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lutzandcollins - Six The Color of Sex: Postwar Photographic...

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Six The Color of Sex: 155 Postwar Photographic Histories Race and Gender Again and again, when the negative space of the woman color meets the Age of Mechanical Reproduction or, worse yet, Baudrillard's "simulations," the resulting effect is ... a form larger than life, and yet a deformation powerless to speak. (Wallace 1990:252) R ace is, as Henry Gates has said, "a trope of ultimate, irre- ducible difference between cultures, linguistic groups, or adherents of specific belief systems which-more often than not-also have fundamentally opposed economic in- terests" (1985:5). It is a trope that is particularly dangerous because it "pretends to be an objective term of classifica- tion." Gates points to the profoundly social nature ofracial classification. Social groups engaged in struggle defme ra- cial boundaries in the contexts of that struggle; powerful groups then invoke biology in a post-hoc justification of the boundaries they have drawn. Those in power elaborate observable physical differences-no matter how subtle- into explanations, affirmations, and justifications for in- equality and oppression. Once this work is done, and the boundaries are intact, racist theory produces full-blown descriptions ofculture and personality that juxtapose pow- erful ego and degraded/dangerous alter, "lending the sanc- tion of God, biology, or the natural order to even pre- sumably unbiased descriptions of cultural tendencies and differences" (Gates 1985:5).
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Chapter Six , II' As Gates and others have so eloquently pointed out, racial difference- and its supposed cultural concomitants-is thus not the source of the many contemporary conflicts where it is said to be at issue. It is never ,I:' a simple matter of two groups in contact finding themselves so physi- cally and culturally different that they just cannot get along. Rather, and cultural difference become coded ways of talking about other differences that matter, differences in power and in interests. 1 For this reason-however absolute and intransigent they may seem-racial/rac- ist theories must retain flexibility and are frequently ambiguous. As Omi and Winant (1986:x) have said, race is an inherently unstable "complex of social meanings, constantly being transformed by political struggle." To work to uncover the social arrangements that give rise to and repro- duce racism is to place its analysis in realms of human agency and to emphasize the specificity of its historical forms. Tranquil Racial Spaces Race theories form one of the most powerful and lethal systems in the world for communicating about difference. Zora Neale Hurston wrote, "Race consciousness is a deadly explosive on the tongues of men" (1984:326). has justified the most heinous of social relations, including slavery, genocide, and apartheid. Yet, dangerous as they are, race theo- ries have infiltrated the commonsense thinking of most people in the United States, profoundly influencing the ways they perceive and ac- count for cultural difference. Like other forms of essentialist reasoning,
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lutzandcollins - Six The Color of Sex: Postwar Photographic...

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