Hiding in Plain Sight: Why Queer Interraciality Is Unrecognizable to Strangers and Sociologists

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Book Chapter

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Interracial Relationships in the 21st Century


In the past several decades, interracial intimacy has been a central lens through which sociologists have examined racial power, stratification, and the maintenance of racial and ethnic boundaries--particularly those between Blacks and Whites. This line of research has demonstrated the complex cultural strategies involved when interracial couples traverse public and intimate spaces, suggesting the significance of social, spatial, and symbolic boundaries to the formation of Black-White interracial families (Drake and Cayton 1945). More recently, qualitative research has explored the racial subtext of everyday interraciality in the post-Civil Rights Era, uncovering important continuities and divergences from earlier decades (Childs 2005; Dalmage 2000; McNamara et al. 1999; Rosenblatt et al. 1995). Though interracial partners are less likely to face overt racial violence, they still encounter many challenges, including racially segregated neighborhoods and social spaces, resistance from families, and identity formation with children (this topic is explored in chapter 4). Because scholarship on interracial intimacy has focused almost exclusively on heterosexual interracial couples, it has failed to critically analyze how racial difference is experienced in lesbian and gay relationships. Further, researchers have neglected to problematize heterosexuality itself, overlooking the ways in which heterosexuality shapes interracial identities, relationships, and interactions. My aim is to open up a wider lens on the subject of interracial intimacy by introducing sexual identity as a critical influence (Steinbugler 2005; 2007). In this essay I draw upon in-depth interviews and ethnographic observation to examine how sexuality and gender influence the everyday experiences of lesbian, gay, and heterosexual couples by focusing on the issue of social recognition in public spaces.
I begin by discussing the relevance of social recognition, or visibility, to studies of sexuality, and offer this as a useful framework for thinking about public experiences of interracial intimacy. I then describe types pf public interactions through which heterosexual couples experience social recognition, contrasting these with the more profound invisibility than many gay and lesbian partners experience in public spaces. Lastly, I show how heterosexuality privileges interracial couples, even as it makes them vulnerable to harassment, suggesting a more dynamic quality to this sexual status than is generally understood.


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