Skip to main content Accessibility help

THE GAP BETWEEN WHITES AND WHITENESS: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy

  • France Winddance Twine (a1) and Amy C. Steinbugler (a2)


How do White members of Black-White interracial families negotiate the meanings of race, and particularly Whiteness? Inspired by W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of double consciousness, this article argues that interracial intimacy is a microlevel political site where White people can acquire a critical analytical lens that we conceptualize as racial literacy. This article fills a gap in the empirical and theoretical literature on race and Whiteness by including gay, lesbian, and heterosexual families on both sides of the Atlantic. Drawing on two ethnographic research projects involving one hundred and twenty-one interracial families in the United Kingdom and the eastern United States, we provide an analysis of how White people learn to translate racial codes, decipher racial structures, and manage the racial climate in their communities. We draw on “racial consciousness” interviews conducted with one hundred and one heterosexual families and twenty gay and lesbian families to present seven portraits that illuminate three dimensions of racial literacy: double consciousness, negotiation of local racial meanings, and seeing routine forms of everyday racism.We would like to thank Kathleen Blee, Maxine Leeds Craig, Charles Gallagher, Caroline Knowles, Yaba Amgborale Blay, Joan Grassbaugh Forry, Kaila Adia Story, and two anonymous reviewers at the Du Bois Review for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Winddance Twine also benefited from the comments of the audiences in the Sociology Seminar series at the City University of London, Cambridge University, and the University of Manchester. The title of this essay is taken from John Hartigan, Jr.'s (1997, 1999) provocative notion of a racial gap: a chasm across which everyday experiences of Whites “on the ground” map imperfectly onto a cohesive and unifying concept of Whiteness (Frankenberg 1997).


Corresponding author

Professor France Winddance Twine, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Sociology Department, 2834 Ellison, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. E-mail:


Hide All


Bourdieu, Pierre (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Childs, Erica Chito (2005). Navigating Interracial Borders: Black-White Couples and Their Social Worlds. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Collins, Patricia Hill (1986). Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought. Social Problems, 33(6): S14S32.
Dalmage, Heather M. (2000). Tripping on the Color Line: Black-White Multiracial Families in a Racially Divided World. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Drake, St. Clair and Horace R. Cayton (1945). Black Metropolis: A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903 [2003]). The Souls of Black Folks: Centenary Edition. Edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Terri Hume Oliver. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1935 [1976]). Black Reconstruction. Introduction by Herbert Aptheker. Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson Organization.
Frankenberg, Ruth (1993). White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Frankenberg, Ruth (1997). Introduction: Local Whitenesses, Localizing Whiteness. In Ruth Frankenberg (Ed.), Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, pp. 134. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Gallagher, Charles A. (2003). Color-Blind Privilege: The Social and Political Functions of Erasing the Color Line in Post Race America. Race, Gender and Class, 10(4): 2238.
Gintis, Herbert and Samuel Bowles (1981). Structure and Practices in the Labor Theory of Value. Review of Radical Political Economics, 12(4): 126.
Hamberger, Jürgen and Miles Hewstone (1997). Inter-Ethnic Contact as a Predictor of Blatant and Subtle Prejudice: Tests of a Model in Four West European Nations. British Journal of Social Psychology, 36(2): 173190.
Haney-Lopez, Ian F. (1996). White by Law: The Legal Construction of Race. New York: New York University Press.
Harris, Cheryl I. (1993). Whiteness as Property. Harvard Law Review, 106(8): 17071791.
Hartigan, John, Jr. (1997). Locating White Detroit. In Ruth Frankenberg (Ed.), Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, pp. 180213. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Hartigan, John, Jr. (1999). Racial Situations: Class Predicaments of Whiteness in Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Lazarre, Jane (1996). Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
McBride, James (1996). The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother. New York: Riverhead Books.
McDowell, Sophia F. (1971). Black-White Intermarriage in the United States. International Journal of the Family, 1: 4958.
McKinney, Karyn D. (2005). Being White: Stories of Race and Racism. New York/London: Routledge.
McNamara, Robert P., Maria Tempenis, and Beth Walton (1999). Crossing the Line: Interracial Couples in the South. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Merton, Robert K. (1941). Intermarriage and the Social Structure: Fact and Theory. Psychiatry, 4: 361374.
Mills, Charles Wright (1959). The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant (1986). Racial Formations in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s. New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Omi, Michael and Howard Winant (1994). Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s, 2ed. New York: Routledge.
Porterfield, Ernest (1978). Black and White Mixed Marriages: An Ethnographic Study of Black-White Families. Chicago, IL: Nelson-Hall.
Pratt, Minnie Bruce (1984). Identity: Skin Blood Heart. In Elly Bulkin, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith (Eds.), Yours In Struggle: Three Feminist Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism, pp. 1163. Brooklyn, NY: Long Haul Press.
Reddy, Maureen T. (1996). Crossing the Color Line: Race, Parenting and Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Roediger, David R. (1991). The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso.
Rothman, Barbara Katz (2005). Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption. Boston, MA: Beacon Press Books.
Stacey, Judith (2004). Cruising to Familyland: Gay Hypergamy and Rainbow Kinship. Current Sociology, 52(2): 181197.
Stacey, Judith (2005). The Families of Man: Gay Male Intimacy and Kinship in a Global Metropolis. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 30(3): 19111935.
Steinbugler, Amy C. (2005). Visibility as Privilege and Danger: Heterosexual and Same-Sex Interracial Intimacy in the 21st Century. Sexualities, 8(4): 425443.
Steinbugler, Amy C. (2007). “ Race Has Always Been More Than Just Race”: Gender, Sexuality, and the Negotiation of Race in Interracial Relationships. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation, Sociology Department, Temple University.
Tatum, Beverly Daniel (1997). Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race. New York: Basic Books.
Telles, Edward E. (1993). Racial Distance and Region in Brazil: Intermarriage in Brazilian Urban Areas. Latin American Research Review, 28(2): 141162.
Twine, France Winddance (1996). Brown Skinned White Girls: Class, Culture and the Construction of White Identity in Suburban Communities. In Ruth Frankenberg (Ed.), Displacing Whiteness: Essays in Social and Cultural Criticism, pp. 214243. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Twine, France Winddance (1999a). Bearing Blackness in Britain: The Meaning of Racial Difference for White Birth Mothers of African-Descent Children. Social Identities: Journal of Race, Nation and Culture, 5(2): 185210.
Twine, France Winddance (1999b). Transracial Mothering and Antiracism: The Case of White Birth Mothers of “Black” Children in Britain. Feminist Studies, 25(3): 729746.
Twine, France Winddance (2001). Transgressive Women, Transracial Mothers: White Women and Critical Race Theory. Meridians, 1(2): 130153.
Twine, France Winddance (2004). A White Side of Black Britain: The Concept of Racial Literacy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 27(6): 878907.
Twine, France Winddance (2006). Visual Ethnography and Racial Theory: Family Photographs as Archives of Interracial Intimacy. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 29(3): 487511.
Twine, France Winddance (2007). A White Side of Black Europe. Duke University Press (forthcoming).
U.S. Bureau of the Census (2000). Census 2000 Summary File, Matrices P3 and P4. Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration.
Winant, Howard (1997). Behind Blue Eyes: Whiteness and Contemporary U.S. Racial Politics. New Left Review, 225: 7389.
Winant, Howard (1998). Racism Today: Continuity and Change in the Post-Civil Rights United States. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 21(4): 755766.
Winant, Howard (2001) The World is a Ghetto: Race and Democracy Since World War II. New York: Basic Books.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

THE GAP BETWEEN WHITES AND WHITENESS: Interracial Intimacy and Racial Literacy

  • France Winddance Twine (a1) and Amy C. Steinbugler (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.