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Black Sexualities

Black Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 474
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  • Book Info
    Black Sexualities
    Book Description:

    Why does society have difficulty discussing sexualities? Where does fear of Black sexualities emerge and how is it manifested? How can varied experiences of Black females and males who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), or straight help inform dialogue and academic inquiry?

    From questioning forces that have constrained sexual choices to examining how Blacks have forged healthy sexual identities in an oppressive environment,Black Sexualitiesacknowledges the diversity of the Black experience and the shared legacy of racism. Contributors seek resolution to Blacks' understanding of their lives as sexual beings through stories of empowerment, healing, self-awareness, victories, and other historic and contemporary life-course panoramas and provide practical information to foster more culturally relative research, tolerance, and acceptance.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4816-6
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    The “love-hate” relationship Americans have with Black sexuality represents one negative repercussion of historically conflicted race relations in the United States that have shaped sentiments, images, and behavior about Black sexualities.¹ Society’s obsession with sex means a preoccupation with sexuality, specifically sexual behavior, despite a prevailing Puritan posture. Fear of Black sexualities translates into another form of preoccupation where Black bodies are surveilled, devalued, exploited, estranged, clandestinely joined, simultaneously admired and disdained, and generally misunderstood. Contemporary attitudes and behavior surrounding Black sexualities among Blacks (as well as non-Blacks) range from ambivalent to explosive.

    Have the stereotypical images of Jezebel, Sapphire,...

  5. PART ONE Identity Theories and New Frameworks

    • [PART ONE Introduction]
      (pp. 13-16)

      Theory testing is an integral part of robust academic research. Similarly, theory development helps ensure continued academic inquiry as scholars formulate new models to describe, explain, and predict social phenomena; question prevailing paradigms; and introduce new discourses for consideration. The four chapters in part I reflect theories or theoretical frameworks concerning Black sexualities broadly defined. Each moves beyond use of existing paradigms by considering contemporary models and/or new appropriations, developing nontraditional models, or pursuing yet-unanswered questions. Particular emphasis is placed on issues of identity among sexual minorities and how they organize their private lives and negotiate public spaces. Writers also...

    • 1 Nontraditional, Nonconforming, and Transgressive Gender Expression and Relationship Modalities in Black Communities
      (pp. 17-36)

      Diverse sexual and gender identities have received increasing attention in both mainstream and academic discourses over the last two and a half decades with the growth and visibility of both the lesbian and gay rights movement and queer theory. The lesbian and gay rights movement has fought for the legal and civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, and intersex (LGBTQQI) people in everyday life, while queer theory discourse has established a theoretical framework for thinking about heteronormativity as an oppressive and dehumanizing social force. In the social sciences as well as the humanities, the notion of identity...

    • 2 Creation Out of Bounds: Toward Wholistic Identity
      (pp. 37-56)

      Mary McLeod Bethune’s recipe for sweet potato pie filling, found in theBlack Family Reunion Cookbook, represents one of many that validates Black women’s self-image and resists “dominant cultural memory” (Eves, 2005, p. 280). According to Eves, cookbooks function as “memory texts: to memorialize both individuals and community, to invoke ‘memory beyond mind,’ and to generate a sense of collective memory that in turn shapes communal identity” (p. 280). They also preserve a “countermemory” in response to the “official memory” of the dominant culture (p. 281).

      Eves is one of many scholars from a variety of disciplines that has observed...

    • 3 On the Fear of Small Numbers: A Twenty-first-Century Prolegomenon of the U.S. Black Transgender Experience
      (pp. 57-81)

      Grateful for an opportunity to frame the debate on Black trans (i.e., transgender and transsexual) challenges, we reject the idea that U.S. Black trans subjects should be observed and studied in isolation. Millions of Blacks share experiences of the African Diaspora and their consequential concerns about sexually racist and gendered practices of oppression. These oppressive practices, to which all Blacks generally are subjected, cause us concern because they worsen Black life, which impacts Black trans subjects, and they routinely manage many processes of the racial state, including industrialization or deindustrialization, medicalization, occupation, education, professionalization, incarceration, militarization, immigration, and deportation.


    • 4 Blackness, Sexuality, and Transnational Desire: Initial Notes toward a New Research Agenda
      (pp. 82-96)

      The space economy of capitalism that exploits natural resources of poorer nations to maintain rich ones, rendering poor nations and their people both consumers and “the consumed” is not new, but it certainly has exploded in recent years in a process of multiple ruptures, ripples, and other movement that has come to be called globalization. Globalization and the movement andtradethat results are certainly not new for Blacks. Paul Gilroy’s (1993)Black Atlantichas become the representative text for the academic “movement” of Black or African diasporas, although it is certainly not its most well received, especially by scholars...

