On Black Women’s Sexuality


 

The second time that I saw Pariah I decided to change my paper’s title, or even to give it a proper title because of the direction  the paper is taking. The working title is “I am Not Broken, I am Open: Toward  Hetergenous Representations of Black Women’s Sexuality”.

After walking around with a notebook and several drafts two Saturdays ago, and reading and re-reading what I wrote, it became clear that I was not only interested in how Black women make choices about their sexualities, but that I was interested in the politics of Black women’s storytelling both on a day to day basis and on film. In fact, my interest in the politics of Black women’s storytelling is probably why I chose oral interviews as one of my methods of the paper that I have been working on.

There is a parallel between Black women’s lives and Black women’s films when it comes to how and when we are able to represent ourselves. In fact, now that I think about it, I am completely invested in interrogating how public and private marketplaces shape how Black women make choices about their sexualities AND how they shape the stories that Black women are allowed to tell publicly, on a large scale to other Black women.

Gina, this is not what I set out to write about, but this is what nags at me both in my day to day life, and it keeps coming up as I read the paper, so rather than fight it, I will embrace it. I realized, only two weeks ago, that the paper is about these two things. I am not sure what to do with it, now that I have recognized it, but I know or at least I hope that there is some way for me to address it in material ways.

I chose the I am not broken, I am open for a few reasons. First  because it is a line of a poem that Alike says in Pariah. I also use it because Dee Rees wrote the poetry for the film. The third reason is because that line in the film speaks to a previous idea that I have stated which is that “Being read as deviant has fractured the space for Black women to discuss their sexuality”. I have a host of ideas about saying this both on my blog and saying it publicly. I am simply not certain that Black women can re-claim something that has suffocated their humanity. Even as I write that I ask, is that binary thinking, do the films that I have watched, the interviews that I have conducted and even the conversations that Ih ave had with my friends about Black women’s sexuality tell me something different?

I don’t know.

Comments

  1. “Being read as deviant has fractured the space for Black women to discuss their sexuality”

    Well Damn.

    I don’t have anything to add, just that that line is stuck with me.

  2. “I am simply not certain that Black women can re-claim something that has suffocated their humanity.” — Can you explain this quote?

  3. I will try. For me, the issue is the process of reclaiming a term that is highly stigmatized. Like the B word, the N word or the slur used for trans folks.

    The something that I am referring to is “being read as deviant”.

    Let me know if that was responsive.

    -R

  4. Thanks for reply. I kind of don’t get it but I think it has to marinate a little more in my head.

    Just wondering – what term are Black women trying to “re-claim”?

    My initial thought is that Black women should reclaim their sexuality (whatever it is) in order to define it by their own definition. I also think Black women should reclaim ownership of their sexuality. But I don’t think you were alluding to those issues.

    I feel like I’m bothering you about that phrase because its so powerful. Even though I don’t fully understand it my first mind (as my mother calls it) thinks you are right. If “something” has “suffocated” your humanity– it is not even worth trying to reclaim. I feel this way about the word “nigger.” Everytime I hear Black people say it to each other I feel like hate and self-loathing is being thrown at each other. I don’t believe the word can be reclaimed and feel angry that the Hiphop community has unleashed that word into the global music culture.

    The following line, “Being read as deviant has fractured the space for Black women to discuss their sexuality,” is so real for me. Am I right to assume that just being a Black women means you are automatically read as “deviant” to the majority culture?

    Just wondering are you getting a doctorate in Women Studies? And I love the fact that I read your work and have to run to the dictionary. I also have been girl crushing hard on Viola Davis. She has been very political in her campaign for the Oscars, especially talking about how people perceive her because of her skin complexion. If you haven’t heard her Fresh Air interview or seen her battle Tavis Smiley- check the internets. She is so fierce you have to love her.

  5. Good question. I many ways some Black women are in the process of reclaiming their sexuality.

    In many ways Black women are read as deviant by mainstream cultural productions and in news media AND in the various Black and intergrated communities that they reside in.

    Yes, I am in a doctoral program in WS, it shows, no?
    Oh and real spit, I want to be Viola Davis’s friend, or at least hear her speak. She is a woman who I see, as being on the other side of the coin of Beyonce in terms of beauty standards, being recognized for her craft and her commitment to her form.

    Yes, re re-claiming deviance being similar to reclaiming the N word. If you reclaim it you MAY be confirming what some folks have already been saying about you, which is that you are a ______.These terms have various and related histories as they pertain to Black women. I say IN MY PAPER that I am ability about claiming this publicly, esp in academic spaces; however, I do contend that it is being reclaimed just the same.

    #marinate.

  6. Thanks for replying. It’s all helpful and much clearer! Saw Queen of Acting Viola Davis with her natural hair and she looks fabulous! I love the fact that she’s getting recognition for her work and she totally deserves it. I’ve always been split on Beyonce because I want someone in her position to a little more political with her voice since people love her on a global level and her moves seem so calculate to sell stuff. Beyonce reminds me of Michael Jordan in his heydey… can’t take political stands because Republicans buys sneakers too.

