By Dr. Herukhuti
This is the second article in a three-part series on interethnic (what is usually imprecisely refereed to as interracial) sexual dynamics. To read the first article in the series, click the link here.
Our desires are always our own and emerge from the rich network of energies swirling within us. But, at the intersection of race, ethnicity/culture, gender and class, structural inequality (i.e., imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy) forges our desires. The ocean of structural inequality in which we swim hammers away at our emergent desires, penetrates the boundaries of the Self and seeps into some of the most intimate recesses of our being. No matter how impenetrable or immune we may think we are, our tissues have absorbed some portion of this environment.
Indoctrination occurs through an increasingly present network of managing forces that designate who/what is desirable or undesirable and evaluates the ways in which we pursue or express our desires as appropriate or inappropriate. This management of desire occurs across the political landscape. On the Right, same-sex desire, for example, is inappropriate. On the Left, rape fantasy is inappropriate. Both camps find certain, but not all, forms of intergenerational desire abhorrent. Or, at least, they say so in public.
While each of us can exercise agency in choosing from among the options that are made available to us by the folks in charge of setting the standards and manufacturing consent or compliance, most of us are still choosing from a pre-determined set of options. Like the Shell Game or Three Card Monte, when you think you are winning it’s because the dealer wants you to believe you are winning in an effort to gain your trust and confidence in the system. As long as you continue to play the game, in the end the dealer always wins.
The system rewards us for coloring within the lines drawn to structure our desires. The rewards can be social (e.g., prestige, fame, acceptance), financial, sexual, etc. There are consequences for venturing outside of the confines of pre-determined options: marginalization, delegitimization, exile, isolation or death. Stray too far away from the set of options provided to you and you risk these consequences.
In this context, as Charles Stephens says, choice does not equal freedom. But it can feel like it does if you stay focused on only what the system puts before you as a set of options.
Craving the White Gaze
So what does it mean—in an environment that privileges certain bodies, ways of being, and people over others—when we, people of color, exercise our perceived freedom to pursue our desires for people of European descent when we desire people of European descent exclusively? I am specifically interested in engaging people of color who exclusively desire people of European descent as persons with agency who are making decisions about their lives rather than as hapless objects of European manipulation.
This video is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) if your workplace is porn free.
I am curious to know what the white gaze feels like as it travels along their skin. To know what pale flesh feels like when it caresses their flesh. Is there a phenomenological or existential difference in those experiences between a person of color who craves the desire of people of European descent and a person of color who is merely open it to?
Whatever differences might exist in how those two kinds of people of color experience the white gaze an interethnic desire, they share, as do we all, the reality of swimming in the ocean that is imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy as a function of living in this particular moment on the planet. The choices are our own but mere choice is not freedom. We live in a world in which the lives, bodies and communities of people of color are systematically ordered in the interest of wealthy, heterosexually active men of European descent. What is a person of color to do with their desires for people of European descent in that context?
The colorblind approach to interethnic desire is just as problematic to me as is colorblind approaches to racial justice. Acting as if ethnic difference does not exist or that white supremacy does not exist comes from the same place from which people draw when they deny their addictions. It helps to maintain the status quo and avoid the hard work of divorcing oneself from that familiar something that has been feeding us, albeit feeding us death and destruction.
By confronting white supremacy with the people of European descent we desire and its role in the shaping of our desires, I believe that we approach a levels of holism and authenticity that are disruptive to the system of imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. Confrontation can, will and does take different forms. For example, in the interview below, sex educator Mollena Williams, discusses the performance of race play in the context of her practice of bondage, discipline, domination, submission, sadism and masochism (BDSM).
Race play as a form of confrontation may be too intense for most folks and is definitely not something that people should jump into without the proper preparation and foundation. It does, however, provide an example of making explicit the realities of privilege, entitlement and access people of European descent experience and the realities of structural violence people of color experience because of racial oppression.
At the bare minimum, the exercise of interethnic desire by people of color with people of European descent can include ongoing conversation about what it means to live, love and desire in a world that has been structured in the interests of people of European descent and to exploit people of color. Because the system of the white supremacy and privilege is the enemy and not people of European descent, people of color can exercise desires for people of European descent without the risk of sleeping with the enemy. But if we are not confronting white supremacy in our conversations with them, then how can we be sure we are sleeping with an ally?