A Qualitative Analysis of Black Women’s Constructions of White Women in Interracial Relationships. Research, especially media discourses suggest and show that black women have a negative discourse towards white women who have interracial relationships. Therefore this exploratory qualitative study used focus groups to investigate how black women construct interracial relationships and white women who have interracial relationships. Social constructionist guided the discourse theory methodology. Participants described…
Since the 1980s social constructionism has become an increasingly influential perspective within psychology (e.g., Burr, 1995). Social constructionism suggests that human experience, including perception is mediated historically, culturally and linguistically (Willig, 2007). Therefore for this study, it is important to understand gender and race historically, also black and white unions within a historical context.
Interracial relations in a historical context, the construction of race and multiculturalism
Historically, interracial unions have played an integral role in the construction of racial categories. Interracial sex and marriage became deviant within the construction of a white identity that was in opposition to blacks. The underlying basis for interracial sexuality as deviant being the claim that blacks and whites are biologically and culturally different. An important part of this concept of race is based on black people’s experiences, constructions and discourses about whites as threats to racial purity (Childs, 2005). The issue of interracial sex and marriage is an integral part of the construction of race and racial groups, with the opposition to and the fear of interracial relationships often used as a means to execute and justify racist ideologies and practices. Thus, Ideas of race as biological difference emerged with slavery, as a justification. So both the construction of white/black relationships as problematic, and the abuse seen during slavery, can be seen as emerging along with changing discourses of race.
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During black slavery, among white peoples interracial sexual relationships was constructed as deviant, and this idea of deviancy was primarily aimed at preventing black male slaves from engaging in sexual acts with white women. It has been documented that those who did engage in interracial sexual relationships would be punished. However, for black people there is a complicated and painful history to black and white interracial relationships, as a result the roots of the hostility are different from white people. The discourses on interracial relationships are complex. The hostility that black communities may have to wards interracial relationships derives from a social and collective ‘memory’ of violation by whites. Historically blacks as a group have had to deal with the devaluation by whites and this in turn has effective black’s identity which has as a result shaped the attitudes and responses to interracial relationships. It has been well documented that black women were allegedly raped and sexually abused by white slave masters who all play a huge part in the sociohistorical construction of race and the rules of race relations (Childs, 2005).
Social constructionist propose that the concept of race, for example the belief that the classification based on skin colour and other skin deep properties like body shape or hair style maps onto meaningful, important biological kinds which is a pseudo biological concept that has been used to justify and rationalise the unequal treatment of groups of people or others (Machery & Faucher 2005).
Social constructionism became prevalent mainly in the 1970s. It became recognised that the biological concept of subspecies, that is, of population of conspecifics that are genetically and morphologically different from each other, could not be applied to human. Assigning an individual to a race does not buy the inferential power you are usually warranted to expect from a biological kind term. Also, classifications based on different traits such as skin colour, body shape hair etc usually cross cut each other (Brown & Armelagos 2001). Thus, the racialist tenet that skin colour and other skin deep properties pick up different biological groups has been assumed to be false.
Thus, biology has fuelled the recent racial scepticism of social constructionists, that is, the view that races do not exist. But social constructionists about race are not mere sceptics. They usually underscore the instability and diversity of human beings’ concept of races. For instance Omi and Winant (2002) state that effort must be made to understand race as an unstable and ‘decentered’ complex of social meanings constantly being transformed by political struggle. Banton (1970) suggest that this notion is a modern intervention, rooted in the eighteenth century taxonomies of Linnaeus and Blumenbach, for them, there were times or places where people did not have any concept of race (Machery & Faucher 2005). The constructionist contribution to the understanding of racialism is important. It suggests that individual’s concept of race do not occur in a social vacuum: social environment are important to explain the concept of our concept of race. This helps to identify the diversity of individual’s concept of race across cultures.
