The hyperagency/hypoagency hierarchy – In the US we have a hyperagency-hypoagency hierarchy in the culture. The way it works is that if you are male you are deemed to be inherently stronger and less vulnerable, and so hurt you inflict is somehow inherently more hurtful and hurts you suffer are somehow inherently less serious than if you are a woman. In the US class and race work the same way – the higher up that scale you are the more hypoagentive you are and harms to you are going to be taken more seriously and harms you inflict less seriously – this despite the fact that you actually have the power to inflict more serious harm – while the converse is true the farther down the race/class hierarchy you are.
And the femininity/masculinity spectrum mirrors the racial spectrum so that you see this odd kind of down-stepping in the system where if you are darker, you get down-stepped toward the masculine end of the scale. In other words, a white women is going to be considered and be treated more like a female, a black or Hispanic or a blue-collar white woman less so, more on the level with a white man, and black, Hispanic or blue-collar white men will be at the bottom of the scale and will register as hyper-masculine.
Eldridge Cleaver discussed this black hyper-masculinity in Soul on Ice and also touched on black hypo-femininity. (These terms refer not to anyone’s actual masculinity or femininity but instead to the masculinity or femininity society imputes to a person.)
This system is completely race-based and doesn’t rely on some objective criteria of how looks more or less feminine. However you define what features look more feminine or masculine, in this system a big old blond Helga is still going to be accorded female status even when compared to an Asian woman.*
Let’s look how this plays out in some areas of the culture:
Dress – The strictures around masculinity and flamboyance of dress, or interest in clothes, seem to be relaxed if a man is black or blue-collar, but with special instructions of course. In the Seattle there is a chain of men’s stores called K&G serving black men with a range of clothing. Some of their suits are the color of tangerine sherbet and look like they would be great fun to wear. Of course this style of dress comes in for some stigma and scorn in that community, but it seems to be more for being naïve and unsophisticated rather than non-masculine. It may be the hypermasculinity ascribed to black men that makes such bright colors permissible on a man. In the same way a lot of those Western-style shirts you see as what I call rodeo-wear come in bold patterns in loud colors. Of course they can only be worn to certain venues, they have to be worn with blue jeans and boots, and similar other restrictions apply. There is some relaxation of the strictures, not absolute freedom to dress however you please.
Incarceration incidence – I cannot find the Feckblog article now, this is the closest I could come, but I remember some analysis of his that showed that controlling for the same violations white women got the lightest sentences, white men, black and Hispanic women got about the same severity of sentences and black and Hispanic men get hammered like no one else. And this is just for actual sentencing. It is likely that the same hierarchy applies to what crimes get charged in the first place – a black kid will get charged for an amount of a drug a white kid will be sent scurrying with.
Empathy apartheid – This is where “white women’s tears’ comes in. Where black women get stereotyped as “Sapphire” – angry, disagreeable, strong and invulnerable (and by the way, who else gets stereotyped that way?) – white women are seen as needing and deserving protection, as people whose hurts matter and have to be attended to. This is empathy apartheid. Basically it means that damseling will work for a white woman much better than for a black woman.
This came up as an issue a couple of years ago when a white female UCLA student made a racist video about Asian students and when called on her racism, crumpled into tears and recriminations that everyone was just being so mean to her. The conversation developed on Racialicious and then at Feministe brought out some interesting points about the validity of female privilege and white female privilege versus female white privilege and then finally one commenter said the distinction is moot since in this society getting treated like a female requires white privilege – in other words you won’t be considered fully female unless you are white (or Asian, but that’s another conversation.)
It means that if something happens to you, your ethnicity matters. We saw this in the reaction to the kidnap (and very likely sex slavery or murder) of Natalee Holloway in comparison to all the other disappearances in the summer of 2006.
The class angle of this is that even if you are white, the more blue collar you are the less you will benefit from this, however blond and blue-eyed you may be. Inexpensive clothing, hair pulled back into a tight ball, mannerisms that get interpreted as coarse – all these will put you further and further out of the protection of white women’s tears – so maybe we should call them “white lady tears”.
*“Asian” – I am using the term “Asian” in the US, not the UK sense. Ion the US “Asian” means ancestry in China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and the Philippines – Mongolia too if the question arises – but not Russians, not Indians or Pakistanis, not Israelis or Turks. In the US and especially the West Coast where I am, if you have round eyes and straightish hair, you are going to register in people’s minds as “Caucasian”. Of course a lot of Asians are “Caucasian”; I am talking about the terminology and how it’s used, not the genetic facts.