Critical Race Theory in the Digital Space

No fats.

No femmes.

Picture1No blacks.

No beans.

No rice.

Whites only.

While it pains me to say it—these words are not relics from a 1939 United States. These are words often seen on gay dating apps a la Grindr, Scruff, Growlr, etc. This openness, comfort, and even solace in some ways in being able to name “preference” reminds us and begs the question is this truly indicative of preference?

Long story short. It’s not. I would be remiss to not highlight the work of thought leaders like Yusuf Tamana,  blogs like TheGoodMenProject, and my personal favorite Marq a.k.a. Mouth of the South a.k.a. Angry Black HoeMo who have long before this post, engaged in dialogues to problematize the racial realities in gay dating apps.

In one of the pieces I enjoy most by Marq, he highlights:

Instead of seeing the extensive work of LGBTQ POC in covering the issue, including us getting the platform to discuss our own experiences on a larger stage, I’m seeing it come from largely white (if not white-passing), gay men…white, gay men who are largely regurgitating the work of the former (and that Guardian article is absolutely just a compilation of POC thoughts…who likely weren’t paid, by the way). And an even bigger part of the issue, for me, is that many are covering the issue in an oversimplified, remedial way.

Even within conversations that intend to dismantle the ways in which white supremacy shows up in digital spaces, these topics become colonized and exploited.

So why?

After reading this blog post by Marq, I had to ask myself why this is still something important to discuss.

Is this an attempt for me to reconcile why my black body isn’t palatable for white gay men?Is my mind so colonized that the dissonance experienced on gay dating apps something that I need answers to?

Well lucky for me (and I suppose whoever reads this) that is not the case. My reason for still wanting to interrogate this is that yes, I think all QTPOC people can recognize and own the fact that WhiteGayzeare kind of the worst; however, in apps like Grindr their actions become more pernicious…why?

Where Physical and Digital Spaces Converge

Apps like Grindr and Scruff have in ways created a space where queer men can engage in community building due to the lack of and risk associated with physical spaces for queer men. Similarly, Wiele and Tong (2014) argue that these apps allow gay men “to integrate into heteronormative spaces, allowing desegregation to continue while maintaining knowledge of the “queer cartography” that defines their community” (p. 3).

This queer cartography is often shaped by who gay men want to virtually see in apps as well. Often when gay men have no interest in someone on these “dating apps”, they block them which essentially eradicates bodies from their digital space.

In the same ways that white gay men can block people of color on Grindr in this digital space, is this “blocking” replicated beyond this digital space?

image1

Racism is imbedded into the framework of society—encompassing not only the physical but also social and in turn digital universe (DeCuir and Dixson, 2004).

So, what does this tell us? The abject horror that white liberal gay men experience when they witness the manifestations of white supremacy on apps such as Grindr is a reminder that the permanence of racism in the United States cannot be ascertained by white liberals.

It is a moot point to argue the idea that dismissing and repudiating an entire group of people is racist; however, we can argue that the oppressive dynamics of dating apps moves beyond the digital and mirrors the physical reality of people of color.

On Kolorblyndness and Racial Fetishization

 

image1 (1)

As I ponder the amount of times I’ve been asked if I have a “BBC” or told “race doesn’t matter to me”, I’m reminded of bell hooks’ critique of some themes in a myriad of Tarantino films. She writes, ‘they are the ultimate in sexy cover-ups of very unsexy mind-fuck. They titillate with subversive possibility…but then everything kinda comes right back to normal. And normal is finally a multicultural world with white supremacy intact.”

 

This racial fetishization of black bodies, though seemingly the antithesis of the examples above, doesn’t go without critique. It is indeed a mindfuck in that this salacious yearning to sexualize and consume black bodies has vestiges from black bodies being actual property for white people to enjoy.

As Harris (1993) reminds us whiteness as property can be delineated into the rights of disposition, rights to use and enjoyment, reputation and status property, and the absolute right to exclude. We can situate the physical embodiment of whiteness as property through the complete subjugation and domination of African bodies as slaves brought to the United States (Ladson-Billings and Tate, 1995). This positioning of black bodies as less than, as subhuman, inherently allows Whites to maintain and support the notion that not only black bodies, but any non-white body is in turn an object to be exploited, commodified, sexualized, and destroyed.

image1 (2)

 

In addition to this, we must revisit the untenable argument of colorblindness and the politics of denial. Colorblindness presents an inveigled cognitive dissonance for some upon first consideration. Despite how sanguine the sentiment of transcending race and being an equal opportunist can be, colorblindness only serves as pedestal to homogeneity and totality of white interests (Gotanda, 1991).

To position black bodies in a way that is beyond race is to deny the brutal realities people of color face as a product of white supremacy and white dominance. It is to deny the resilience and power of the human spirit contained within these black bodies. It is to deny black girl magic and black boy joy.

Moving Up and Moving On

Before I conclude, I think it’s important to acknowledge the ways in which queer women of color experience oppression in infinite ways that transpire beyond the scope of this article.

In addition to that, I must highlight how we construct body aestheticism and the ways in which fat and overweight identifying folx experience shaming and untethered hate from multiple different lenses.

So, I again ask why write this? Where do we go? How do we move on? Moving beyond for me means no longer offering an exorbitant amount energy to talk about the ways in which whiteness shows up in both physical and digital spaces. I want to move up into a space where whiteness isn’t centered and representations of black love and joy abundant. Indeed love is love is love is love; however, seeing images of people of color engaging in a love that transcends is counterhegemonic in nature. This love exists. This love is real. This love is powerful. This love cannot be tainted by white supremacy and white dominance.

References

Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43(6), 1241–1299.

Decuir, J., & Dixson, A. (2004). “So when it comes out, they aren’t that surprised that it is there”: Using critical race theory as a tool of analysis of race and racism in education. Educational Researcher, 33, 26-31.

Gotanda, N. (1991) A critique of ‘our constitution is color-blind’. Stanford Law Review, 44, 1–68.

Harris, C. (1993). Whiteness as property. Harvard Law Review, 106, 1709–1791.

hooks, b. (1996). Reel to real: Race, sex, and class at the movies. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F.,IV. (1995). Toward a critical race theory of education. Teachers College Record, 97(1),47-68.

Van De Wiele, C., & Tong, S. T. (2014). Breaking boundaries: The uses and gratifications of Grindr. In the proceedings of the ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing. New York, NY: ACM Press.

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