There has been growing literature in evolutionary psychology and evolutionary anthropology about racialism. Although no consensus has yet emerged, several proposals have recently attempted to describe the underlying cognitive mechanism responsible for the production of racial concepts (e.g., Hirschfield, 2001; White, 2001; Machery & Faucher 2005). The two latter approaches are both a needed supplement to the social constructionist approach. The recurrence of racial classification across cultures and the commonalties between them suggest that racial classifications are the product of some universal psychological disposition.
There is much literature that addresses the issue of interracial relationships and marriages specifically, for example both quantitative and qualitative methods have been implemented. Interracial heterosexual relationships have been explored from many viewpoints. Qualitative research has been conducted on black men and white women interracial couples (McNamara, Tempenis, & Walton 1999; Rosenblatt, Karis, & Powell 1995; Spickard 1989) and quantitative data of black and white attitudes towards interracial dating (Davis & Smith 1991). Social sciences have focused on how and why interracial couples have come together, the demographic similarities and differences and the comparisons of interracial relationship compared with same race relationships (Davis 1941; Gaines et al. 1999). Davis (1941) article deals with interrelation between marriage and cast and Gains (1991) research is concerned with the differences between secure and insecure individuals among both sexes in heterosexual interracial couples. Qualitative studies of interracial relationships has focused on the views, experiences and opinions of the couples and their relationships with society and the community (McNamara et al 1999; Root 2001) Some researchers have suggested that the number of couples, although increasing has remained small because of the lack of acceptance. It has been found that ethnic minority communities at times consider minority individuals that pair with partners as “race traitors” or whitewashed” (Pan, 2000).
Yet, there is little research on the ways that interracial couples are socially constructed and the societal responses from black women’s towards interracial relationships. Existing research on interracial relationships show that they do not look at examining race as a changing socio historical concept and construct. Researchers have studied interracial relationships without first acknowledging race and racial groups as socially constructed and subject to change and conflict instead they reproduce the idea of race as real and a natural phenomenon. While the latter literature review has provided important perspectives on understanding interracial relationships, the current study is different as the study places an importance on societal responses to interracial relationships from the voices of British black women.
Evolved Cognition and Ethnicity and Culture: Cultural Transmission
Ethnicity and culture are related phenomena and bear no intrinsic connection to human biological variations or race. Ethnicity refers to cluster of people who have common culture traits that they distinguish from those of other people. People who share a common language, geographic locale or place of origin, religion or sense of history, traditional values, values and so on, are perceived, and view themselves as constituting, an ethnic group (e.g., Jones,1997 & Smedley 1999). However, according to Smedley and Smedley (2005) ethnic groups and ethnicity are not fixed, bounded entities, they are flexible and open to change and they are usually self defined (Barth, 1998)
Theories of cultural transmission provide the proper framework for integrating the two main traditions in the study of racialism (Richerson & Boyd, 2004). The idea is that many beliefs, preferences, reasoning patters are socially learned. Similar to the traditional social learning theory, they are acquired from ones social environment form an individuals cultural parents for instance (Boyd & Richerson, 1985).
According to Machery & Faucher (2005) race is culturally transmitted, which lines with social constructionist reliance on traditional theories of social is learning, that is, with the idea that the concept of race is acquired from an individual’s social environment. This in turn gives explanations as to why a culture, at a time, people tend to have the same concept of race. This also explains why different cultures at different times have endorsed the same concepts.
The Social Construction of Interracial Couples
The ideas of race has been produce and reproduced though the construction of racial groups and social interaction, which had led to consequences in beliefs and practices. Therefore the images and meaning attached to black and white relationships are not simply produced by the black women but are rather constructed, socially, culturally, politically in their society and by the varying social groups (Childs, 2005). Therefore the black women’s understanding of their own identities are shaped by the responses of others and the images of how black women oppose to interracial relationships in which exists.
