A popular joke circulating alongside images of the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia is that the men look as though they’re not getting laid. White women on the Internet braggadociously proclaimed that these men would never be able to sleep with them, framing their withholding of their sexual capital as a form of resistance to these men’s ideals.
This threatened “punishment” of racist men is, efficacy-wise, the verbal equivalent of sticking your tongue out with your thumbs in your ears. When white women present their own desirability and sexuality as weapons against white supremacists, they gloss over their own role in racism and demand too little of themselves in fighting it. What’s more, control of white women’s sexuality has been important to white supremacist movements since their beginnings. White women declaring they’re denying white men sex reinforces the racist idea that sex with white women — and only white women — is some kind of prized commodity white men should have access to in the first place.
White men have spent centuries upholding the sanctity of white womanhood as a way of maintaining their control of white women’s sexuality. And racist white men have long been terrified that white women will end up in black men’s arms. During slavery, racist men and women thought of black men as animalistic and overly sexual; these stereotypes have carried over into present-day expectations that black men are more well-endowed and have higher libidos than anyone else. Lynching was the punishment for black men who were thought to have defiled a white woman’s body — or merely to have desired it. Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black child, was tortured and killed, his body thrown into a river, because a white woman lied and said he flirted with her.
From a racist’s perspective, there is nothing innocent about a black man; the thinking is that his eyes are just as dangerous as his penis, because once a white woman is in his sight, she cannot do anything but yield. Racist white men are, above all, afraid of their own mediocrity. They have killed, tortured, and maimed men of color who they thought robbed them of their self-believed right to penetrate white women’s orifices. Some white women, recognizing this, position their bodies as weapons — asserting their power by way of supporting a pillar of white supremacy.
The truth about racist white men is that they are having sex, and will continue to do so. Richard Spencer is a highly educated white supremacist who holds degrees from the University of Virginia and University of Chicago. He’s also married. Jason Kessler, who is responsible for the “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, is also a University of Virginia alumnus. They may not be attractive to some in terms of physical appearance, but their social capital, educational privilege, and white maleness — which dominates all areas of our culture — combine to make their chances of getting laid extraordinarily high. White women have always allied with white men, sexually and otherwise. They have willingly invested in the power and stature of white supremacist men in our society, including, for example, Donald Trump.
To assume that the hundreds of white supremacist men who gathered in Charlottesville over the weekend are all single, lonely, and undersexed is to equate racism with unattractiveness. At best, that’s reductive. If we are intent on dismantling hundreds of years of white supremacy, it’s counterproductive. As John Stoehr of USA News wrote, white supremacists “are not the white working class yokels that populate the imaginations of Democrats, liberals and progressives. They are highly educated, highly engaged,” and skilled at using white entitlement to incite violence.
We must refrain from believing that white supremacist men fit the stereotypical Deliverance-inspired perception of “hillbillies,” with missing teeth and no education or hygiene. Nor are they all basement-dwelling virgins, as some would like to believe. They are erudite, well-dressed, and oftentimes physically attractive. And yes, they are sleeping with and building families with white women, who may have backgrounds similar to those of the white women who mockingly assert they won’t have sex with racists.
Besides, when cisgender, heterosexual men are denied sex, what do they do? If you think the answer is “evaluate their actions and regret their mistakes,” you’re not paying attention. Some kill, as in the case of Elliott Rodger, or they rape, because so many men are conditioned to believe they are owed women’s bodies. And let’s not forget: Women of color have historically had much less ability than white women to opt out of sex with white men. It wasn’t so many generations ago that white men pillaged slaves’ bodies and then kissed their white wives as they got into bed with them, all in the same night. Even if withholding sex were an effective tool for social change, it would be a tool much less available to black women. When white women frame the withholding of sex from white men as a punishment, it does nothing to challenge these men’s assumptions about what sexual capital is the most valuable and who should control it.
We should expect more creativity of white women in how they hold white men accountable for their actions. Centering white vaginas — what goes in and out of them — reinforces a dangerous notion: that the white female body is the best lever with which to dismantle racism. White women’s sexuality is not our path to freedom. On the contrary, it’s often been weaponized against people of color. We must acknowledge and then reject cultural scripts about white women’s bodies being superior, a belief that has cost countless black and brown people their lives. It’s time we shift the focus from pointless jokes to making an actual point to protect marginalized people and end white supremacy.
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