Let me say from the start that I take no issue with inter racial relationships, I do do however have a problem when Black sexuality is used as a device in the media. Much of monday’s episode had to do with sexuality. Cathy, played by Laura Linney is dying of cancer and is determined to change her life before she dies. The episode begins with her standing up for herself when someone rudely steps in front her and ends with her having sex on a desk with a Black man that she barely knows. While this kind of sexual behavior is out of character from her, I am not certain that anonymous sex as liberation is a positive move for women.
Her son is 14 years old and as such he is beginning to explore his sexuality. He bumps into Andrea, who is played by Gabourey Sidibe, running laps around a track. She tells him to “stop looking at her titties”. When he denies looking at her, she tells him how great hers are and that he probably has never touched “titties” before. Of course, this leads to male bravado, which prompts her to invite him to touch her breasts. When he hesitates she grabs his hand places it on her breast and then promptly jogs away. Considering that Gabourey’s character is nothing but filler on the show, it gives the impression that Black female bodies exist for the purposes of White male sexual experimentation. This is even further problematic when we consider the brutal history of rape and slavery that exists between White Men and Black women. You cannot divorce this narrative from a scene on television no matter how race conscious the actors themselves are. Furthermore, the language which is utilized in this scene does not inspire a full respect for Andrea’s body.
The idea that Black bodies can and should be used for sexual experimentation or as a form of rebellion is based squarely in racism. First, Cathy waxes her pubic hair and then she takes off her panties to reveal her vagina to the man she would later sleep with. Throughout the entire episode, he is not even given a name, which of course presents him as little more than a mandigo to sexually satisfy his Missy Anne. What passes between them is not sex, or even a woman finding some form of liberation — but the service of a Black buck for his mistress. Black men have time and time again, functioned as a form of rebellion for White women, because our White supremacist society expects them to couple with White males. Even as White women are objectifying Black men and reducing them to roving penises, it is seen as liberation because inter-racial sex is still considered taboo by many. It is a false positive because agency should not involve the repetition of reductive constructions.
There is a difference between a loving relationship between two parties and the objectification of one group by another. Simply because White women are oppressed due to patriarchy, does not mean that they lack the ability to oppress people of colour in various instances. The very fact that their identity often becomes spoiled, once they engage in an inter-racial relationship, furthers the idea that bodies of colour exist as a form of rebellion against the sexist norm. What we learned in this episode, is that for Cathy, liberation means the freedom to break taboos and utilize the Whiteness of her body to her advantage. Considering that this program is largely White with the exception of a few appearances of Sidibe as Andrea, it seems that White woman liberation is little more than the ability to act with the same impunity as White men.
Editors Note: Tomorrow a larger discussion of the role that Gabourey plays will be published on my pop culture blog Women’s Eye on Media.