In British culture interracial relations is probelematised. ‘Interracial sex’ is treated as a problem. Recent films such as Jungle Fever, Bodyguard and Rising Sun have portrayed interracial sexual relations as acts of deviance (Mencke, 1976). These narratives have been accompanied by severe moral lessons about destructive nature of such unions, which often damage not only the lives of the character but their family and friends too. Whatever the situation, the unifying element of such popular representation is that interracial relationships do not work.
Academia controversy often surrounds the culturally authoritative discourse of science. This has been used overtime to justify a multitude of agendas, not least of which has been to ensure a moral argument for slavery and the conquest of the New World. Infused with notions borrowed from Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection, fears expressed in such writings have typically been grounded on notions of ‘purity’ and ‘degeneration’ of races through ‘mixing’ of blood. Typically, researchers conclude that participants in interracial relations are deviant, rebellious or rejected by their racial group (Buttny, 1987; Muhsam, 1990), it is clear that racial categories are bounded within discursive constructs that make any transgression appear abnormal, if not wrong.
Sexual relations between black men and white women have generally been located in the discourses of the unnatural. Sexuality between races has been constructed as transgression. Saxton (1995) argues that race thinking rests on class foundation , and it is also the case that ideologies of racism, one articulated, take on a life of their own and assume many contested and varied forms. Hooks (1990) puts forward, that our attempt to destabilise the naturalised discourses that define and construct ‘race’ and sexuality is confounded by language (Tyner & Houston, 2000).
Mapping a discourse
The current discourse against interracial relationships includes the following. First, it entails a range of racialised masculinities and images of what it means to be a man differentiated by race and class and at times drawing in racist stereotypes of the nineteenth and twentieth century’s. Secondly white femininity is racialised; white women who choose interracial relationships are constructed as sexually ‘loose’ or sexually radical. Third, the discourse generates a view interracial relationship as transgressing fixed racial or cultural boundaries. These three elements presuppose a fourth, the idea of race as explained earlier as a fixed and essential axis of differentiation and sixth, the idea of cultural differences is tied to ‘race’ and biological belonging (Frankenberg, 1993).
Social Construction of Black women, Black Femininity, Gender and Mixed race as ‘Ideal’
Research on the issues of black women’s, appearance and the marriage market is also important (Childs, 2000). Morrison (1972) wrote that there are devastating effects of persistent European ideals of beauty on the self image of black women. While light skin blacks are evaluated as more attractive and more victorious in terms of income and employment (Hughes & Hertel, 1990). This of course plays a huge role in the way that black women construct interracial dating and specifically the ‘white women’ since the discrimination based on skin colour may be associated with the decision to date interracially as a privileging of lighter skin and the lightest skin of all white (Russell, Wilson & Hall 1993; Childs 2005).
It is important to understand that there are a dual set of myths which distinguishes the construction of black women from other groups. The social construction of race is dependent on gender categorisation and the social construction of gender is dependent on racial categorisations. This process of using race to define gender has a long standing history. According to White (2001) he argues that nineteenth century scientists often used race to explain gender and gender to explain race. The result of this is the segregation between groups of individuals based on their race and genders; where some groups are portrayed as dominant and ‘normal’ and others as subordinate are based on social construction , the consequences of this is real and determines the power relations both between and within groups. In an effort to maintain these power relations and structures, cultural myths and symbols which are mainly based on stereotypes are employed. And as such, cultural symbols of black womanhood serve to mask as normalise the inequitable position of black women. As a result of racing gendering, black women find themselves marginalised on two fronts, race and gender. They are margin isled because they are non white. This marginalisation occurs on two levels, the first being that there is a construction of black women in relation to white men. Secondly, there is the construction of black women in relation to white women. Overtime time, these multiple marginalisation’s resulted in the development and redevelopment of a number if cultural symbols and icon used to represent black womanhood (Zachery, 2009).
Dominant discourses: Now
Interracial sexual relationships remain controversial both in the United Sates and the United Kingdom. Examining the discourse on interracial relationships brings a range of issues key to comprehending the impact of racism both on black women’s experience and worldview and on social organisation more broadly.