  6. PART TWO Descriptions, Depictions, and Responses

    • [PART TWO Introduction]
      (pp. 97-100)

      How have Black sexualities been historically described in academic and nonacademic arenas? How are they depicted today? Are there common profiles from the past that continue to manifest and impact how Blacks as well as non-Blacks view Black sexualities? What have been some of the responses to prevalent presentations of Blacks as sexual beings? These types of questions are raised and answered in part II. Historiographies, media analyses, and other academic information are brought to bear on a systematic assessment of how society and certain subgroups within it understand Black sexualities. Focusing on varied sexual lifestyles, authors present specific periods...

    • 5 Pathologizing Black Sexuality: The U.S. Experience
      (pp. 101-118)

      The era of racialized science is typically assumed to be in the past. Now often referred to as “pseudoscience,” various European studies dating back at least to the sixteenth century sought to explain racial differences, usually of non-Europeans, but were also used to establish the inferiority of Asians, Native Americans, and people of African descent (Jordan, 1968). As a corollary to these studies, theories on matters related to the sexual activity of these “inferior” groups were typically developed with conclusions indicating that in matters related to sex and sexual activity, the behavior of these people was inferior, bestial, or pathological....

    • 6 Dangerous Profiling: Recent Media Representations of Black Male Sexuality
      (pp. 119-137)

      Representations of Black male sexuality in recent print and television media record a shift in focus away from the demonization of Black women’s sexual practices and toward new forms of Black male sexuality considered deviant. The campaigns considered in this chapter demonstrate that despite new forms of address and the recognition of Black male subjects, the sexual practices of people of color are considered dangerous and polluting to a discourse of the “family values” from which they deviate. Indeed, the normative, biological family is the sin qua non of sexuality and underscores the absolute centrality of this formation and its...

    • 7 Revisiting Black Sexualities in Families: Problems, Puzzles, and Prospects
      (pp. 138-154)

      Black sexualities within the context of families and relationships span many different fronts. Their significance and meanings defy any simple definition. Researchers, policymakers, and practitioners have focused on Black families, particularly in relation to Black sexualities, yet the attention that different issues receive varies greatly. While there have been groundbreaking works, such as Hill Collins’s (2004)Black Sexual Politics, which offers a critical social theory that emphasizes the importance of intersectionalities of race, gender, and sexuality to understand historical and contemporary Black sexual attitudes and practices, there are still many aspects of Black sexualities and families underresearched, overemphasized, and problematized....

    • 8 To Be Fluent in Each Other’s Narratives: Surplus Populations and Queer of Color Activism
      (pp. 155-168)

      In 2003, a little book was published concerning queer activism. About seventy-seven pages in length, it brought together fourteen contributors to express, in a poem, a short story, personal narratives, or art piece, various aspects of Black queer male sexuality. The name of the book is both a title and an admonition—Think Again. For the industry that claimed to know how to narrate and diagnose Black queer male sex, the title is a rebuke. For the activists, artists, and scholars, the title is a provocation to reconsider taken-for-granted notions of political involvement. In this essay, I would like to...

  7. PART THREE Citizenship, Activism, and Legal Dynamics

    • [PART THREE Introduction]
      (pp. 169-172)

      Part III focuses on some of the political and legal ramifications of Black sexualities, particularly their implications for nonconforming groups. Each work emphasizes how issues of sexual citizenship and systemic injustice can fuel activism among sexually and economically marginalized groups as they strive for complete inclusion and full rights and privileges, like their counterparts in society. Each chapter also considers the effects of unequal treatment and unequal access. Two essays focus on relationships and family formation challenges, and the remaining two pieces examine health inequities.

      “Prison, Crime, and Sexual Health in the United States: How the Criminal Justice Systems Contribute...

    • 9 Prison, Crime, and Sexual Health in the United States: How the Criminal Justice Systems Contribute to Health Disparities in the Black Community
      (pp. 173-189)

      The sexual and reproductive health of inmate populations is an important area of study given that this population is at high risk for infectious disease, including HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) (Kahn et al., 2004; Kingree & Betz, 2003; Stephens et al., 2003; Stephens, Braithwaite & Tiggs, 2004; Voisin et al., 2004). This is a direct consequence of many factors, namely the relationship between the practice of problem behaviors by this population, socioeconomic factors, and the policy directives purported by the U.S. criminal justice system that target ethnic and racial populations disproportionately, in particular Blacks (Bonhomme, Stephens & Braithwaite, 2006). This...

