After spending the better part of an hour reading and rereading Bell Hooks’ article “Eating the Other: Desire and Resistance,” I felt myself actively trying to let my guard down and learn something new. All-in-all, I learned some things about post-colonialist lenses and overtly racist themes in the media. But after looking long and hard at my own system of beliefs and convictions, I still can’t get on board with her views on the white-male desire to “consume” the Other – or those of a different race.
To make my point, I’m going to have to relay a rather large portion of her writing, so buckle up. In the article, Hooks writes, “For white boys to openly discuss their desire for colored girls (or boys) publicly announces their break with a white supremacist past… They see their willingness to openly name their desire for the Other as affirmation of cultural plurality… Unlike racist white men who historically violated the bodies of black women/women of color to assert their position as colonizer/conquerer, these young men see themselves as non-racists, who choose to transgress racial boundaries within the sexual realm, not to dominate the Other… they believe that their desire for contact represents a progressive change in white attitudes towards non-whites… One dares – acts – on the assumption that the exploration into the world of difference, into the body of the Other, will provide a greater, more intense pleasure than any that exists in the ordinary world of one’s familiar racial group.”
I am a white man, and I am currently dating a man of mixed race. He isn’t some sort of exotic object to me that I’m consuming to feel better about historical aggressions of whites towards “the Other.” I’m not interested in him because our pairing represents a progressive change in race relations. We aren’t together to raise ourselves up as some sort of racism-defying trophy for the world to see. I’m, frankly, bewildered by Hooks’ reduction of any white man who is romantically/physically involved with anyone who isn’t white. For the record, she even goes out of her way to say that sexual orientation makes no difference in this matter.
As it turns out, I happen to like my partner because of his sense of humor, geniality, and intelligence. We, coincidentally, share a lot of the same interests and hobbies. We understand each other on a personal, intimate level. To suggest that his race is paramount to my desire to be with him, that I have this urge to right some past racial wrong, is abhorrent. I am physically attracted to him, and his genetic roots obviously gave him some combination of facial features and other visible qualities that I find pleasing. His race is obviously some part of the equation for my draw towards him, but it isn’t the whole picture. I recognize my own inherent racism as much as I can, but I simply cannot read her views and bob my head politely.
Still, I have to try not to be so reductive towards Hooks’ statements. In many ways, her rationale can be filtered through Baudrillard’s views on how referentials can combine with their discourses in an endless cycle, and often flip positions. He writes, “Not so long ago, sex and work were fiercely opposed terms; today both are dissolved in the same type of demand. Formerly the discourse on history derived its power from violently opposing itself to that of nature, the discourse of desire to that of power – today they exchange their signifiers and their scenarios.” In a sense, Hooks may see this conscious shift of white men (who once had power) now denouncing racism as an inevitable flip of the paradigm. It seems that she assumes this shift is predicated on guilt, self-riteousness, or both, but she recognizes that for some white men, the conscious shift has occurred. Whether she feels this is progress, I simply cannot tell.