Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Black Female Sexualities

Black Female Sexualities

Trimiko Melancon
Joanne M. Braxton
Foreword by Melissa Harris-Perry
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 242
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Black Female Sexualities
    Book Description:

    Western culture has long regarded black female sexuality with a strange mix of fascination and condemnation, associating it with everything from desirability, hypersexuality, and liberation to vulgarity, recklessness, and disease. Yet even as their bodies and sexualities have been the subject of countless public discourses, black women's voices have been largely marginalized in these discussions. In this groundbreaking collection, feminist scholars from across the academy come together to correct this omission-illuminating black female sexual desires marked by agency and empowerment, as well as pleasure and pain, to reveal the ways black women regulate their sexual lives.

    The twelve original essays inBlack Female Sexualitiesreveal the diverse ways black women perceive, experience, and represent sexuality. The contributors highlight the range of tactics that black women use to express their sexual desires and identities. Yet they do not shy away from exploring the complex ways in which black women negotiate the more traumatic aspects of sexuality and grapple with the legacy of negative stereotypes.

    Black Female Sexualitiestakes not only an interdisciplinary approach-drawing from critical race theory, sociology, and performance studies-but also an intergenerational one, in conversation with the foremothers of black feminist studies. In addition, it explores a diverse archive of representations, covering everything from blues to hip-hop, fromCrashtoPrecious, from Sister Souljah to Edwidge Danticat. Revealing that black female sexuality is anything but a black-and-white issue, this collection demonstrates how to appreciate a whole spectrum of subjectivities, experiences, and desires.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7175-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Melissa Harris-Perry

    At the turn of the twentieth century, W.E.B. Du Bois captured the soul-splitting experience of reconciling blackness with American identity by describing double consciousness as “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”¹ While Du Bois delineated this spiritual striving of the black self to find wholeness, particularly in light of a malevolent racial gaze, he did not fully imagine the particular forms of psychological, physical, and sexual threats confronting black women and their bodies by racist,...

  4. INTRODUCTION: “somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff”: Black Female Sexualities and Black Feminist Intervention
    (pp. 1-10)
    Trimiko Melancon

    I still remember with unobstructed vividness screening Lee Daniels’s 2009 filmPrecious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.It was a Saturday matinee in New York City’s Union Square with two of my dearest black women friends. As we navigated the long ticket line, we noticed an audience as diverse in terms of demographics as it was in its responses to the myriad scenes in the film: at times silence and tears, at others applause and laughter. Even more indelible is the incredibly unsettling feelings my friends and I experienced as we shifted out of the theatre at the...

  5. PART I Sexual Embod(y)ment:: Framing the Body

    • CHAPTER 1 Entering through the Body’s Frame: Precious and the Subjective Delineations of the Movie Poster
      (pp. 13-26)
      Kimberly Juanita Brown

      BeforePreciouswas nominated for four and won two Academy Awards, there was the all-important Sundance Grand Jury Prize, which the movie won in a triumphant display of limited cinematic and restricted envisioning of black women’s lives and sexual experiences.¹ Voted into the “oblivion of hypervisibility,” viewers and voters were determined to make their mark on that ubiquitously overburdened text: the black female body.² They have done this before and do this still, but withPreciousthe stakes were higher. The transformation of the protagonist’s fictional body into a visual text provided space for a feigned engagement—what I like...

    • CHAPTER 2 Is It Just Baby F(Ph)at? Black Female Teenagers, Body Size, and Sexuality
      (pp. 27-40)
      Courtney J. Patterson

      When popular hip-hop group De La Soul debuted its single “Baby Phat” in 2001, it tapped into some of the intricacies present in the intersections of black women’s body size, age, and sexuality. Although the group raps about adult women, their usage of the term “baby fat” reminded me not only of its typical use to refer to the pudgy appearance of young children transitioning into adulthood but also about what I used to hear some of my relatives say when my mother would voice her concern over my ever-increasing weight: “Don’t worry, it’s only baby fat.”¹ In retrospect, I...

