The fascinating intersectionality of the word “cuck”

The fascinating intersectionality of the word “cuck” June 28, 2017
A cuckold woodprint from Elizabethan England
A cuckold woodprint from Elizabethan England

One of the most bizarre phenomena of the Trump era is the reintroduction of a quaint Shakespearian insult into the English language: “cuckold” or usually “cuck” for short. In Shakespearian English, cuckold was the word used for a man who knows that his wife is sleeping around but doesn’t do anything about it. It reentered the English parlance officially in 2007 with an entry in the Urban Dictionary, and its use took off explosively during the 2016 presidential election campaign. What’s fascinating about the modern use of the word is its almost exclusive use in attacking racial “political correctness.” What does racial political correctness have to do with letting your wife sleep around? It’s completely bizarre and doesn’t make any sense unless you excavate the sublimated segregationist legacy beneath the modern white family values movement that arose as a direct backlash against the civil rights movement.

Several years ago, when I was looking for internet images for a sermon series that drew from Martin Luther King, Jr, I stumbled across a photo from a segregationist counter-protest. A white teenage boy was holding a sign that said “States rights and white womanhood.” It was such a perfect image that I saved it, but somehow I lost it and have never been able to find it again. What made white segregationism work was the paranoid fear that horny black men were going to rape white women. Protecting white women from black men was the raison d’etre of southern white manhood. The zeal of your racism was the measure of your white masculine virility. They didn’t use the phrase “cuck” in segregationist times; they just called you a n****r lover if you were less openly racist than they wanted you to be. But now that’s socially unacceptable, so the word cuck has to be used as a code word.

The primary means by which white segregationism has always justified itself is through contrasting the alleged sexual chastity of white people with the alleged sexual promiscuity of black people. In segregationist times, it was socially acceptable to talk openly about the alleged moral inferiority of black people, but this contrast has been sublimated in the white family values era. The racial subtext helps explain why the politics of family values have little to do with advocating policies that protect families from economic strain or any issues other than sexual normativity. Because family values is not a movement to defend the family as such; it’s a movement to showcase the superiority of the white nuclear family to the black “broken” family. The investment of the movement is in making this comparison the narrative that explains every aspect of our socioeconomic reality. White people are rich because they kept their pants on until they put their wedding rings on; black people are poor because they didn’t.

None of this is to say that there aren’t very important practical messages to be shared about sexual intimacy. There are good reasons why physical intimacy ought not to occur without spiritual intimacy and covenant. I’m not willing to say that consent and contraception are the only two requirements for having sex. There are valid points to be made by traditional sexual ethics. But they have been completely lost amidst the overwhelming need for racial self-justification. This self-justification is what makes sexual normativity a priority above every other ethical consideration. Without the racial subtext, it wouldn’t make any sense for family values politicians to say that it’s good for families who can barely pay their rent with minimum wage jobs to lose their health care and their food stamps.

The reason why opposing gay marriage and transgender bathroom use are the most important political causes for family values is not because normalizing gay or transgender identity actually threatens “the family” by making straight people divorce more often or randomly have sex in the streets, which is completely bizarre logic with any reflection. What queer identity and family structures do is to complicate the meaning of family, which undermines the clarity of the racial comparison between chaste white families and broken black families that justifies white supremacy. That’s how it all fits together. As long as white men are the patriarchal heads of household in their families and in our government, everything will be in line with God’s design for the universe. Many white men are trapped in their patriarchal roles upholding white supremacy by their fear of being cuckolded.

So every time the word “cuck” gets used as an insult, it’s a gift because it exposes the way that patriarchy, white supremacy, and queerphobia are all interlocking mechanisms of the same ideological system. That’s why I’m thankful that white nationalists have replaced the polite racial code words with a cruder, more blatantly misogynistic one.

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