Interracial relationships continue to be a social issue in the black communities. Most black- white relationships involve a black man and white women according to the UK census. According to Collins (2000) “black women remain called upon to accept and love the mixed race children born to brothers friends and relatives… who at the same time often represent tangible reminders of their own rejection (2000, 195). Dickson (1993) suggest that interracial relationships between black men and white women along with the high murder rates in black communities, and levels of incarceration are viewed as the source of the shortage of “good” black men.
Although statistics show that there is an increase in black – white interracial relationships and marriages, the oppositions to these relationships have not necessarily disappeared. No matter how these relationships are viewed, what are interesting about them are the responses they receive from black women. An in depth analysis on black British women’s constructions on heterosexual interracial relationships will provide a better understanding of this phenomenon. Therefore this project will look specifically look at the way in which British black women respond to interracial relationships and specifically their constructions towards white women who have interracial relationships.
The project will look at the way black women construct interracial relationtions by asking them about their attitudes and their beliefs of interracial relationships, and popular culture and media depictions. I will discuss the images and discourses that have been constructed about interracial relationships and how these images and discourses contribute to the construction and maintenance of how black women construct white women who have interracial relationships. I approach the study of interracial relationships, understanding these interracial unions as socially constructed. It is important to understand that this will not be a nationwide representative study of attitudes, beliefs or occurrences that can be generalised. Rather this project provides an ethnographic look at black women’s constructions through in depth focus groups
I recruited my participant by handing out a recruitment sheet outside lectures. The recruitment letter explained the nature of the study and if the student wished to participate in the study to please contact me. My participants were either students at London Southbank University or known to me personally. Their age ranged from 16- 45, all of my participants were Black British women; All of my participants were born in Britain. It was made clear to all of the participants that they could withdraw from the study at anytime.
Discursive analysis provides an ideal opportunity for studying ideology in psychology. In the 1970s the materialization of a ‘new paradigm’ in social psychology occurred. New paradigm researchers called for a ‘turn to language’ which was inspired by theories and research which had emerged from other disciplines. This turn to language was the setting of the emergence during the 1980s, in social and developmental psychology and in other major parts of psychology (Parker, 2005). Studies such as Henrique’s et al, (1984) illustrated how language that is spoken can be organised as patterns of discourse. Discourse had a theoretical basis in the social constructionist approach (e.g., Burr, 2003). The social constructionist perspectives purpose was that understanding the study of human interaction and the linguistic communication is of importance. According to discursive psychology, language does not merely express experiences, rather, language also constitutes experiences and the subjective, psychological reality (Potter & Wetherell 1987; Shotter 1993; Wetherell 1995); therefore, construction of ‘social reality’ through the use of language enables discourse analysis to come about. This social process sustains this knowledge through social interactions (Burr, 1995) discourse can alter and adapt overtime; therefore, discourse are historically and culturally identifiable and is analysed through the language employed in the social interactions. This method is what I thought is best suited for my final year project as I was not looking for the participants personal experiences but rather how the participants construct inter-racial relationships and white women who have inter-racial relationships.
Potter and Wetherell (1987) introduced discourse to gain a better understanding of social texts through examining social life and social interactions. Its aim was to scrutinise discourse through analysing verbal and written communication. A number of themes are common in discourse analysis – these include rhetoric, voice, footing, discursive repertoires and the dialogical nature of talk. Potter and Wetherell 1987; Wetherell & Potter 1992 provided some of the best work on social psychology. It was developed as an analysis of racist interpretive repertoire. This entail suggested how discourse functions ideologically. For example a discourse of heterosexuality defines what is deviant.
The practice of discourse analysis involves a range of procedures designed to encourage the researchers to process and reprocess their material these include transcription, coding and recoding.
