Sexual Whiteness

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In partnership with the Gender Institute

  • Wednesday 23 January 2013 
  • Speaker: Professor Éric Fassin

Éric FassinThe 2005 urban riots revealed (and reinforced) a racialization of French society that contradicts the dominant representation of a colour-blind nation. This rising significance of race is not simply about (so-called) “visible minorities”; it is simultaneously about what one might call the “invisible majority” – Whites. The political attacks against “anti-White racism” coincide with the emergence of movements claiming to speak in the names of Blacks, “Natives,” or Muslims. Thus, far from rendering whiteness unthinkable, the rhetoric of French exceptionalism makes it (all the more) “good to think.” While it tends to be explored in response to working-class racism (with a discussion of “the wages of whiteness,” in France today as much as in the United States earlier), that can imply an opposition between class and race, it is worth emphasizing the importance of gender and sexuality in the definition of whiteness. What was true in the colonial world is also relevant today: sexual whiteness talks about national identities in Europe. The example of football helps move beyond a narrow definition of class restricted to working-class, and articulate race and class through the redefinition of the nation in terms of sexual democracy.

About the speaker

Éric Fassin is a professor of sociology in the Political Science Department and the Gender Studies program at Paris 8 university (after 18 years at École normale supérieure and 5 at New York University), affiliated with research center IRIS (CNRS / EHESS). His work focuses on contemporary sexual and racial politics in France and the United States and their intersections (in particular concerning immigration in Europe). He is frequently involved in the French public debates on issues his work addresses – from gay marriage and gender parity to the politics of immigration and race. He is the author of Le sexe politique (2009), and co-author (with the collective Cette France-là) of four volumes on French immigration policies (2008-2012). He co-edited De la question sociale à la question raciale? (2006). Latest book: Démocratie précaire. Chroniques de la déraison d’État (2012). He is currently at work on Actualité d’Aimé Césaire (La Découverte) andThe Empire of Sexual Democracy (Zone Books). A version of this paper on “Sexual Whiteness” will be published in the forthcoming Race and Ethnic Relations: Contemporary Debates and Perspectives, Karim Murji & John Solomos, ed. (Cambridge University Press).