intersectionality: gender x race

Racialicious posted a link to what looks like a fantastic project.  Titled Question Bridge, it focuses our attention on what they call “arguably the most opaque and feared demographic in America”: Black men.  In the film, participants look directly at the camera, creating a feeling of intimacy, and ask and answer tough questions.

The trailer gives you a taste:

A primary lesson the producers aim to impart is the diversity within the category in order to challenge stereotypes.  They write:

By creating an identity container (e.g. “Black” and “Male”), then creating a way of releasing the diversity of identities and thought within that container, we can break the container.

The project is already getting recognition from film festivals.  Also, there’s a donate button.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Corporate Governance.

Sociologists Richard Zweigenhaft and G. William Domhoff began studying ascendance to the top corporate office 20 years ago and, while the population of CEOs is far from diverse, they report that they have been surprised to see as many women and minorities as they have.  Today there are 80 white women, African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans at the head of Fortune 500 companies.

In a discussion about their book, The New CEOs, at The Society Pages, they ask whether the rise of non-white/non-male CEOs is really a disruption in the distribution of power.  Despite protestations to the contrary — “all CEOs, it seems, worked their way up from the bottom,” they say with tongue in cheek — almost all come from wealthy backgrounds.  The rising diversity, in other words, doesn’t include class diversity.

With one exception: African Americans.  Most African American CEOs, they show, did not grow up in wealthy families.  “Many,” they write, “grew up with parents who were factory workers, postmen, custodians, day-care workers, or house cleaners.”  They refrain from speculating as to why they see this difference.

So, what’s next?  Zweigenhaft and Domhoff make some guesses as to the near future. The people positioned to be our next Fortune 500 CEOs will have graduated from college, got an MBA or law degree, will be currently earning more than $250,000 a year, and now hold a senior executive position.  Given these parameters, they conclude that:

…about two-thirds of those a step from the CEO office were white men, about 19% were white women, slightly fewer than 3% were African Americans, about 4% were Latinos, and about 8% were Asian Americans.

As the graph shows, compared to minority men, white women are far more likely to be rising into CEO positions in the near future.  Women of color, as they say, “almost disappear” in the data.  They explain that this likely has to do with their double minority status.  When hiring and promoting, people tend to look for ways of connecting with the potential employee.  A white man (usually doing the hiring) will see at least one thing in common with a white woman or a man of color.   As an example, they cite a study of executives with MBAs from Harvard:

…female Jewish executives all agreed that being female was more of an impediment to their careers than being a Jew, but many quickly emphasized that being Jewish, or different in any other way, was not irrelevant. As one put it, “It’s the whole package. I heard secondhand from someone as to how I would be perceived as a pushy, Jewish broad who went and got an MBA. Both elements, being Jewish and being a woman, together with having the MBA, were combined to create a stereotype I had to work against from the first day.” Another woman explained, “It’s part of the question of whether you fit the mold. Are you like me or not? If too much doesn’t fit, it impacts you negatively.”

These dynamics affect your entire career trajectory, of course, but Zweigenhaft and Domhoff believe they become even more intense as people approach the top office.  They conclude:

Culture (in the form of cultural capital), education, and class are all still in play. While gender and color remain the best predictors of who will make it into the upper echelons of the corporate world, beyond that, it’s intersectionality [of different identities together] wherever we look.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Paula F. sent in a link to’s list of the top 100 ‘mom blogs’ of 2011.  Mom blogs have become wildly popular in recent years as a way to document and comment on the experience of motherhood, and this particular list illustrates some interesting things about social privilege.  Paula was struck by the lack of racial diversity among the selected blogs and noted how women of color are vastly underrepresented.   For example, only 7 of the blogs are written by African-American moms, and 4 of those refer to the mother’s race in the title (although the same is not true for any of the blogs written by white women).

A quick review of the blogs reveals some other interesting issues related to social privilege and motherhood.  In addition to the lack of racial diversity, the blogs included in the list show very little variation in terms of class, sexuality, age, and marital status.   (The blogs were chosen by a panel of “experts” that took into consideration nominations from Babble readers, so it’s unclear how representative they are of mom blogs in general.)

While there is the more obvious privilege of the “digital divide,” or the disparate access that people have to technology and the internet, there is also privilege in having the spare time to devote to intensive writing/blogging and the connections necessarily to draw sponsorship and advertising.  Moreover, while some of the selected blogs do offer narratives that deviate from traditional ideas about mothering and motherhood (for example, several blogs discuss mental health issues, the struggles of parenting, and forming blended families), they nonetheless reproduce a narrow image of who mothers are, what they look like, and what they do.


Christie Barcelos is a doctoral student, a mom, and a blogger, but not really a mom blogger.

Cross-posted at Jezebel.

Drawing on data from the Pew Research Center, I recently wrote a post showing that inter-racial and -ethnic marriages are on the rise.  Not all groups, however, intermarry at the same rate.  Asians are more likely than Hispanics, Blacks, and Whites to marry someone of a different race or ethnicity.  Whites are the least likely to do so:

Gender matters too.  Whereas White and Hispanic men and women tend to outmarry at about the same rate, the outmarriage rates for Blacks and Asians are dramatically different.

The gendered rates of outmarriage likely reflect the way in which we gender race and racialize gender.  I’ve written about this in a previous post:

Consider: according to American cultural stereotypes, black people, both men and women, are more masculine than white people. Black men are seen as, somehow, more masculine than white men: they are, stereotypically, more aggressive, more violent, larger, more sexual, and more athletic. Black women, too, as seen as more masculine than white women: they are louder, bossier, more opinionated and, like men, more sexual and more athletic.

Likewise, Asian people are feminized.  Both Asian men and women are seen as somehow smaller, more passive, the women sweeter, the men less virile.

