Conceptualizations of race

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Last updated: April 11, 2019

Conceptualizations of race based on biological differences rather than social constructions are embedded in the American formation of nation throughout history. These conceptualizations, known as scientific racism, along with the medicalization of the body, have played a central role in creating a prejudicial hierarchy of oppression that is consistently reinforced. The discourses of science and the body have produced racialized, sexualized, and genderized bodies via sexology research, reproductive rights, stereotypes, and immigration practice.

Biology and science are used to naturalize racial norms in sexology research.Analytically absenting race as a factor in sexological literature naturalizes the female/subject as white. Science not only normalizes whiteness, but heterosexuality as well. The “invention” of homosexuality as a pathology, and therefore biologically determined, replaces the socially constructed view that homosexuality is a crime. It was “diagnosed” that lesbian women had “too much” genitalia, causing them to possess a phallic-like appendage. The masculination of lesbianism directly reflects the strict gender boundaries reinforced through heterosexuality.

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The African woman’s body, like that of the lesbian’s, was considered to possess an abnormally large clitoris (Somerville 42). These “appendages” not only classified these women as abnormal, but sexually deviant as well. Biological determinism purports that these conclusions are truth, when they are really constructions in themselves. Interracial desires and relations followed the same paradigm of abnormality as that of same-sex desires and relations.

These “perverse” desires and behaviors resulted from tabooed diseases that required treatment.It was even thought that homosexuals were prone to interracial relations, in order for a difference in color to replace a difference in sex. The Darwinian notion of sexual difference states that the differentiation between male and female sexes becomes greater as evolution progresses toward civilization. Therefore the white, heterosexual body is civilized, and that which deviates from this norm is not (class note 9/23 and 9/28). Reproductive rights are legislated through the law, which uses the medicalization of the body to reinforce biases and stereotypes based upon notions of light and dark, pure and impure (Mason 50)..Abortion laws to protect the fetus are directly influenced by race. Late term or “partial-birth” abortions are illegal when performed on “healthy or “normal” fetuses (Mason 49).

Late term abortions are legal, however, when performed on “unhealthy” fetuses due to the mother’s use of crack. These fetuses, labeled “crack babies” will suffer developmental abnormalities, and are “explicitly presumed to be black” (Mason 51). Stereotypically, crack was assumed to be the “‘drug of choice for blacks'” (Mason 51).White society did not want defective black women giving birth to children that were even more “impure” than they were. Black women, therefore, interpreted abortion as genocide. Fetal protection laws replace a woman’s right to control her own body with a fetus’ right to life (Mason 52).

These laws reinforce the notion that a woman’s duty, above all else, is to bear children. She therefore must be in a relationship where reproduction is inevitable, meaning a heterosexual relationship. Sexuality also intersects with race through the mother of the “crack baby,” who, as a druggie, is assumed to be sexually deviant.Stereotypes regarding the differences between black and white individuals have reinforced medical constructions of race, gender, and sexuality.

While race is socially constructed, it appears as natural and appropriate, aiding its ideology to color both gender and sexuality. Power relations within the black race are affected by the invisibility of the black woman while the black man is emphasized. Through a greater representation of their differences (although most are manifested through stereotypes), the black male overshadows the black female, dominating her politically and socially.Blacks were presumed to be savage, primitive, animal-like, and over-sexed. These stereotypes justified slavery, as well as the rape of the enslaved woman. Through the nullification of rape due to the apparent sexual deviance of blacks, woman’s experiences in slavery differed from those of a man.

The master’s ability to acceptably rape a female slave catalyzed a discourse that not only separated her from the black male, but from the white female as well. “Woman” is supposed to represent females of all colors yet a separation between whiteness and womanness is rarely made. Race is a determining factor of gender.Both classifications are based on an assumed “normalcy”(class notes 9/14).

Within the African American community, however, gender and sexuality issues and problems are often pushed aside by an “overdeterminancy of race” (Higginbotham 273, 1992). AIDS has killed many women in the black community, yet attention around the disease concentrates on homosexual white males. Black women do not speak up, however, for fear of being not only racially, but also sexually stereotyped as well (Higginbotham 274, 1992). African American women are not the only group of people who fear being classified as a homosexual.The practice of selective immigration is geared towards maintaining the dominance of a white, heterosexual hierarchy.

Luibheid cites Somerville to compare the congruent utilizations of scientific racism to classify both homosexuality and blackness as abnormal (Luibheid 82, 1998). According to the medical model of the body, sexuality and race determine gender through the discourse of inversion. The United States Border Patrol, especially along the US-Mexico border, the visibility of homosexuality and race singled out individuals who fit the stereotypical attributes.The most attention was focused on gay men and non-Asian immigrants, who were considered the most visibly recognizable and threatening (Luibheid 82, 1998). Unlike African American women, however, lesbians were able to mask their “otherness” through “the process of ‘straightening up'” (Luibheid 83, 1998).

By feminizing their “masculine” attributes, such as growing out their hair and nails and wearing a dress instead of pants, lesbians could fit the mold of an acceptable immigrant. African American women, lesbian or not, would always be gendered as “abnormal” by their race (Luibheid 83, 1998).The intersections of race, gender, and sexuality become distorted when conceptualized through science and the medical body. Assumptions based on the superiority of whiteness, heterosexuality, and strict male/female gender differentiations remain at the basis of biological “truths. ” The real truth, however, is that the notions of the “normal” and the “abnormal” are social constructions impounded into the mind through sexology research, reproductive rights, stereotypes, and immigration practice.The necessary classifications required to fit within dominant norms are so narrow that they are increasingly encouraged and enforced by individuals who themselves would not meet all the criteria, and therefore be considered as “other.

” Until science develops a medical model that includes every possible combination of differences a person can possess, most Americans will remain on the outside, looking in on the strict boundaries of sameness.

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