The black woman/white male intermarriage rate is much lower than the comparable rate of black male/white female intermarriage. In study after study, black women are excluded as mates at higher percentages than other groups of women. This, I’m sure you already know. “Deep Frames, White Men’s Discourse, and Black Female Bodies (2009)” a dissertation written by Brittany Chevon Slatton (a BLACK woman!!–before anyone starts screaming “They just hate us, and THAT’s why they did this study!”) dissects the reasons why black women continue to be the least preferred romantic partner of white men.
To reach her conclusions in “Deep Frames” Ms. Slatton completed a qualitative study in which 134 white men of various ages were interviewed and questioned about their romantic perceptions of black women. This study of black female exclusion as romantic partners uses the theoretical concept of “deep frame,” which is the “conceptual infrastructure of the mind.” The conceptual infrastructure of the mind can be thought of as the ideologies, ideas, and mental frameworks that each of us uses to understand and categorize our reality. If perception is reality, then the deep frame is the lens through which we perceive and make sense of that reality. Therefore,the deep frame of white males was examined in order to reach conclusions about why white men were excluding black women as romantic partners.
At 200-plus pages “Deep Frames…” has plenty of meat on its bones for you bite into (and if you are interested in the subject matter on a near-academic level then you should definitely read the piece in its entirety) but, in the interest of brevity, here’s the summarized version:
This is disappointing news; it is news that further demonstrates that the negative portrayal–and the failure to be portrayed at all can be considered a part of being negatively portrayed–has effected not just black people, but really all people.
The result of the study show:
….that many white male respondents, despite most having very limited or no personal interactions with black women, viewed black women through the one-dimensional lens of the raced, gendered, and classed deep frame. Many respondents perceived black women as unattractive unless capable of a white normative standard, as possessing a negative “black” culture, and as possessing negative and “unfeminine” attributes that make them complicit in their own rejection. (“Deep Frames, White Men’s Discourse, and Black Female Bodies (2009)”
Where did did negative opinion of black women come from?
Elite white men have been instrumental in the construction and perpetuation of a historical and contemporary ideology that posits black female bodies as the antithesis of white female hegemonic beauty. As white male opinion goes, so has gone the nation (and the world)–thus, white male opinion and perception is the standard bearer for not just white men, but for black men and other men of color. Subsequently, because white men do not rank black women as preferred romantic partners, black men and other non-white men follow their lead.
Considering that many of the men in the study had little interaction with black women, it should be obvious that these negative perceptions of black women have been passed down as a sort of received-knowledge by white men. The negative historical portrayals of black women–particularly about their sexuality–are still the primary stereotypes which stick to black women today.
Some white men in the study even stated that black women were unwanted because even men of their own race (i.e. black men) didn’t want them.
Several outmoded theories which were used to explain interracial couplings have been debunked…
Evidence which support the caste and social exchange theory (two different theories, but I’m intermingling them here due to their similarity) of interracial partnering has been inconclusive. The theory itself is deemed dated by contemporary sociologists. Caste and exchange theory posits that people form interracial relationships in part as a way of exchanging class and economic status with their partners in such as a way as to elevate both parties to the relationship. In other words, black men who have managed to raise their economic status will partner with lower socioeconomic (SES) status white women. The white women is trading her whiteness–a higher social caste than black–for her black male partner’s higher economic status; the black male is doing the reverse–he is using his higher wealth to bargain for a romantic partner who will more closely adhere to the hegemonic beauty standard. New evidence either debunks this theory or provides weak evidence for its support. The most recent research indicates that couples who partner interracially are doing so not in an attempt to reach a greater SES status, but instead on the basis of genuine affection and compatibility with their partner–who just happens to be of a different race and/or ethnicity.
The lack of support for caste and exchange theories can be viewed as providing further support for the idea that the dominant reason holding white men and black women from coupling are not caste and economic issues, but rather the issue is one of the dominant racist ideologies being perpetuated about black women–said ideologies are widely accepted as true and cause white men to avoid relationships with black women.
