Monday, May 25, 2009

A Case-study: Part 3

Part Three: The Role of Gender and Sexuality in Whiteness

The perpetuation of whiteness as discussed in regards to heterosexuality and gender is displayed well in the case of the archetypal “gay white male” as well.[1] Whiteness is so invisibly entrenched in the minds of American citizens that it is adaptable enough now to include some of those who before it could not – homosexual/queer identified people. And as entrenched as whiteness is, the movement for gay rights has often replicated its demands in their own organizing. “To gain recognition and credibility, some gay organizations and media began to aggressively promote the so-called positive image of a generic gay community that is an upscale, mostly male, and mostly white consumer market with mainstream, even traditional values.”[2]

While perhaps different on the surface, this appeal to “mainstream, even traditional values” is not very different from the appeal made by Blee’s Klan Women, as both groups are appealing their exclusion from public life by displaying a constructed vision of all that they and the group in power have in common, at the expense of those who do not meet the ideal.[3] Thus, as in the two examples discussed before it, the image of the “gay white male” helps maintain the social structure and understanding of whiteness, as well as perpetuate the ideals which serve as its foundation.

In my view, this appeal is made because of an unconscious understanding of intersectionality on the part of each group making their citizenship claims. Raised to believe in the legitimizing force of the ideals of whiteness, it only seems logical to point out “we’re just like you”. Groups of activists each can identify a part of their identity which overlaps with the ideals of proper American whiteness and use that to bring legitimacy to their whole body. Of course, reciprocally, appealing to whiteness in this way gives whiteness itself more legitimacy and reinforces its power in the cultural imagination. Such is the fundamental mistake of this “we’re just like you” appeal, and appeal too many social justice advocates and groups make (such as the Campaign for Military Service discussed in Berube[4]).

By its very nature as a hierarchal power structure, whiteness thrives on Othering people and defining itself against what it is not. As has been shown in the cases discussed in this paper: white womanhood’s role in the WKKK, “normal” heterosexuality in the marriage manuals, and appeals to whiteness in gay rights organizing; it is possible for groups to use this method to appeal for rights of full citizenship. However, to do so inevitably comes at the expense of someone else. In addition, such an appeal does not in any way dismantle the structure which made the appeal necessary in the first place. No, in fact, to structure a social justice appeal in this way only makes that over-arching oppressive structure of whiteness stronger, more invisible, and harder to tear down. And that is the role that gender and sexuality have played in whiteness.

[1] Berube, Making and Unmaking of Whiteness.

[2] Berube, Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, 235.

[3] Berube, Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, 239.

[4] Berube, Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, 239.