    • 10 Black Sexual Citizenship: Understanding the Impact of Political Issues on Those at the Margins of Race, Sexuality, Gender, and Class
      (pp. 190-212)

      Heterosexist, homophobic, sexist, and ethnocentric public policies regulating family, sex education, and sexual abuse in prison provide arenas in which the intersection of race, gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity combine to disenfranchise and harm marginalized groups in the United States. These groups include Black people, low-income single mothers, same-sex couple families and single gay and lesbian parents, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth. Those sharing two or more of these identities, such as Black gay or bisexual male youth and Black lesbian parent families, are especially at risk. As such, these policies provide an interesting context for...

    • 11 Racialized Justice Spreads HIV/AIDS among Blacks
      (pp. 213-242)

      There are two discourses—political and sociological—to investigate how HIV/AIDS has spread among Blacks while it simultaneously has declined among Whites in the “greatest democracy in the world.” In this study, I use reflexive sociology (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992)¹ to understand policy and society and its relationship to the spread of HIV/AIDS among Blacks.² To do so, I follow the Strong Program of reflexive researchers and ask what social factors play in the scientific development of HIV/AIDS policies and how these become increasingly used as foundation in policy (Foucault & Gordon, 1980; Foucault, Marchetti, Salomoni & Davidson, 2003). I use this methodology...

    • 12 Black and Latino Same-Sex Couple Households and the Racial Dynamics of Antigay Activism
      (pp. 243-268)

      For two decades the antigay movement has portrayed sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws as special rights that threaten the civil rights of people of color, especially Black people. They have portrayed the gay and Black communities as mutually exclusive and pointed out the obvious difference between race and sexual orientation, accusing gay activists of hijacking the civil rights legacy of the 1950s and 1960s. While antigay bias and racism are indeed different, legal protections for gay people and families do not threaten the civil rights of people of color or anyone, for that matter. The cruel irony is that the antigay...

  8. PART FOUR Negotiating Systemic and Personal Stresses

    • [PART FOUR Introduction]
      (pp. 269-272)

      Part IV considers how members of the Black community make sense of and negotiate varying degrees of stress. Many of the groups depicted are sexual minorities, some are impoverished, and others are Blacks involved in marginalized occupations. All have experienced trauma that can directly or indirectly be associated with sexualities and to which current societal structures have been unable to concertedly respond. In addition to vividly describing experiences, the authors provide critical contexts such that readers can grasp the compounded nature of attempts to cope with stresses from a disenfranchised frame of reference. Although three of the chapters focus on...

    • 13 Blacks and Racial Appraisals: Gender, Race, and Intraracial Rape
      (pp. 273-298)

      Still bright-eyed and sanguine, I was just twenty-one years old when I met Tamaria, who had been raped two years prior to our interview in the fall of 1996.¹ Although I was a young and relatively inexperienced interviewer, I had become accustomed to the varied responses of sexual assault victims. Some survivors appeared stoic and wise, as if all life’s secrets had been revealed in the aftermath of horrific trauma. Others were quiet and appeared to be emotionally lost, psychologically shattered, and socially isolated. And then there were those, like Tamaria, who were angry, confrontational, and, justifiably, suspicious of the...

    • 14 When Secrets Hurt: HIV Disclosure and the Stress Paradigm
      (pp. 299-310)

      Research suggests that stress concepts can be uniquely beneficial for understanding the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In the event of an HIV-positive diagnosis, one can expect an individual to experience several stressors that contribute to their overall levels of stress. Common stressors among persons experiencing HIV have been associated with experiences and perceptions of homophobia, marginalization of drug users, discrimination against women, and general stigma related to AIDS (Ouellette, 1998). Because HIV is often associated with behaviors considered deviant (e.g., drug use, promiscuity), persons living with HIV are more likely to experience stigma and have higher depressive symptoms than other...

    • 15 Black Female Sex Workers: Racial Identity, Black Feminist Consciousness, and Acculturated Stress
      (pp. 311-326)

      The global sex work industry has annual earnings of approximately $33.9 billion; of that amount, industrial countries earn $15.4 billion (Belser, 2005). Sex work is defined here as generating revenue for one’s livelihood through prostitution, stripping, performing as a dominatrix, exotic dancing, pimping, pandering, sex tourism, commercial sex trafficking, pornography, phone sex, adult magazines, and other activities with the intent of earning money through the exchange of sex (Platt, 2001). These sexual transactions and encounters can occur indoors (i.e., clubs, brothels, escort services, massage parlors, homes, or the Internet) or outdoors on the streets (Thukral, 2005).