According to Potter (2003), ‘Discourse analysis is the study of how to talk and texts are used to perform actions’. He suggested that discourse analysis research should centre on four aspects. How language forms and constructs accounts on social ‘things’; how actions and social practices are achieved through linguistics; the ideologies of a particular social action, and, looking at psychological concepts through discourse. Therefore this method will be used to analyse the transcript.
Black women’s constructions towards interracial relationships and white women who have interracial relationships; Transcript of two focus group discussions between young black women will be analysed. An examination of the text will be scrutinised closely, known as coding (Potter & Wetherell, 1987) coding helps to select relevant information from the text. However, there will always be parts of discourse in which cannot be analysed; thus the same text can be analysed again, generating further insight (Potter & Wetherell, 1987; Wetherell & Potter 1992; Willig 1995, 1997, 1998) the data will analyse any key discourse that show from the data and how the data constructs that. The discourse analysis will also pinpoint any interpretive repertoires (Gilbert, Mulkay, 1984) and instances that occur in the text. This will require reading and re- reading the transcript, making various notes and coding gathered by the repertoires.
The process of recruiting participants was not difficult, mainly because some of the participants were known personally to me and that I also recruited LSBU students, therefore the participants were easily accessible. Needless to say, the women who took part in the project did so voluntarily. They also knew they could refuse to answer particular questions, or discontinue with the discussion at any given time.
I advertised by handing out a participation information sheet (see Appendix A) to several students. I gave them a brief overview of the study and asked whether they would be interested in taking part in the study. Two focus group discussions took place in a private area in the LSBU library where they were all given consent forms to sign (see Appendix B). Predetermined questions were asked and the process was recorded using a tape recorder and dictaphone.
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Private matters in regards to relationships were asked therefore all participants were introduced to one another to ensure that there was no discomfort. The nature of the study was explained to all the participants individually and within the focus group discussion so that no offence was taken when the questions were asked amongst one another. I guided the focus group to express both their opinions and thoughts on the subject at hand and ensured that the discussion did not go off tangent, therefore limitations were applied. I then later transcribed the focus group and drew out themes that emerged from the discussion.
To recruit the participants an information sheet was handed out, which can be found in Appendix A. It was intended to be clear about the criteria of the project whilst also being highly informative.
Participants were instructed to answer questions which can be found in Appendix C
The transcript is one of two focus group discussion about interracial relationships and how black women construct interracial relationships and how they construct white women who have interracial relationships. The first focus group consisted of six young black women and the second consisted four. Several themes emerged from the data. The analysis revealed, through grammatical and stylistic strategies numerous interpretive repertoires Wetherell and Potter (1998): ‘deviation’, ‘extrematisation’, ‘constructing relationship as sexual’, ‘generalisation and hypersexualisaion’ ‘normalising’ in order to put themselves in positions to validate their views on white women and interracial relationships in general. Both focus group discussions justify their actions through language as to why they have these views; this is when discourses are ‘visible’.
Focus group discussion between young black women students
Extract 1 discussion transcript 1 (Page 1) interpretive repertoire: Positioning themselves
Participants constructed meaning through shared conversation: they mutually positioned themselves using a variety of discursive techniques. The participants also justified their answers by using discursive markers. Sianne like the other black respondents employed a discursive strategy “I am not fazed by it, but…” by also offering disclaimers ‘doesn’t bother me. However they give several reasons as to why interracial couples are problematic
Sianne; When I see a black man with a white woman I’m not phased to be honest as the saying goes “Love is Blind”. But sometimes I find that when I pass a mixed couple sometimes the man will avoid glancing in my direction and the woman seems tense.
From the language used, Sianne and the other black females use discursive strategy by first stating that they are not against interracial couples ‘ I’m not fazed by it’ (line 74-76)… ‘It doesn’t bother me’ but show signs that the relationship lacks security. For example Sianne states that the man avoids looking at her and the woman seems tense.