  7. This is quite a late response, but I often find that I do that with your blog — I read through posts, begin to write a comment, get discouraged/distracted/intimidated, delete it and move on. I often come back to reread your posts weeks and months later, but the same thing happens.

    In fact, my sis is calling me to help her paint some furniture right now (see? distractions…), so I’ll have to make this quick:

    This post really touched me. I’m not sure if this is where you were going with this, but the way I understand the idea of Black female deviancy is sort of broad. As a young Black woman, I’ve often felt that my entire existence is deviant. That I dare to go to college, speak to White people, attempt to have relationships (romantic and otherwise) with people — that I dare to show my face, my body, in public feels deviant.

    I want to somehow use that feeling to push me forward, but it just makes me feel… disgusting. I feel like I’ve taken so many Africana Studies courses and read so much bell hooks, so many Women’s Studies blogs, etc. that I shouldn’t feel this way.

    Sometimes, I’ll see other young Black women at school or at work — Black women who claim their space in the world, who take pride in their looks, their sexuality, their intelligence — and I get angry at them. I’ll think, ‘What are you doing? Don’t let White people see you like this! You have no right. You have no right to think you are worth anything. You’re nothing, just like the rest of us.’

    The deviance of Black people (and women in particular) in this racist, patriarchal world seems obvious… inherent. I know, consciously, that it’s not inherent… I just wish my subconscious would let me believe it.

    Thanks for your blog, Renina. It’s brilliant, and it’s really helping me work through all this internalized bs.

  8. Honey, I am sorry I am just now seeing this comment. I am glad that you appreciate the blog. It will be growing in various ways over the next six months so sit tight!

    Now on to your comment.

    This post really touched me. I’m not sure if this is where you were going with this, but the way I understand the idea of Black female deviancy is sort of broad. As a young Black woman, I’ve often felt that my entire existence is deviant. That I dare to go to college, speak to White people, attempt to have relationships (romantic and otherwise) with people — that I dare to show my face, my body, in public feels deviant.

    I want to somehow use that feeling to push me forward, but it just makes me feel… disgusting. I feel like I’ve taken so many Africana Studies courses and read so much bell hooks, so many Women’s Studies blogs, etc. that I shouldn’t feel this way.
    ———–
    I think in some ways Black women’s feeling = queer. When I say queer I don’t mean in terms of sexuality. I mean that Black women feeling, or claiming the right to feel is illegible to feeling unless it is rage (in some ways the same argument could be said for Black men, but for different reasons).

    We can’t feel sadness because we are super women.
    We can’t feel pleasure because of Black respectability politics.
    We can’ feel the intersection of racism/sexism because all the Blacks are men and all the women are White….etc..

    So…you are onto something. Thank you for your honesty.

    ~R

  9. I like your blog :-) in particular the line of questioning in this post. I wonder does the system of ‘deviance’ as primary sexuality for black women (at least in the Untidy States of America)begin from the moment we entered this country -sometimes forcibly pregnant- sometimes bereft of the children or husband who were forced into this land with us? and as our sexuality continues to be on display in print, music(primarily urban rap) and film, often times without our permission (in the sense that we are not the ones writing the stories or directing, producing, or in anyway managing the films), are we in some way trying to find our way back to center, the center that individually we know is there? a center that starts with the idea first that we own our own bodies?

    I am black, lesbian, fat, smart, “I am not broken, I am open” I do not give away me for your approval, nor do I give away me for your use. “I am not broken, I am open” The deviance does not belong to me, it belongs to you. that’s what that line means to me. the deviance originates with how you see me. not how I see myself.

    your post moved me. I hope my thoughts in print make sense.

  10. Tek!

    Thank you. I am glad you liked the post.
    Having read your reinterpreation of Dee’s poem from Pariah, I am thinking she should have released those poems as a book accompanying the DVD of the film. But I know that is a judgement call for the film distribution company, not hers….anyhoo

    Historically Black women had to be deviant in order for White women to be Ladies. Our sexualities have been historically yolked.

    I am particularly concerned with how Black women see, name and claim themselves sexually, at least that what I focused on with analyzing in the second half of the paper.

    Can I push you here?

    “I am not broken, I am open” I do not give away me for your approval, nor do I give away me for your use. “I am not broken, I am open”
    ==============
    Maybe the giving away of the self isn’t what the issue is, the issue is allowing you to have the space to GIVE or get ON YOUR OWN TERMS. It’slike sexual domination. It, in and of it self, isn’t bad. If two people consent, and they want to rock, then that’s cool. It’s domination as it end in of it itself based on race, class, gender, immigration status or sexuality that is the fucking devil, you know?

    Evelyn Hammonds said that Black women’s silence about their sexuality speaks to the fact that, to some degree, we exercise agency over our voices. I like thinking about that.

    The deviance does not belong to me, it belongs to you. that’s what that line means to me. the deviance originates with how you see me. not how I see myself.
    ==========
    Yes.
    Yes.
    Yes.
    I am interested in the many and various ways Black women see themselves.
    Black women are some of THE MOST patriarchal people that I know, they are also some of the best community organizers I have ever seen.
    When I go to see Tyler Perry films I am reminded, when Black women in the audience clap at the end, that Black women come in a wide variety!

    -R