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Who’s Afraid of Black Sexuality? (1)

by Stacey Patton

Well, for a long time, lots of people. Including scholars. Particularly black scholars.

If sex was once difficult to discuss openly, black sex was especially fraught. It touched on too many taboos: stereotypes and caricatures of “black Hottentots” with freakish feminine proportions; of asexual mammies or lascivious Jezebels; of hypersexual black men lusting after white women. It brought up painful memories of white control over black bodies during slavery; of rape and lynching; of Emmett Till, a teenager tortured and murdered in 1955 for supposedly flirting with a white woman; of the controversial 1965 “Moynihan Report,” which called black family structures and reproductive patterns “a tangle of pathology.” Or of Anita Hill in 1991, testifying before the U.S. Senate about alleged black-on-black sexual harassment.

Old tropes have continued to permeate popular culture and public commentary, whether a national furor over Janet Jackson’s exposed breast, a recent blog post on Psychology Today’s Web site (later retracted) to the effect that black women are less physically attractive than other women, or the barrage of news stories about a “marriage crisis” among black women who cannot find suitable mates. Witness remarks about the artists Beyoncé and Nicki Minaj, the tennis star Serena Williams, or Michelle Obama that harp on their ample backsides. Remember last year, when Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Wisconsin, quipped about the first lady’s “large posterior”? And this summer, when the Killers’ drummer, Ronnie Vannucci, described how he accidentally found himself “grabbing her ass” during a hug?

Consider also how television repeatedly offers sexualized images of black men, whether parodying the half-naked (but not threatening) body of Isaiah Mustafa, the hunky Old Spice guy; hauling black men on stage, as Maury Povich does, to allow “baby mamas” to give them the results of paternity tests; or giving us the gargoylesque rapper-turned-crackhead-turned-reality-TV star Flava Flav, who searches for love among scores of uncouth women who humiliate themselves as they compete for his attention.

[from The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 3, 2012]

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