Interracial sexual desire is depicted both in Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and The Autobiography of Malcolm X Extreme social stratification and inequalities in social power play an important role in the depiction of interracial sexual desire in both Ellison's book and Malcolm X's autobiography, and also play an important role in the repulsion/attraction dynamic seen between the races. Both of these books leave little hope for humanitarian, loving relationships between the races, as they both often demonize white society. In The Autobiography of Malcolm X, white men who desire black women are clearly manipulative and often racists, while in Ellison's Invisible Man such men are often simply well-meaning but misguided. Malcolm X and Ellison both see white women who desire black men symbolize the white desire to "slum" and the attraction of the women to the stereotype of black men as powerful lovers, while the men who desire white women symbolize the black desire for white power.
Ellison's invisible man tells the story of a young, nameless black man who travels throughout the United States in the mid 1900s. He is expelled from a Southern Negro college for accidentally revealing some of the harsh realities of black life in the southern United States. He moves to New York City, and becomes a spokesman for a social activist group, but retreats from violence and confusion of this life. Throughout the book, the narrator is continually searches for truth and meaning, and is constantly thwarted in this attempt.
Interracial sexual desire in both Ellison's book and Malcolm X's autobiography is played out against a backdrop of extreme social stratification and inequalities in social power. In both books, African-Americans are presented as largely powerless and socially 'inferior' to whites. Racism is prevalent and often rampant, and African-Americans are seen as a lower social class. African-Americans are largely poorer and uneducated in comparison to their white counterparts, and are not afforded the social and political freedoms seen to white. This social stratification often is reinforced by brutally racist acts, such as the blurring of houses, and the beating and hanging of African-American men. Within both books, African-Americans are seen as inferior to whites in the social structure of the time.
The repulsion/attraction dynamic seen in interracial sexual desire in both Ellison's book and Malcolm X's autobiography can be largely understood in the context of social power and social stratification. In the social structure seen in both books, the white social class is seen as powerful and superior, while the black social class is seen as powerless and inferior. As such, any interracial sexual attractions that occur between the social classes are tinged by this social dynamic. Whites would feel that African-Americans were socially inferior, and thus be repulsed by an attraction to this class.
In the Invisible man, the narrator is asked to give his valedictorian speech in front of a number of the town's leading white citizens. He arrives, and is surprised and obliged to watch a naked white woman dance. Here, Ellison clearly demonstrates both the attraction and repulsion that are seen toward white women. The narrator is both "strongly attracted" to the naked woman, and at the same time, "felt a wave of irrational guilt and fear." The narrator notes, "I felt a desire to spit upon her as my eyes brushed slowly over her body." He continues "I wanted at one and the same time to fun from the room, to sink through the floor, or to go to her and cover her from my eyes and the eyes of the others with my body; to feel the soft thighs, to caress her and destroy her, to love her and murder her, to hide from her, and yet to stroke where below the small American flag tattooed upon her belly her thighs formed a capital V" (19).
Part of the narrator's attraction is a natural desire towards an attractive, naked female form. At the same time, he is repulsed by her. There is an element of violence in his repulsion, and an element of fear, as his attraction is considered to be wrong by white society.
In the Invisible Man, the actions of the white businessmen toward the black boys watching the dancer clearly show how white society perceives the attraction of black males towards white females. The narrator notes of the businessmen "Some threatened us if we looked and others if we did not" (20) and notes that one black boy tried to hide his erection with boxing gloves out of embarrassment. The white men made the black boys into powerless watchers of the white's mistreatment of the nude dancer. The narrator notes the "terror and disgust" in the eyes of the white woman and the black boys at the actions of the white men who grabbed at the woman. Yet both the boys and the white woman are made powerless by the situation. In this situation, the powerful white males, threatened by the black boy's attraction to the white woman, mock their attraction, and make the boys as powerless as the white woman in the situation, thus removing the "threat" of the boy's attraction.
In Ellison's book, white attitudes to blacks are clearly demonized. The actions of the white men who mistreat and abuse the black boys who watch the naked white woman are depicted as almost sub-human and heartless. The black boys and the white woman show "terror and disgust" at the treatment of the woman, while the white men are depicted as "laughing and howling," with "beefy fingers," and "clumsy like an intoxicated panda" (20). These men clearly take pleasure in both mistreating the woman and the black boys. However, Ellison notes that some of the white men tried to stop the men groping the woman, fleetingly indicating that not all whites were supportive of the abusive actions.
Malcolm X's autobiography clearly demonizes white people. In Malcolm X, black-white relationships are almost always secret, revealing the deep social stigma against them. White people burn down his family home and his family confronts the brutality of the Klu Klux Klan. Whites are perceived as those who subjugate and mistreat the black man, forcing him into subservient roles. Malcolm X's outspokenness clearly threatens the white class. Notes the introduction, "No man in our time aroused fear and hatred in the white man as did Malcolm, because in him the white man sensed an implacable foe who could not be had for any price" (xxv).
Both The Invisible Man and The Autobiography of Malcolm X offer little possibility for humanitarian, loving relationships between the races. In Malcolm X's eyes, the races should be separated, and any interaction with whites is a denial and betrayal of the black race. In The Invisible Man, the narrator ultimately learns that even whites who profess equality cannot clearly see or understand the black experience. As such, any relationships that exist between the races within the two books are based, at best, on fundamental misunderstanding and a lack of communication.
In both books, white women who desire black men symbolize the white desire to "slum," while the men who desire white women symbolize the black desire for white power. Malcolm x notes that many blacks considered it "some kind of status symbol to be light-complexioned" (3), and that black men's desire for white women is similarly a seeking of status. In the Invisible Man, black men who desire white women are painted with the same brush, and the boys who desire the white stripper are degraded for daring to desire beyond their station in life. Similarly, in Ellison's The Invisible Man, white women who desire black men are attracted to the stereotype of back men as powerful, sometimes savage, lovers.
White men who desire black women are often seen as…