During the comments for the second of two recent posts here, on the difficulty that white people often have with truly listening to non-white people, thesciencegirl noted "the very obvious fact that WOC often experience sexualized racism or racialized sexism; the 2 are often difficult to separate." This distinction prompted fromthetropics to ask, "Is there a difference between 'sexualized racism' and 'racialized sexism'?" Then fromthetropics and another swpd reader, RVCBard, each sent me emails describing their experiences with living at intersections of racialized and gendered oppression, that is, as women of color. Each agreed to having their thoughts posted below in a joint guest post.
What do you think -- is sexualized racism different from racialized sexism? What should white people try to keep in mind in their encounters with people of color who are also women? Or should I make that, women who are also people of color?
(For more on and from these two generous writers, see their other guest posts, here, here, and here.)
Quite a few people commenting at SWPD asked about racialized sexism and sexualized racism. I didn't directly respond to that in the threads, but I have been thinking about it.
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that it's virtually impossible for me to explain the difference between racialized sexism and sexualized racism. That's trying to parse racism and sexism in a way that I don't experience it. Rather than focus on the rightness or wrongness of that question, I'll set a few things straight about my experiences as a Black woman.
As a Black woman, it has been my experience that White people (particularly White men) generally do not perceive or value me as a woman. Yes, I am biologically female (like any other animal - note the irony here), but I'm not seen or treated as feminine or womanly. Typically, White men only recognize two modes of Black womanhood: Mammy and Angry Black Woman (aka Evil Black Bitch - take your pick).
It's easy to imagine what this means. When I'm seen in Mammy mode, I am only valued insofar as I take care of White people. I'm only worthy of attention and respect to the extent that I'm willing to extend endless physical, financial, emotional, and moral support more or less with a smile on my face. It doesn't seem to matter how much this puts me at risk or actually harms me. Without saying as much, they treat me as though they are entitled to endless patience, hospitality, politeness, and generosity. And when I show that my patience, generosity, politeness, and hospitality have limits, the response is not "I'm sorry" or "Let me fix that" but "What's the matter with you?" Thus begins the transition from Mammy to Angry Black Woman.
In personal and practical terms, this means that White people (especially straight White men), treat me as though I don't have legitimate feelings, or at least feelings that can be hurt. When I'm not completely placid or jovial, White people treat me like I'm misbehaving or a rabid animal. If I'm upset, White people don't take it as a cue that something is wrong. White people have a tendency to talk at me instead of to me or with me. They try to debate my feelings, give me unsolicited advice, or "try to talk some sense into me." Rarely do White people actually ask me what I need to get better, let alone offer comfort or reassurance for whatever I'm going through. Instead of treating me like a sane, intelligent adult with the needs and vulnerabilities of any human being, I feel like White people treat me like I'm a toddler who needs to be appeased or disciplined before going on with their lives. Even my friends do this to me. It's degrading and humiliating to be made to feel so insignificant.
It's as though, emotionally speaking, I'm treated like a linebacker at the big game and not like a real person with real feelings and real vulnerabilities. I often feel as though I'm not permitted to be complex or to need anything. Somehow, sheer fierceness is supposed to carry me through life. My Black Woman's Attitude becomes this superpower that renders me invincible, some strange blend of kevlar and teflon for the spirit. Apparently nothing can penetrate or stick to me. So I often get the sense that White people feel free to pile on the bullshit without offering any relief from it. It's so rare that White folks treat me with gentleness that I notice when it happens. Then again, what I'm interpreting as extraordinary tenderness is really just being treated like a human being.
There are some experiences which I have been struggling to understand and reconcile with, until some commenters here mentioned the terms ‘sexualized racism’ and ‘racialized sexism’.
In answer to my question in the comments,
Genuine question here to anyone who knows: Is there a difference between 'sexualized racism' and 'racialized sexism'? If so, what is the difference.
Angel H explained:
The way I understand it, sexualized racism is akin to fetishism because of a perceived sexual stereotype ("Black Brute" stereotype, "Latin Lover" stereotype, "Geisha Girl" stereotype, etc.) I think that racialized sexism would be more of a societal stereotype like the "Black Welfare Queen" stereotype or the "Submissive Asian Housewife" stereotype.