      The economic gains to...

    • 16 Yes, Jesus Loves Me: The Liberating Power of Spiritual Acceptance for Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians
      (pp. 327-352)

      Many Black children learn the song “Jesus Loves Me” at a young age, and it continues to shape their experiences into adulthood.¹ When all else fails, they know, if no one else does, God, through Jesus, loves them. This sense of acceptance by God and the church is critical as a stabilizing force in the life of many and a source of inspiration for others. For Black gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (referred to hence as LGBT) people, homophobia in many Black churches challenges this overarching belief in God’s unconditional love for all (Ward, 2005). Homophobic forces, combined with the...

  9. PART FIVE The Life Course

    • [PART FIVE Introduction]
      (pp. 353-356)

      This section is unique because it references age as a central ascriptive feature in understanding Black sexualities. It is also singular in its emphasis on understudied groups within the Black community–the middle class, youth in general and LGBT youth in particular, and senior women. Who are these groups as sexual beings? How do their experiences differ from their counterparts who are more often studied in existing, albeit limited, research on the Black experience? What unique challenges do Blacks face as they age, and how might these experiences differ based on factors such as sexuality and class and the social...

    • 17 Black Mother-Daughter Narratives about Sexuality: The Influence of Black Religious Symbolism on Attitudes and Behavior
      (pp. 357-376)

      Literature correlates Black religious, familial, and cultural influences with sexual conservatism in the Black community (Billingsley, 1992; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Murry, 199?; Sterk-Elifson, 1994). However, studies on Black female adolescent sexual behavior suggest greater sexual behavior and earlier onset of such behavior as compared to their White and Hispanic counterparts (Ventura et al., 1995, 2004). Research also shows that maternal views and the quality of Black mother-daughter relationships affect sexual outcomes for daughters (Bynum, forthcoming). However, given the historic influence of institutions such as the Black Church in the Black community (Lincoln & Mamiya, 1990),¹ little research has been performed concerning...

    • 18 Black Youth Sexuality: Established Paradigms and New Approaches
      (pp. 377-400)

      More than a century after W.E.B. Du Bois (1899/1999) asserted that Blacks are not a social problem and that their condition and behaviors are, instead, symptomatic of a larger system of oppression, researchers are still articulating pathological notions regarding the social outcomes of Blacks, particularly Black youth. Not unlike many contemporary organizations (governmental and nongovernmental), the College Settlement Movement called for Du Bois to respond to a series of questions and curiosities, writing, “We want to know precisely how this class of people live; what occupations they follow; from what occupations they are excluded; how many of their children go...

    • 19 “I’ll Be Forever Mackin’”: The Social Construction of Black Masculine Identity in Hip Hop’s Platinum Age
      (pp. 401-422)

      In the wake of Bill Cosby’s infamous “Pound Cake” speech on May 17, 2004, it is now fashionable for Black activists and intellectuals of a certain age to join their White conservative and reactionary counterparts in blaming the hip hop subculture for any and all shortcomings in the Black community.¹ This is particularly true with regard to the problematic behavior of young Black men who belong to the hip hop generation, which Bakari Kitwana (2002, 4) defines as “African Americans born between 1965 and 1984 who came of age in the eighties and nineties and who share a specific set...

    • 20 Black Senior Women and Sexuality
      (pp. 423-442)

      The growth of the elderly population—that is, sixty-five years and older—in the United States is expected to reach dramatic proportions over the next decade. The number of people aged sixty-five and older is projected to double and those aged eighty-five and older is expected to triple. Although the older population is predominantly non-Hispanic White, it is becoming increasingly more diverse. In 2004, race/ethnic minorities comprised 18.1 percent of the total older population—8.2 percent Blacks, 6.0 percent Hispanic origin (who may be of any race), 2.9 percent Asian or Pacific Islanders, and less than 1 percent American Indian...

  10. Epilogue: What’s Next for the Study and Application of Black Sexualities?
    (pp. 443-444)

    This volume has presented new research models, findings, and ideas as a means to forward the discourse and inquiry surrounding Black sexualities. Many questions have been posed and answered; many more will emerge. One objective of this endeavor has been to provide readers with access to research that centers the Black experience and specifically sheds light on understudied or ignored sexual minorities within the Black community. In addition to traditional academic studies, the intentional inclusion of varied methodologies, research approaches, and lenses further broadened the analyses. The authors strove to push the boundaries of critical thinking by questioning many of...

    (pp. 445-446)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 447-462)