These are cultural stereotypes derived from the particular history of the U.S.  White elites masculinized Black women in order to justify their hard labor during slavery.  The idea that Black men were hypermasculine emerged after emancipation; the idea that Black men were sexually-vicious brutes was used by some Whites to terrorize Black men into continued subservience.

Asians were feminized after the completion of the transcontinental railroad.  The Chinese immigrants who had labored on the railroad, now out of work, found niches in feminized occupations in the mostly-lady-free American West.  They became cooks, tailors, and launderers, and domestic servants.  The gendered nature of their work contributed to their feminization.

So, race and gender intersect in history, and today, in ways that shape sexual desire and supposed romantic compatibility.  If men are supposed to be sexy by virtue of their masculinity and women sexy by virtue of their femininity, then Black men and Asian women will be seen as more sexually attractive, and as more ideal marital partners, than Asian men and Black women.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Recently at Feministing, Maya Dusenbery wrote about an ad from Germany’s International Human Rights campaign that, as she put it, is “a lesson in how not to advocate for women’s rights.”

The translation of the text is “Oppressed women are easily overlooked. Please support us in the fight for their rights.”

As Dusenbery writes,

It seems the folks who created this ad not only have a hard time seeing agency but actually went out of their way to erase it as thoroughly as possible and then stomp on it some more. And then equated women who wear the burqa with bags of trash. Literally.

I completely agree, and would like to add some broader context.  This is not at all surprising, given the recent of attempts in the West to obscure the agency of Muslim women in juxtaposition to their white, Western saviors. One of the more blatant examples of this was the discourse of the United States government that it was going to war in Afghanistan in part to save Afghan women from the Taliban. Laura Shepherd argued in an excellent 2006 article in The International Feminist Journal of Politics (which I’vecited before) that the US discursively constructed Afghan women as the “Helpless Victim” that was submissive and lacking agency, under the oppressive control of the “Irrational Barbarian.” This discourse, was used, of course, to posit the United States (specifically, its military) as the saviors who could rectify the situation for these women. Much as the agency of the women in the German PSA was erased, this narrative denied the agency of Afghan women, who, as Shepherd writes, are afforded “only pity and a certain voyeuristic attraction” (p. 20).

Of course, this specific discourse hasn’t ended. As this TIME Magazine cover from last year shows, it continues to serve as a means of justifying the US occupation of Afghanistan.

(Cover to the August 9, 2010 edition of TIME)

This discourse assumes, obviously, that the US presence in Afghanistan is a clear benefit for women in the country, a position at least some women’s organizations in Afghanistan contest. Samhita Mukhopadhyay at Feministing had an excellent post on this issue last summer.

I should also mention France’s recently-instituted ban on the full-faced veil, which Dusenbery argues – citing Jos Truitt – is a similar erasure of agency. I agree with her, and again would add that this fits in with this general (Orientalist) discourse about Muslim women, their uncivilized oppressors, and their White saviors.

John McMahon is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he also participates in the Women’s Studies Certificate Program.  He is interested in post-structuralism, issues relating to men and feminism, gendered practices in international relations, gender and political theory, and questions of American state identity.  John blogs at Facile Gestures, where this post originally appeared.

See also our post in which we criticize a set of public service ads that compared women the genital cutting to blow up sex dolls.

Via Colorlines I discovered an Applied Research Center report titled The Color of Food.  The report found that Blacks, Latinos, and Asians were overrepresented in food service work:

The report also discovered a wage gap between White workers and non-White workers at every level of food production:

Race intersected with gender, such that women earned less than men of their same race for each group studied:

The authors go on to break down the data further by each part of the commodity food chain — production, processing, distribution and service — and by racial group.  For example, they show that the average wage of Latinos and Asians differs by ethnic background (always a good reminder that racial categories obscure variability):

Lots more at The Color of Food.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted at Ms. and Family Inequality.

In the early 1990s, Arline Geronimus proposed a simple yet profound explanation for why Black women on average were having children at younger ages than White women, which she called the “weathering hypothesis.”

It goes like this: Racial inequality takes a cumulative toll on Black women, increasing the chance they will have health problems at younger ages. So, early childbearing might pose health risks for White women, but for Black women it makes more sense to start earlier — before their health declines. Although it’s hard to measure the motivations of people having children, her suggestion was that early childbearing reflected a combination of cumulative cultural wisdom and individual adaptation (for example, reacting to the health problems experienced by their 40-something mothers).

She showed the pattern nicely with data from Michigan in 1989, in which the percentage of first births that were “very low birthweight,” increased with the age of Black women, but decreased for White women, through their twenties:

Source: My graph from Geronimus (1996).

If the hypothesis is correct, she reasoned, the pattern would be stronger among poor women, who experience more health problems, which is also what she found.

The most recent national data, for 2007, continue to show Black women have their first children, on average, younger than White women: age 22.7 versus 26.0. And the infant mortality rates, by mothers’ age, also show the lowest risk for White women at older ages than for Black women:

Source: My graph from CDC data.

Note that, for White women, mothers have children in the early thirties face less than half the infant-mortality risk of those having children as teenagers. For Black women, waiting till their lowest-risk age — the late 20s — yields only a 14% reduction in infant mortality risk. So it looks like waiting is much more important for White women, at least as far as health conditions are concerned.

The implications are profound. If you base your perceptions on the White pattern, it makes sense to discourage early childbearing for health reasons. But if you look at the Black pattern, it becomes more important to try to improve health problems at early ages — and all the things that contribute to them — rather than (or in addition to) trying to delay first births.


Cohen’s previous posts featured on SocImages include ones on the recession and divorce datathe relationship between cell phone use and driving deathsmeasuring the number of welfare recipients, delusions of gender dimorphism, and the gender binary in children’s books.