According to a recent survey conducted in 2014 by the Asexual Visibility and Education Network of over 10,000 asexual people, 77.3% of the ace community identifies as White and “NonHispanic.” 5.2% identified as White and “Hispanic,” 3.9% identified as Asian or Pacific Islander, 2.5% identified as Black or African American, 0.5% identified as American Indian or Alaska Native, 6.8% identified as Mixed Race, and 3.8% identified as “Other” or did not respond to the question. Aside from the problematic and messy categorizations utilized in this community census (which are based off the U.S. census), one thing appears to be clear: the asexual or ace community is overwhelmingly white racially (as well as “NonHispanic” ethnically).
Whiteness is dominating the ace community, but the question is: Why?
Asexuality as a contemporary identity originated within highly white and highly selective online spaces, such as email lists and blogs in the late 1990s and early 2000s, at the inception of the internet’s ascension into widespread usage. So it really is of no surprise that it has largely remained within these spaces, at least, on some level. “Asexuality” is still a relatively elusive and esoteric term that maintains a strong positionality within highly selective and highly white online spaces. It’s not a word (or, at least, identity) that one would ever be exposed to in the public education system or any other general mainstream media outlet (at least, until very recently). There is thus an intrinsic level of privilege required to even be able to self-identify as asexual.
Therefore, those who do not have access or knowledge of these online spaces (or even the internet in general) will thus largely not have access to the term, will therefore not be able to self-identify by the term, and will therefore not be understood as asexual or ace or be included within the asexual community. Exposure to these terms of “asexual” and “ace” offline may be difficult to impossible. As such, the asexual identity may continue to be predominately afforded to white people, both due to their greater privilege in accessing these select online spaces in general as well as the fact that once gaining access or possessing preexisting access (referring to the white creators of these online spaces where asexuality as a contemporary identity originated), they are more likely to continue to spread knowledge of the identity within bubbles dominated highly by others like themselves.
And once a space is dominated by whiteness, it frequently become self-containing. Whiteness itself seems to always operate in self-containing ways that exclude and erase the experiences of people of color. As such, those who are asexual today may continue to see asexuality as an identity largely for white people tomorrow (whether consciously or unconsciously), and the cycle may continue to loop as new ace people gain access to the identity. This looping effect means that white aces who are coming into their asexual identity, will likely have an easier time accessing the identity as well as instantly feel accepted in ace spaces. On the other hand, ace people of color, who are less likely to even have access or self-identify as ace or asexual in the first place, may immediately feel excluded and invisibilized within the ace community as the cycle continues to perpetuate itself.
This makes ace people of color less likely to engage and participate in activities that concern the ace community, such as the very AVEN survey that frames this article. This AVEN survey or community census largely received its data from promotion within “ace spaces” that are largely, if not exclusively, online and also highly white. While the results may appear to lead one to the conclusion that less ace or asexual people of color exist, this fundamentally is no the case. It’s not that ace people of color do not exist (obviously), but they are less likely to self-identify as ace or asexual and have been largely excluded from participating in the ace community, including activities such as this census, due to the whiteness of the ace community and its relational issue of self-containment through looping effects and otherwise.
Visibility is also important. Representation (in general) can be powerful and often makes people feel validated in their own existence or identity. This is especially true for those of us who are only represented in a very limited capacity or within limited spaces, such as ace people. However, asexuality representation, as important as it is, largely perpetuates the whiteness of the ace community. Within “do-it-yourself” or “indie” representational sources (those who self-produce asexuality representation), either through their personal blog, art, stories, etc. are likely to be predominately white, and are therefore likely to create primarily white representations of asexuality in the media they create or representations that look like themselves.
Within “mainstream” media the story is largely the same, although the stakes are arguably much larger. While asexuality representation within mainstream outlets has really only just begun to ascend, it is clear that ace people of color are largely absent from this growing trend, thus embedding within general audiences who are exposed to these representations that whiteness and asexuality are largely entwined (whether consciously or unconsciously). At the same time, ace people of color, who may already not feel included within the asexual community, are not seeing themselves being represented in the limited amount of asexuality representation out there, and thus may also internalize ideas of asexuality as a primarily white identity.
On the most apparent of levels, it is clear that whiteness in ace spaces should be examined, interrogated, and dismantled, and there are multiple respects in which this can be addressed. The most useful of these is simply centering and amplifying the voices of ace people of color. This can work to deconstruct the perception of the ace community and asexual people as predominately being white as well as allow for ace people of color to feel more included within ace spaces. Other solutions include continued awareness of the asexual identity, particularly within offline spaces (media representation is important), so that the identity begins to enter the lexicon and consciousness of the general public rather than remaining a predominately online self-identity within highly white spaces, of which it originated nearly two decades ago.