Tuesday, March 8, 2011
I got into a big argument with someone tonight over something so minimal. These moments punctuate my life. I'm not usually proud of them--I see them like binges, unhealthy episodes which mark, simultaneously, my passion about something and my inability to face something. Often when a relationship with someone enters a certain level of intimacy, a certain degree of importance, a stupid argument occurs. I must not be alone in this. But it's particularly frustrating when it feels like I'm unable to move beyond the banality that initiates the argument, to get to the level that actually matters to both of us.
My Indian flatmate says, Black men have big penises, Asian men have small ones. I can't begin to count the number of times this has come up in a conversation I've witnessed. It's come up so many times that the question itself has become a truism.
The relationship between race and sex is the most complicated part of this discussion, and the part I began to try to talk about. Public debates about integration in the United States would hinge, quite often, on the segregationist's question: "yes, but would you want your daughter marrying one?" For me, this question leads to the banal part of the discussion: was there not a more profane implication in this question? A question about your daughter's white vagina, and the black man's penis?
I objected to the way that she summoned this "simple fact," I guess because of the number of times I've seen it summoned, as though it was a reversal of racism, in itself, as though the person saying it was somehow correcting a wrong or doing someone a favor. I've heard people say that God cursed black people by taking everything from them but the consolation prize was the big penis. This is a joke, but there's something so deeply unfunny about it. A few people have pointed this out to me carefully, that people so easily accept the idea that a big penis is a good thing, a blessing, when so recently it meant an equivalence with animality, with banality, perversion and lowliness. This is why Michelangelo's David has a child-sized member.
It is as if the final undoing of racism is supposed to have begun in the most banal way, in the male sex organ, that all of a sudden the entire hierachical system of Western aesthetics will have been overturned, starting with the revaluation of a 'natural physical characteristic' of a homogeneous group named 'Blacks.' The most amazing part is that we actually accept this without thinking about it. Fanon explains this in Black Skin, White Masks. While castration of blacks is a common practice of white racists, the Jew (or the Asian) is not castrated by the racist--only killed or 'neutralized,' because it is not his physique but his mind that is a threat, his cognitive and technical capability to make money.
In this sense the supposedly small penis, of the Asian or of the white in relation to the black, stands for his actual dominance, economically, cognitively, and technically. The symbol stands in this case for the antithesis of the actual. This is the hidden, awful thesis in the penis size debate. It may be that blacks have the 'best' bodies, but we know very well that this is their only prize, and that this is not a social construct but an immutable biological fact.
So the penis size debate may seem to be an empirical one, a non-racial and non-political one. You can leave it at that if you don't want to ruffle someone's feathers. But it is also one of the many places where the importance of metaphor presents itself once again.
Contributed by 1 at 11:37 PM