    • CHAPTER 3 Corporeal Presence: Engaging the Black Lesbian Pedagogical Body in Feminist Classrooms and College Communities
      (pp. 41-56)
      Mel Michelle Lewis

      The intersections of identity inform and construct the classroom; all pedagogues find themselves differently situated within their fields of study and within “normative” conceptions of the archetypal “professor.” However, that situatedness remains invisible until highlighted by the experiences of those who stand farthest from those established normative conceptions. The experiences of Black lesbian feminist pedagogues teaching social constructions of identity foreground the nexus of race, gender, and sexuality as they perform their own “embodied texts” in the classroom.¹ In this instance, identity itself disrupts normative expectations about the authoritative professorial subject, carving into high relief what Laura Harris describes above...

    • CHAPTER 4 Untangling Pathology: Sex, Social Responsibility, and the Black Female Youth in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling
      (pp. 57-70)
      Esther L. Jones

      Stereotypes about the black family and black women’s roles within it as pathological have formed the basis of public policy creation since the civil rights era, when Senator D. Patrick Moynihan outlined the black family’s so-called tangle ofpathology in his Report on the Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965).¹ There is an often-unacknowledged linkage between the increased access to social programs that occurred with the gains of civil rights for blacks and the increased angst over the costs to society to provide economic aid to young poor unwed mothers. From the claims about the black family’s pathological...

  6. PART II Disengaging the Gaze

    • CHAPTER 5 (Mis)Playing Blackness: Rendering Black Female Sexuality in The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
      (pp. 73-88)
      Ariane Cruz

      The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (ABG), which premiered on YouTube on February 3, 2011, is a comedy web series that chronicles the life and times of J, a young Black woman living in Los Angeles played by actor/producer/director/writer Issa Rae. Two seasons and twenty-five episodes later,ABGhas transformed from a self-funded “guerrilla style” project into an award-winning web series with a sizable and devoted fan following, a professional staff, significant media coverage, and financial investors (both public and private).¹ABGhas come a long way from its humble grassroots origins and has projected Rae beyond the realm of...

    • CHAPTER 6 Why Don’t We Love These Hoes? Black Women, Popular Culture, and the Contemporary Hoe Archetype
      (pp. 89-99)
      Mahaliah Ayana Little

      Being black and a woman results in a very specific coming-of-age experience in the southeastern United States. Further nuance this with post–civil rights, post–black power angst, urban decay, the cocaine epidemic of the eighties, and the consummate saturation of American culture with rap and hip-hop music, and you have my adolescence. As a teenager, I often naively excused the overt hostility toward femininity rampant in popular culture. I accepted misogyny and chauvinism as the status quo in most of my favorite rap songs, even believing that disrespectful phrases were somehow necessary to make a song seem cool or...

    • CHAPTER 7 What Kind of Woman? Alberta Hunter and Expressions of Black Female Sexuality in the Twentieth Century
      (pp. 100-112)
      K. T. Ewing

      The scent of steaming hot plates and a feeling of anticipation permeated the atmosphere at Barney Josephson’s Cookery in Greenwich Village, New York. Everyone looked around to catch a first sighting of the elderly woman quickly making her way through the tables with a smile. Her mischievous eyes said it all. Alberta Hunter had come to play. For the next hour she entertained the crowd with songs made popular before most of them were born. With hands on her hips, she tossed her head from side to side, emphasizing the swinging of her oversized gold hoop earrings. Her throaty voice...

    • CHAPTER 8 The P-Word Exchange: Representing Black Female Sexuality in Contemporary Urban Fiction
      (pp. 113-126)
      Cherise A. Pollard

      Black women’s urban fiction engages with the history of negative and dehumanizing representations of black women both past and present. Both Sister Souljah’sThe Coldest Winter Ever(1999) and Sapphire’sPush(1996) were published during a time when hip-hop music, especially gangsta rap, was becoming influential in American popular culture. As early urban hip-hop novels, both Sapphire’s and Sister Souljah’s works grapple with the exploitative messages that hip-hop music and videos were giving the black community at the end of the twentieth century. Set in the New York metropolitan area, the locus of the emergence of East Coast hip-hop culture,...

  7. PART III Resisting Erasure

    • CHAPTER 9 “Ou libéré?” Sexual Abuse and Resistance in Edwidge Danticat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory
      (pp. 129-140)
      Sandra C. Duvivier

      Haitian women’s accounts of sexual abuse have been largely suppressed as Haiti’s efforts to (re) build the nation—amid corrupt governmental leadership and Western (neo) colonial interventions—have taken precedence over and, at times, sanctioned it. In response, Haitian women have emerged and galvanized, challenging sexual abuse and violence while simultaneously providing a space where the voices of silenced women might be heard. InBreath, Eyes, Memory(1994), Haitian American writer-activist Edwidge Danticat provides a literary means to not only expose Haitian female sexual subjugation, thereby delineating the ways that patriarchal and gendered practices marginalize girls and women, but also...

    • CHAPTER 10 Rape Fantasies and Other Assaults: Black Women’s Sexuality and Racial Redemption on Film
      (pp. 141-158)
      Erin D. Chapman

      Since the advent of the millennium, award-winning popular films such asCrashandMonster’s Ballhave been hailed as powerful representations of a popular perception of racial politics, interracial relations, and social opportunity encapsulated by the label “post-racial.” Films such as these advance the notion that American society has overcome its history of structural racism and that any racial and economic social inequality that persists is personal—individually expressed and eliminated through interpersonal communication and individual effort.¹ Thus, Roger Ebert praisedCrashfor demonstrating “how racism works not only top down but sideways, and how in different situations, we are...

    • CHAPTER 11 “Embrace the Narrative of the Whole”: Complicating Black Female Sexuality in Contemporary Fiction
      (pp. 159-179)
      Johanna X. K. Garvey

      In this essay, I explore representations of Black female sexuality and same-sex desire in selected works of fiction by African American women published from 1997 to 2005. These include Suzan-Lori Parks’sGetting Mother’s Body(2003), Shay Youngblood’sSoul Kiss(1997), Marci Blackman’sPo Man’s Child(1999), and Martha Southgate’sThird Girl from the Left(2005). These texts explore Black women’s experiences from multiple perspectives, often featuring young women with “missing” mothers who seek models of agency and empowerment. Confronting patriarchal societal norms of female sexuality and pernicious stereotypes of Black women, these young female protagonists resist masculine control, social regulation...

    • CHAPTER 12 Saving Me through Erasure? Black Women, HIV/AIDS, and Respectability
      (pp. 180-190)
      Ayana K. Weekley

      The “down low” has garnered much attention in the past decade of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.¹ Conversations about men on the down low (DL) have appeared in various media outlets: in theNew York Times,on the Oprah Winfrey show, and in infamous books such as J. L. King’sOn the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of “Straight” Black Men Who Sleep with Men.Each of these has illustrated the complicated nature of discourses on the down low: it relates not only to race, gender, sexuality, and HIV/AIDS in black communities but also to understandings...

    • Afterword: Being Present, Facing Forward
      (pp. 191-196)
      Joanne M. Braxton

      It has been said that every ending holds a new beginning, so as I approach the afterword ofBlack Female Sexualities,I look back to the beginnings of black feminist criticism in works like Toni Cade Bambara’sThe Black Woman(1970) and the early writings of Audre Lorde, Barbara Christian, Alice Walker and others. I also look forward not only to the panorama of works covered in this volume but to the prophetic imagining of what will shape the discourse of black female sexualities in the twenty-first century and beyond. Simultaneously, I look back to my own entry into public...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 197-208)
  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 209-214)
  10. Index
    (pp. 215-230)