“Systemic racism continues fervently today, because it is “well-institutionalized” and has been maintained through the “collective actions” of whites. This system of oppression has changed over time. For example, the end of legal segregation in the 1960s, however, the changes have been surface level and have not penetrated the core of a foundation build on racial discrimination, and thus many of the same racist institutions are left in place. Additionally, those who typically make the changes to the system are the white elite who seek, whether conscious or unconscious, to maintain their privileges, benefits, and authority, changing the scope of society, such as signing civil rights legislations, when it fits their interests (Feagin 2006).(Slatton 2009)”
File this under “Surprising…But Not Really”
Spouting cliches from the black is beautiful movement and/or dating black women does not mean a person doesn’t harbor racist viewpoints.
A study was done which noted that those black people who grew up during the black is beautiful movement of the 1960’s are just as likely to be colorist (i.e., to think that lighter-skin is more attractive than darker skin; that white normative features are more attractive than black features) as those who did grow up during that period of time. In other words, just because someone came of age during the golden age of black empowerment, wore an afro, and had a pick with a balled-up fist at the end does not mean that person has rejected whiteness as the normative beauty standard.
Most white male respondents held the that there were “two classes of black women”–one attractive and one not. Even those white men who had had past relationships with black women or were currently in relationships with black women often held strong “racialized, gendered, and at times classed views of black women, akin the views of white men who have never dated black women, yet they may not as explicitly express those views(Slatton).”
These white male respondents, while predominantly holding strongly derogatory views of black women, simultaneously engaged in sexual fantasy, desire, and sexual projection of black women. Many of these respondents may not have even realized that their penchant for “big lips,” their desire for “big butts” for intensified anal sex, and their want for “darker skin” as indication of a heightened “sexual appetite” are a reification of gendered and raced oppression that maintains white domination (hooks 1992) and control over black female sexual body parts in a “commodity culture.”
The type of black women most likely to be deemed attractive by white men were represented by Beyonce and Alicia Keys, both multiethnic beauties.
There were white men who expressed a preference for darker skin and non-multiethnic beauty types, though. These men just were not in the majority of those who were actually open to dating black women.
Stereotypes about black women are being reinforced in the minds of white men by, you guessed it: rap music.
Important here, however, is that most of the music industries behind the promotion and production of hip hop music are white controlled. Additionally, young white male consumers have become “the most lucrative and preferred market,” (Watkins 2006) as they are the largest segment of the purchasing audience of hip hop music. With this comes a formula to keep up sells and to promote the music that will be purchased by the masses, whites, predominantly young white males, as “white consumers drive the consumption and production of rap music” (Watkins 2006).
So you would think that one way to raise the status of black women in public would be put more positive portrayals of black women on television, but this might actually reinforce existing racialized perceptions of black women, particularly if said black women are only of the “right” class (i.e., mixed raced/biracial/multiethnic black women). Positive portrayals of black women in the media are not unlikely to be totally rejected–because they do not fit within the “deep frame” that already exists in the minds of viewers who see black women in racist ways.
Foreign-born black women are more likely to be married interracially than American-born black women.
Perhaps foreign-born black women don’t have as many hang-ups around interracial dating. Or maybe foreign-born black women are more likely to emigrate here with their foreign-born non-black husband. Or maybe a not-insignificant proportion are actually mixed-race/biracial/multiethnic black women–as opposed to dark-skinned black women. Whatever the case may be the fact is that foreign-born black women are a minority of black women, yet they make up the majority of those married interracially.
So, what does this all mean?
It means that the negative historical and contemporary portrayals of black women are hampering their chances at marrying interracially. Changing the way black women are seen in the eyes of white men and the way that black women are represented to all men would go a long ways towards changing how black are viewed as potential relationship partners.
Dr. Brittany Slatton is the author of “Deep Frames, White Men’s Discourse, and Black Female Bodies.” She received her Bachelor of Arts from Northern Illinois University, her M.A. from Virginia State University, and her Ph.D. from Texas A&M University, where “Deep Frames, White Men’s Discourse, and Black Female Bodies” was presented as her graduating dissertation. Ms. Slatton’s research and teaching interests are Sex/Gender issues and Inequality.
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White and a current student in an MBA program. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil