Each day, everyone participates in “doing gender” as a means of both cultural and gender expression. For each of us, the ways in which we “do gender” is policed in subtle ways by the audience with which we interact, socially constructing our ideas about gender and race. Society produces and then reproduces our ideas of gender and race. For Black men and women in the United States, the intersection of race and gender has resulted in their oppression, both historically and in the present day. In a speech by Laverne Cox entitled “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About it)” she, as a self-proclaimed Black Trans Woman, describes the Black community in the Unites States as a culture dealing with trauma.
During colonialism and slavery, Black men and women were dominated by White settlers (Aulette and Wittner 106). The racialization of Black men and women began. Black men and women were stereotyped as a hyper-sexualized and threatening (West 1993, Collins 2000 as cited in Aulette and Wittner 106). These images were created so that the violence inflicted on Black men and women would be viewed as normal and necessary (Aulette and Wittner 106). Black men were often seen as rapists and lynched and emasculated (Laverne Cox). Enslaved Black women were often raped by their White owners (ibid 105). Colonialism created a hierarchy of race and gender with White men and women at the top.
Black men and women have shared oppression because of their race and this continues even now. (Lorde118). Stereotypes of Black women as being “Divas” and using sex to elevate their social stature exist today in the United States (Aultette and Wittner 108). Images of Tiger Woods and Magic Johnson in popular media contribute to the on going stereotypes of Black men as being hyper-sexed and threatening (ibid 107). In the United States today, there is little prosecution of sexual violence against Black women and almost all men convicted of a rape in the United States have been Black Men (Aulette and Wittner 107) Moreover, the hierarchy of race and gender still exists in America today. The race and gender norm in the United States is “white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure”(Lorde 116). Everyone else is seen as a deviation from this perceived norm. (ibid). The same patterns used during colonization to produce a hierarchy of gender and race are present today. Images of Black men and women as hypersexed are still produced within society and violence against Black women remains seen as normal. Black men are prosecuted and emasculated by patriarchy.
Patricia Collins says that, “Black men are encouraged to express a hyper-heterosexuality as the badge of Black masculinity” (115). Laverne Cox describes a situation common to Black Trans women in the United States: being “cat-called” on the street by a Black man and a Latino man. She describes the incident, stating the two men were asking her if she was a “B” word or an “N” word. This incident is indicative of how these systemic ideas of race and gender are internalized and reproduced by society. These stereotypes are found in the sexual scripts of these men. “Cat-calling” is a way of asserting hegemonic masculinity and dominance based on sex. Further, the derogatory terms that the men gave Laverne to choose from show a lack of value and respect for Black women and men: there was no option that would place Laverne in a positive light. In this moment, and moments like it, Black men seem hypersexualized and Black women are victims of a crime. The derogatory terms these men presented to Laverne, wrap race and gender together and devalue Black men and women, just as they were during colonization. Socially constructed ideas of race and gender have been internalized and are reproduced.
In her speech, Laverne Cox points to love and forgiving her oppressors in her speech as the solution and I very much agree. I think that for the act of forgiveness to work, one must first participate in self-love. Laverne Cox says that we have to begin to understand that the nobody lives up to the perceived gender norm. I believe that is we can do that, the socially constructed hierarchy of gender and race might start to disappear and this pattern can be broken. I believe that through the act of self-love, we might begin to start accepting each other and stop engaging in the policing of our own actions and those of others. I do not believe that this is the complete solution; however, like participating in activities that save the environment, every little bit helps.
Aulette, Judy Root, and Judith Wittner. Gendered Worlds. 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press. 2004. Print.
Hill Collins, Patricia ” Very Necessary – Redefining Black Gender Ideology.” Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender and the New Racism. New York : Routledge. (2004):182 -213. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.
Cox, Laverne. “Laverne Cox Explains the Intersection of Transphobia, Racism, and Misogyny (And What to Do About It).” Everyday Feminism. N.p., 07 Dec. 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2015. <http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/12/laverne-cox-intersection-what-to-do/>.
Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press. (1984): 114-123. Web. 09 Mar. 2015.