According to Wetherell and Potter (1992) posits that racism must be viewed as a series of ideological effect with flexible, fluid and varying content. Therefore, racist discourse should not be viewed as static and homogeneous, but as dynamic and contradictory.
Some of the participants state that they do not have a problem with an interracial coupling. However, they use language amongst each other witch contradict themselves (Lines 91-92).
Saphira: I don’t really think anything unless the black guy is really attractive and the white woman is ugly
The extract opens with a disclaimer (Hewitt & Stokes, 1975) a disclaimer is a verbal devise that anticipates, and rejects, potentially negative attributions. ‘I don’t really think anything’ disclaims possible attribution of intolerance in the light of the comments in which are about to follow ‘unless the black guy is really attractive.
Extract 2 discussion transcripts 1 (Page) interpretive repertoire: Constructing relationship as sexual and deviant
A significant piece of the opposition from the black women was why a black man would chose to date a white woman. They construct meaning as to why they becoming interracially involved and the implications for black women. Several of the participants construct white women as easy and more inclined to perform oral sex as the reason why a black man will choose to be in a relationship with a white woman.
Saphira; I think white woman are more open to trying new things sexually that a black man wouldn’t get from a black woman, I think they come across easier .
When asked why a black man would choose to be in a relationship with a white women. A variety of terms was employed by the participants. This included ‘easier’ (Saphira) and ‘stress free lifestyle’ (Jamila) ‘open-minded to certain sexual acts’ (Justina).
Justina; I personally think that a black man would be in a sexual relationship with a white woman because, she may be more inclined to perform certain sexual acts that may be a ‘taboo’ in a black woman’s eyes and may also be more open-minded to certain sexual acts such as oral sex or oral sex in comparison to a black woman (Lines 96-101).
Black women thus positioned interracial relationships as sexual and constructed white women as easier and stress free. It shows that white femininity is racialsied; that white women are ‘easy’ and are sexually radical. A rhetorical technique employed here is ‘constructing corroboration and consensuses’ (Edwards et., 1992) ‘ white women’ are more open minded to oral sex acts by saying that more than one women behave this way. This technique is used again by Justina “this may be a taboo in black women eyes” she positions herself to the ‘category entitlement’
Extract 3 discussion transcripts 1 and 2 (Page) interpretive repertoire: Shortage of ‘good’ black men
Saphira; When I see a good looking black guy with a white woman, I can’t help but be disappointed and look and think why?.
The construction of black and white couples (focusing here on a black man with a white women) as outside the norm, Saphira also constructs that these couplings as deviant (lines 155-156).
Tanya: I know this is really judgmentalâ€¦but I automatically think that the black man is not really black! By this I mean he is surrounding by white friends he has never dated a black female and deep down he wishes he was white. It’s a bit of a waste initâ€¦
One theme in which was visible in both transcripts was the shortage of ‘good’ black men. Tanya states in the above extract ‘it’s a bit of a waste init…’ signifying that black men have value before becoming involved with white women. This construction exposes black racism and opposition to interracial relationships. Tanya also uses a disclaimer, a rhetorical devise that allows her to put forward what may be seen as judgemental views
Pricilla: discussed how “black men of high status with wealth get with white women because they see them as a symbol of success” (Lines 82-83).
In lines 82 to 83 Pricella constructs more general oppositional categories of ‘them’
Extract 4 discussion transcript 1 (Page) interpretive repertoire: Diluting the race ‘Traitor’
Black communities can act as deterrent to interracial relationships as these relationships are constructed as incompatible with black cultural affinity. In other words for a black man to engage in an intimate relationship with a white women means that one is a traitor to white society and in the process sold out the black society. During the focus group discussion Pricella constructs black men who get with white women as ‘traterish’ especially African men (lines 242-244).
Pricella: doesn’t make me feel anything but I aint gona alie I think it’s ‘traiterish’ it’s like they getting with a white women is the ultimate price for them when a black men get status even African men… Ooh white women
Saphira: also state that people may view the black man as
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