“internet” = “intimate white intranet”: The ethics of online sexual racism

Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman


Sexual racism is a form of social segregation on the basis of race. Like all forms of social segregation, sexual racism has two faces: that of exclusion (= spacial segregation) and that of exploitation (= role segregation). On the one hand, sexual racism is manifested in the race-based denial of sexual affirmation or activity; on the other, sexual racism is manifested in the offer of sexual affirmation or activity, but only on racially subordinating terms.

Since the social scientific analysis of data from websites that facilitate searches for sexual partners, has concluded that black heterosexual women and black homosexual men who identify as bottom are the least sought-after online, I focus on the sexual racism that perpetrated against members of these two social groups and on the distinctive moral wrongs committed and the distinctive moral harms that obtain, precisely because this sexual racism is perpetrated online.

When perpetrated against black heterosexual women, online sexual racism has the following content. On the one hand, it is manifested (a) in white heterosexual men’s reluctance to affirm black heterosexual women’s sexual appeal and (b) in white heterosexual men’s reluctance to engage in sexual activity with black heterosexual women. On the other hand, it is manifested (a) in white heterosexual men’s eagerness to affirm the sexual appeal only of black heterosexual women who have phenotypically whiter traits (in addition to their phenotypically blacker traits), and (b) in white heterosexual men’s eagerness to engage in sexual activity only covertly and only with hypersexualised, hyperaccessible, and superdisposible black heterosexual women.

When perpetrated against black homosexual men, online sexual racism has the following content. On the one hand, it is manifested (a) in white homosexual men’s reluctance to affirm black homosexual men’s sexual appeal and (b) in white homosexual men’s reluctance to engage in sexual activity with black homosexual men. On the other hand, it is manifested (a) in white homosexual men’s eagerness to affirm the sexual appeal only of, and to engage in sexual activity only with, black male bodies that are (a) all brawn, (b) with no brains, and (c) not bottom. In other words, the black male body must conform to three criteria in order to qualify as a specimen of black male sexual attractiveness: (a) it must have the wherewithal to fuck furiously, (b) it must not be distracted from fucking furiously, and (c) it must fuck furiously.

Taken together, I argue that these two plights, of the the black heterosexual female and the black homosexual male, constitute the morally wrongful white male online ambivalence to black femininity. In order to get access to the good of sexual affirmation and activity, black homosexual men and black heterosexual women require to ‘sign up to’ or to ‘play along with’ the racially subordinating terms of white male sexual attraction to them. Where they can and do achieve this, it is morally harmful (a) because it inhibits their exercise of the freedom of sexual self-definition (a freedom that white males exercise online without constraint), (b) because it lends credibility to the racially subordinating terms, by evincing that blacks are accurately represented in those terms and that blacks enjoy, or at least are comfortable with, being represented in those racially subordinating terms, and (c) because it involves the participation of the black person in her or his own oppression, and in the oppression of blacks generally. By contrast, where blacks will not, cannot, or simply do not play along with the racially subordinating terms of white male attraction to them, there is an imbalance of power in any interracial sexual interaction those blacks enter, rendering them vulnerable, for instance, to a greater willingness to engage in sexual activity that may prove detrimental to their health.

For its part, the internet exacerbates this moral wrong in three unique, and hitherto little discussed, ways. First, the solitary nature of searching for sex online deprives those subject to a relentless barrage of exclusionary attitudes of the most basic mechanism for coping with racism: the ears and the embraces of empathetic others. Insofar as solidarity and mutual support among the excluded is much more available in offline spaces where people search for sex, the internet renders searching for sex uniquely harmful to the victim of sexual racism.

Second, because, online, entry to interpersonal interaction is anonymous and unilateral exit from it is easy, people can, and people do, express, their exclusionary views with greater candour and greater vehemence, than they might, in a face-to-face, or otherwise personalised, encounter. This increase in candour and vehemence leads advertisers and searchers to forget the moral importance of how things seem to others, especially the way in which impoliteness can amount to moral disrespect.

Third, the emphasis that is placed, both by website designers (who invite advertisers to specify their race, and the race of those they are willing to meet for sexual interaction, from a drop-down menu of conventional racial groupings) and by advertisers (who use use text in their advertisements and private messages to express exclusionary racial preferences), on the physical body that sits behind the computer screen, increases the salience and significance of bodily capital in society. Bodily capital is the degree to which the body that a person inhabits corresponds with whatever ideals of beauty dominate in society.

As ever-greater concentrations of bodily capital become more acceptable to demand from the persons whom we deign to encounter and with whom we deign to enter into intimate interpersonal interaction, companionate capital, something that no one person can accumulate by herself, but which must rather be realised in the interpersonal activity of jointly deliberating about, jointly agreeing, and jointly executing shared goals over a significant period of time, ceases to be valued and ceases to be produced.

This is of great moral concern. since (a) companionship (quite independent of any concomitant sexual pleasure derived from the body of one’s companion) is necessary for having self-esteem, and thus for the pursuit of a conception of the good, and so for human flourishing, and (b) inter-group companionship between members of a group subordinate and stigmatised in society and members of a group dominant in that society is necessary for the complete destigmatisation of the subordinate and stigmatised social group.


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