Yancy Speaks about Racial Embodiment
By Laura Crowley
According to George Yancy, a Professor of Philosophy at Duquesne University, the black body is not taken at face value by whites. In his lecture about racial embodiment on
April 4, Yancy argued that even in a “post-racial” America, African-Americans are subconsciously perceived as threatening by blacks and whites alike.
Yancy acknowledges that racism in America has certainly improved since Martin Luther King, Jr., yet he still thinks that there remains considerable work to be done. Yancy believes that blacks are the victims of what he calls the white “gaze.” One way in which the white gaze is clearly demonstrated is in the elevator effect Yancy hypothesizes. In this scenario, a white person acts out the myth that “all black males are criminals.”
Conversely, whites are perceived using adjectives such as “pure, innocent, good, law-abiding, civilized and better than.” While the white body is thought of as a whole and pure entity, the black body is pried apart by the demeaning powers of the white gaze. Yancy told us that his students had overheard accounts of blacks being described as more direct descendents of our monkey cousins.
Yancy believes that the convoluted and demeaning depictions of the black body in America have their roots in the era of lynching. At the peak of lynching, the black body was made to be an object of white “optic pleasure” in a “homoerotic fashion,” as white men made a particular spectacle of black genitals.
The black body has also been highly sexualized, according to Yancy. Throughout history, he told us, blacks have been made out to be people of high sex-drive who, more often than not, are sentenced guilty of the rape accusations made against them. According to Yancy, the easiest answer, and the ones the majority likes the most, is that “the black man did it.” This example has been played out recently in the case of Brian Banks: the football player wrongly sentenced to jail for five years for false accusations against him.
While in his fast-paced and interactive lecture was largely negative, Yancy is well aware that the situations for blacks has improved substantially throughout American history. As a professional, Yancy believes his race has played a role in his career. In one interview he told us the professor interviewing him spent their allotted time together praising him for being black and assuring Yancy of his racial neutrality. For Yancy, the fact that the professor had detracted from the time they could have spent discussing his credentials by talking about his blackness is proof enough that we aren’t yet perfect as a society. Still, Yancy assured the audience that he is hopeful that our society will continue improving.