The Gap Between Whites and Whiteness: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy

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Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race


How do White members of Black-White interracial families negotiate the meanings of race, and particularly Whiteness? Inspired by W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of double consciousness, this article argues that interracial intimacy is a microlevel political site where White people can acquire a critical analytical lens that we conceptualize as racial literacy. This article fills a gap in the empirical and theoretical literature on race and Whiteness by including gay, lesbian, and heterosexual families on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on two ethnographic research projects involving one hundred and twenty-one interracial families in the United Kingdom and the eastern United States, we provide an analysis of how White people learn to translate racial codes, decipher racial structures, and manage the racial climate in their communities. We draw on “racial consciousness” interviews conducted with one hundred and one heterosexual families and twenty gay and lesbian families to present seven portraits that illuminate three dimensions of racial literacy: double consciousness, negotiation of local racial meanings, and seeing routine forms of everyday racism.We would like to thank Kathleen Blee, Maxine Leeds Craig, Charles Gallagher, Caroline Knowles, Yaba Amgborale Blay, Joan Grassbaugh Forry, Kaila Adia Story, and two anonymous reviewers at the Du Bois Review for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Winddance Twine also benefited from the comments of the audiences in the Sociology Seminar series at the City University of London, Cambridge University, and the University of Manchester. The title of this essay is taken from John Hartigan, Jr.'s (1997, 1999) provocative notion of a racial gap: a chasm across which everyday experiences of Whites “on the ground” map imperfectly onto a cohesive and unifying concept of Whiteness (Frankenberg 1997).


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