Beyond Loving: Intimate Racework in Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Interracial Relationships

Beyond Loving: Intimate Racework in Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Interracial Relationships

Beyond Loving: Intimate Racework in Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Interracial Relationships

Beyond Loving: Intimate Racework in Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Interracial Relationships

Synopsis

Beyond Loving provides a critical examination of interracial intimacy in the beginning decades of the twenty-first century-an era rife with racial contradictions, where interracial relationships are increasingly seen as symbols of racial progress even as old stereotypes about illicit eroticism persist. Drawing on extensive qualitative research, Amy Steinbugler examines the racial dynamics of everyday life for lesbian, gay, and heterosexual Black/White couples. She disputes the notion that interracial partners are enlightened subjects who have somehow managed to "get beyond" race. Instead, for many partners, interracial intimacy represents not the end, but the beginning of a sustained process of negotiating racial differences. Her research reveals the ordinary challenges that partners frequently face and the myriad ways that race shapes their interactions with each other as well as with neighbors, family members, co-workers and strangers. Steinbugler analyzes the everyday actions and strategies through which individuals maintain close relationships in a society with deeply-rooted racial inequalities-what she calls "racework." Beyond Loving reveals interracial intimacy as an ongoing process rather than a singular accomplishment. This analytic shift helps us reach a new understanding of how race "works"-not just in intimate spheres, but across all facets of contemporary social life.

Excerpt

Our upbringings [were] so different. [Kirk] was raised in a family,
there was six of them and there was one of me…. There is something
about his energy in that upbringing. He tends to be more generous.
I tend to be more selfish, in my own perception. He’s always thinking
about other people’s birthdays and anniversaries, and I can barely
figure what I’m going to have for dinner the next night…. At times,
I’m more superficial and he’s less superficial; that’s an oppositeness
that we have. Although it’s funny because I have taken on some of his
qualities and he has taken on some of mine…. I like the difference.

WHEN WALTER BELTON-DAVIS DESCRIBES his relationship with his partner, Kirk Belton-Davis, he is thoughtful about their differences. They have different temperaments, ways of expressing themselves, and perceptions of what counts as tidy. Though he is Black and Kirk is White, in the epigraph above, Walter does not describe the racial difference between them as significant. Their racial difference is meaningful to each of them, but they think of it more as an aesthetic variation than a source of conflict. They enjoy being interracial; it brings them pleasure. Sometimes, Kirk, who is forty-four, and Walter, who is forty-six, function like an old married couple. By most counts, they are. They have been together for twenty-four years and are officially registered as domestic partners in the state of New Jersey. Spending time with them reveals their settled intimacy—when they talk together, they play off each other’s memories, frequently interrupting with corrections, and anticipating stories’ endings.

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