Ignoring the Sexualization of Race: Heteronormativity, Critical Race Theory and Anti-Racist Politics
Darren Lenard Hutchinson
Buffalo Law Review, Vol. 47, Pp. 1-116, 1999
This Article, a third in a series of related works, explores the representation of sexual identity within Critical Race Theory and other forms of anti-racist discourse. I argue, after examining representative texts, that anti-racist discourse is often "heteronormative" -- or centered around heterosexual experiences. Most commonly, anti-racist heteronormativity occurs when scholars and activists in the field fail to analyze the homophobic dimensions of acts or conditions of racial inequality and when they dismiss, either implicitly or explicitly, the "morality" of gay and lesbian equality claims. This Article recommends that scholars in Critical Race Theory and related fields adopt a more multidimensional lens for studying oppression and identity -- one that treats forms of subordination and identity as interrelated, rather than as mutually exclusive and unconnected.
While this Article is informed by a substantial body of scholarship, primarily in Feminist Legal Theory and Critical Race Theory, that explores the "intersectionality" of oppression and identity, my analysis expands this work both substantively and conceptually. This Article makes a substantive contribution to the intersectionality corpus (and to related works) because the latter has generally failed to engage in any significant examination of the relationship between heterosexism and other forms of oppression, such as racial subordination; instead, this work has been limited primarily to unveiling and analyzing the relationship between patriarchy and racial hierarchy. In addition, an embryonic intellectual movement that considers the relationship between heterosexism, gender hierarchy, and racial subjugation has taken place largely among scholars and commentators outside of the context of legal theory and analysis. By examining the synergistic relationship between class, race, gender, and sexual hierarchies and law and legal theory, this Article overcomes some of the substantive limitations of pre-existing work on the complexity of subordination.
This Article extends the intersectionality scholarship conceptually because it treats the issue of multidimensional subordination as a "universal" concept, not one limited to a particular class of oppressed individuals who are currently excluded from equality discourse. Much of the intersectionality scholarship, by contrast, suggests that the phenomenon of complex subordination is experienced by certain discrete groups, particularly "women of color." Conceptualizing multidimensional subordination and identity as universal experiences, however, permits a more nuanced examination of identity and oppression. For example, by analyzing the role of sexuality in the historical and ongoing marginalization of heterosexuals of color and in the anti-racist response to such "sexualized racism," this Article reveals and questions the discriminatory dismissal of progressive gay and lesbian politics within contemporary anti-racist discourse. This Article concludes by considering what impact a de-essentialized depiction of racial subordination might have upon legal theory, law, and policy.
Date posted: August 16, 1999