”[2] and so-called “marriage manuals” instructing couples how to prevent the disintegration of their own marriages were becoming all the rage. While at first glance this practice would appear to be race-neutral, there is a silent subtext of whiteness which is pervasive in these manuals, “a race-evasive, power evasive response to the fear that white civilization in the United States might be destroyed by its own evolved superiority.”[3] Thus, “normal” sexuality, like “modern womanhood” relied heavily on white supremacist beliefs. However, unlike “modern womanhood” as practiced in the WKKK, “normal” sexuality’s appeals to whiteness were far more subtle.

Instead of appealing overtly to the inferiority of non-white persons, the discourse on “normal” sexuality relied on the racially loaded idea of “civilized” and “non-civilized” persons and society. But, as people of color have been unrelentingly portrayed specifically as less civilized than Anglos, this is clearly a racialized standard, even if not explicitly stated so. Therefore, sexuality’s role in maintaining whiteness here was in categorizing sexual philosophy and behaviors that were “normal” and demonizing all variations from that norm. This portrayal reciprocally reinforced a vision of whiteness as “civilized” and non-white races (as well as non-heterosexual sexualities) as less than. Thus, “the kind of ideal whiteness that had once set refined Anglos apart from other Americans was itself normalized…so that self-alignment with white racial ideals was increasingly represented…as the basic requirement for participation in American life.”[4] By “suturing” whiteness to “normal” sexuality, the marriage manual writers also quite successfully helped whiteness fade into obscurity as a blatant influence, further normalizing it.

Normalization is something both the marriage manuals and the WKKK did well in their usage of sexuality and gender to maintain whiteness; tying their efforts to citizenship claims. By defining their standards as “American” or “true American” standards, the influence of whiteness became an unconscious one, with the dominant narrative being that of the proper national citizen, not whiteness itself. This approach manipulated unconscious racist assumptions, giving credibility to white citizen’s suspicion of people of color. And this created a narrative of; “they” (people of color) are different from “us” (white people) in tangible ways; it’s not that we’re against these people; it’s just that we’re for proper citizenship![5] This evolving narrative of proper gender and sexuality is therefore unconsciously but irrevocably tied to whiteness in such a way that only helps whiteness perpetuate itself.

[1] Carter, Heart of Whiteness, 6.

[2] Carter, Heart of Whiteness, 1.

[3] Carter, Heart of Whiteness, 2.

[4] Carter, Heart of Whiteness, 4.

[5] Blee, Women of the KKK.