Professor Channon Miller
Black History Project
Freedom for Black Female Sexuality and Pleasure
History creates awareness and offers solutions for black community’s inclusion and justice, but there are still many details that still need to be improved; for example there is racism, which still lives in the communities and daily lives of those with black skin, which is something society is aware of. Yet, there are some aspects of discrimination that have been silenced in history, left behind and not examined. One I will be talking about in this blog is the segregation faced by black women due to their race, as well as their gender and the importance of Black women having access to sexual expression, which is discussed in the panel called “Black Portraiture(s) II- The Sweetest Taboo”.
“Black Portraiture(s) II – The Sweetest Taboo: Theorizing Black Female Pleasure”, was a panel, captured on video that talks about black women’s pleasure and the ways in which it is feared, silenced and looked away from. Maaza Mengiste starts this panel discussion by reading a poem. This way of opening the conversation I felt was the most correctly chosen to bring depth and immediately captivate and catch the attention of the audience. Talking about how women’s bodies were stripped and seen by many people is a very heavy and strong topic in which these women did not consent to and were forced to pose, and as the speaker read, one of the women “blinked away any expression in her eyes” (Mengiste) as a solider would do. These women were spoken about, criticized and who knows what went through the minds of every person who saw them. My first thought when thinking about this was one of the readings from Angela Davis called “Say It Plain, Say It Loud” on June 9, 1972, that we were left to read during class, she describes how even though having the education and determination to earn herself a very well respected job title as a professor of a university sexism was very present in her daily life, “I was criticized very heavily for doing a ‘man’s’ job,” (Davis) she wrote, which brings to mind how many men think of a woman as an object and even more on the times were Angela Davis was alive. Women have been objectified, devalued and ignored especially women of color, because a black women can be oppressed in both a sexist way and a racist one.
When thinking about African American history and everything they have gone through since the start of their enslavement it can be easy to picture it as mostly a dorm of men’s oppression. While black skin was objectified, but sexism was and has been very quiet, and even more the idea of the existence of pleasure in black women who lived through all of this enslavement as well in history. One of the speakers in the panel, Joan Morgan, said “there had to be pleasure on the slave ships, there had to be orgasms during slavery, if there weren’t, we haven’t been able to survive” (Morgan). The question is that why is this topic so feared and hidden from black history, and as the speaker said, “Every answer to this could be found to be sexist (or is it sexism?)” (Morgan).
They also discussed the power of women in the music industry like Nicky Minaj and Beyonce. Take for example, the “Monster” video by Minaj. What I found most interesting in this is that this video was viewed as misogynistic because of the images of women in compromising positions, but that is all the audience could see or hear which caused the video to be banned. However, the panelists emphasize that if you listen closely to Minaj’s words you can notice how she is bringing into awareness the role of a woman being how strong, beautiful and powerful a woman is and how being black does not limit you. She even says in the lyrics “You could be the King but watch the Queen conquer.” Pop culture has seen women only as a target for being a sexual object when the image of a woman’s body can mean much more than a sexual violence against woman.
As we read before in class about the roles of black women during their enslavement, it was said that women were as a procreators – to create more slaves. They were also forced to have sexual intercourse with their black male counterparts. Black women, as well as white women have been incorrectly viewed by many men as only serving of procreation, but for black woman the idea of sexual intercourse and pleasure has been seen as less pure than the sexual pleasure of white women. Black women chronically emerge – “the animalistic, morally lax, dirty, diseased, poor woman of Color” (Benard), states Akeia A. F. Benard in an article called “Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism”. Women of color are deserving of freedom in their sexuality, whether wanting to be homosexual, heterosexual or identify as queer, bisexual etc., like Kaila Adia representing in the panel the black, feminist, queer community and talking about how it should not be a fear to be a black women with a choice in sexuality and that there is freedom in pleasure, which I applauded her bravery and voice for many who will be identified and scared of not 1 or 2 but 3 different ways of being segregated meaning racism, sexism and homophobia.
One of my favorite parts of this panel was the words that Treva Lindsey, another speaker in the panel said, “Surviving, living and thriving” how the black female community has to live by those 3 words. Black women have to constantly survive not getting shot on the streets and after that trying to have time to create love and live for their lives to be recognized. Revealing the truth about what was silenced in the past gives the chance for the black female community’s oppression to be examined because of race and gender, and to bring light to the importance of liberty and accessibility of sexual expression. These words are so powerful in making sure to notice the strength in women to finally take in account how they are capable of respect, admiration, pleasure and recognition.
Benard, Akeia A. F. “Colonizing Black Female Bodies Within Patriarchal Capitalism: Feminist and Human Rights Perspectives.” Journals, Sage UP, Oct. 2016, journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2374623816680622.
“Black Portraiture(s) II – The Sweetest Taboo: Theorizing Black Female Pleasure”, YouTube, Uploaded by NYU Florence, 6 October 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wp8XEtdkvQ
American Public Media. “American RadioWorks – Say It Plain, Say It Loud.” APM Reports – Investigations and Documentaries from American Public Media, americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/blackspeech/adavis.html.