Please let me know if I'm making any sense! ^_^
Yes, that makes sense, but I still can’t seem to shake off this blanket of vagueness that I see when I think of my experiences. Let me relate some of them here.
One time I went with my (white) partner to see his two white male friends. They had met while they were in Indonesia on a language study exchange program. They all seemed to have had Indonesian girlfriend(s) or ‘girlfriend(s)’ while there. It was the first time I was meeting these two men. But no sooner had I sat down then I felt a sense of ‘yuck’ dumped onto me like a vague slimy mass. I felt as though his friends saw me as an ‘Indonesian woman’ as opposed to just a person or even just a woman. It was as though they saw me more as an Asian decoration that a white man could f*** (in both the literal and figurative sense).
I had heard that one of them used to have a few Indonesian ‘girlfriends’ simultaneously while studying there. This man’s reasoning was that Indonesians do this too, and hence in Rome do as the Romans do. (Though many others have informed me that in Indonesia ‘girlfriends’ or ‘boyfriends’ often just mean texting the opposite sex on a regular basis as opposed to anything really serious, though of course some may go a bit further.) So he was practicing a warped sense of cultural relativism at its peak (or rather, moral relativism), if you ask me. (And I’m sure had he had the chance to explain himself, he may have cited the practice of polygamy in Indonesia, though he of course would have omitted the fact that many Indonesian women abhor it.) The other friend was simply a sexist male slut, I was told.
Nothing overt happened that day. In fact, I had only a vague recollection of the stories that I had been told before I met them. But I felt a very strong sense of ‘yuck’, almost independently of those stories, as I sat there. This ensued into a huge row between my partner and I afterwards. (To be fair, these were not his close friends.)
On another day the other friend related how one of the Thai women he met in Indonesia was chasing after him by sending emails and what not. He laughed through his nose as he told the story. I felt an immediate ‘yuck’ slime splattered on me. Again, I felt as though the woman was not just a woman in his eyes. She was a ‘Thai’ or ‘Asian’ woman. I could see the prefix there, large and bold. My partner laughed too and said to him, ‘Well, it wasn’t like you had gone out with her or anything…did you?’ The friend didn’t answer in words but just gave a cheeky/sly smile as he puffed on his cigarette. My partner showed a slight sense of discomfort and surprise with this response. (I thought, Gosh! Are you seriously that naïve???? Sigh.)
But I had no evidence, as is customary. It was difficult for my partner to understand what it was that I was taking issue with. Understandably so, seeing that I had no real explanations either, apart from the ‘yuck’ feeling, and ‘just because’. But it hurts to the core.
‘What about my housemate,’ he asked. ‘How come you don’t complain about him?’
Good question. His white male housemate was going through a phase of sleeping around with women he does not care about. These are choices I personally disagree with, yet, even then, I have never felt this way (‘yuck’) when talking to him. I feel as though he sees me as a person, as a woman, as his friend’s girlfriend/partner without the prefixes ‘Asian’ or ‘Indonesian’. His personal life and choices do not come into play when he talks to me. My partner tried to understand what I was saying, and I think he managed to partially understand the difference.
Here’s another story told by a young white woman (of a non-English speaking background). A couple (white man, Indonesian woman) came to have dinner at her parents’ house. At one point the Indonesian wife said something in Indonesian to her white husband. The white husband said, ‘yeah, yeah,’ as though he was listening. The host asked the white man what his Indonesian wife had said. The man said, ‘I don’t know. I can’t understand what she’s saying either. It doesn’t matter.’ Upon hearing this, the young woman who was relating the story decided that she did not want to be in a cross-cultural relationship lest this happens to her – devalued as a female ‘ethnic’ Other.
Can anyone relate to this? How does one explain the dynamics of this ‘yuck’ feeling and the effect of the ‘prefix’ so that others, particularly (white) men, may understand?
Could it be that it is easier for men to see a woman of another color as a pseudo-prostitute? Is that what the ‘yuck’ feeling is about? Or is that – prostitute – too strong a word for people’s comfort?