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polItICS r a ". '111 need a black liberatOry. , d d feared. A prisoner. cransgender sexualIrIesri : les sexuality and gen- he despISe an politics that undersran s t ero.
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PRISONS FOR OUR BODIES , CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

RBQDIES MINDS'

xuality DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

L What ate some of the specific problems that have resulred from seeing racism and heterosexism as two distinct sysrems of oppression? 2. According to Collins , what are some of the ways rhat racism and hererosexism have been institUtionalized) Can you identify addirional means? 3. How does heterosexism impact hererosexual African Americans? 4. How have rhe interconnected systems of racism and heterosexism produced

gendet-specific consequences?

White fear of black sexuality is a basic ingredient of white racism. Cornel \'V'esr

For African Americans , exploring how sexualiry has

been manipulated in defense of racism is not new. Scholars have long examined the ways in which

white fear of black sexuality " has been a basic ingredient of racism. For example , colonial regimes routinely manipulated ideas aboUt sexuality in order to maintain unjust power relarions. ' Tracing the history of contact berween English explorers and colonists and West African societies , historian Winthrop Jordan contends that English perceprions of sexual

practices among African people reflected preexisting English beliefs about Blackness

, teligion, and ani-

mals. 2 American historians point to the significance of sexuality to chattel slavery. In the United Srates for example , slaveowners relied upon an ideology of

Black sexual deviance to regulate and exploit enslaved Africans;' Because Black feminist analyses pay more attention to women s sexualiry, they too identify how the sexual exploitation of women has been a basic ingredient of racism. For example , studies of African American slave women routinely point to sexual victimization as a defining feature of American slavery. Despite the important contribUtions of this extensive literature on race and sexuality, because much of the literature assumes that sexuality means

heterosexual-

ity, it ignores how racism and hererosexism influence one another. In the United States ,

the assumprion that racism

and heterosexism constitute rwo separare

systems

of oppression masks how each relies upon the orher

for meaning. Because neirher system of

Patricia Hill Collins

Prisons for Our Bodies , Closets for Our

Minds " from Black Sexual Politics. Copyright (Q 2004 by Roudedge.

Reprinred wirh the permission of Roudedge Francis Group.

, a division of Taylor &

oppression makes sense withoUt the orher, racism and heterosexism might be better viewed as sharing one history with similar yer disparate effects on all Americans differentiated by race , gender , sexuality, class, and nationaliry. People who are positioned at the margins

115

~~~

PRISONS FOR OUR BODIES, CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

R AND SEXUALITY

ONS' THEORIZING SEX, GENDE , . RETHINKING FOUNDATI '

APPING RACISM AND

d who ate harmed by both typIof both systems an boUt the intersections of taCtsm cally taise questIons a and hererosexlsm

EROSEXISM: THE PRISON THE CLOSET

d/otlet morean forcefully much ear

Ie w 0 a ositions of privilege.

than those peop

the struggle in prison as a mIctO-

ded f .intersectIons 0 m of the,suugg cos ' e a s a whole. We would bisexual , and ttansgendere e tegar

racism and heterosex-

IS , mong uesrion .m the rst re interconnected. As d hererosexlsm a '

In the case 0

Black lesbIan , gay,

fou ,ht oUtside, The tacfighr InSIde as we had

ro

(LGBT) people were a

I and that fo-

how raCIsm an

' 1 would SIm-

ism and repression were t e same rms ply have to fight on d, frent te

LGBT eople point oUt African AmetIcan lack ing char all B eople are heterosexua ,

, assum-

Nelson

nificance of Ideas ab mIStea the si

racism and race ro heterosexlsm.

men can be compare

. .ular ave e hin antiracisr African xu alir in general

reated as

ment f0 Af nca.

raCIa

enca sulates the histOrical placeolirical economy. e US. AmerIcans I

metaphor of the prISO

and homosexualIty In parnc

litical rights under chattel slavery an crosscutting, dIVIsive Issues Wlr ~:usallegedly issue of crosscutensuring The absence 0 po . nand the use of police state powers American politics, The c ~nse Jim Crow segreg nit subordmate r aInst Afncan ~:ericans in urban ghetros have meant and ~a I ften with little ting issue of analyzing sex that Black peop e couId be su Juga e , ~' n ochallenged from sons are rarely run solely by force. , pr gay alike. This suppression as recourse, Moreover , b oe~ heterosexual and ~ as strip searches, verbal abuse cwo direcrions. Black women Routine practIces suc olirics of African physical and esbian have criticized the sexua P restricting basIC pnvile es and ignoring American

b th sttatg r

ICtOt

' h leave commUnItIeS t at al

Inerable vu l women to control prisoners by Inmateshis al brother sexual assau t am ong m Visiting Robbie, who was

assaulr. Black fern i-

ed Black . crshallehave c

to single motherhood and sexu prole

nist and womanIsr

le standard that

of a sexua communIty norms . ou n for behavIOrs m h' h men are

punishes wome and equally culpable, Black gay

dehumanIzIng rhe

nce in a Pennsylvania prIson, d on a nteIle se ' ohn I eman scribes this disciplinary process.

mcarcertare

aut or

lesbians have also .

b' ed to become an inmate. Su lecr The VISIcor IS rced fa

tics po that I deny their and depersonalization. critiCIze r same ese d sexua he samehumiliarion SOrtS 0 .hfh ' h' churches, familIes right ro be fully accepte Wit I Made co feel powerI::ts inrimidatedbythem,g ro r e :rganizarions. Borh ~Ity . and other Black commu u ~d like both childten and ancient n the hererosexism state, VISIcorsare groups of critics argue tha ~ Ig :or ;ers. We tic experience a crash course that

Cathy IrICS.

~ders the develop- incorrIgIble sm

~har underpins Black parnarc y

' As

Black sexual po ment of a progressIve nd " Black people Cohen and Tamara Jones conte

unforgetrable fashion juSt how reaches us in a rama . . n s estimation, We also , ner' isin the msmuno Iowa pnso

under- learn how rap' Y w eep nee a ':m ~: erates as of a system and in ' liberatory politics that includes a

standing of how heterosex

oppression, both mdepen ,;~r with other such syste

dl e can descend co the same depth. ...

We suffer the keepers prymg eY

es prying machmes,

, wirhour any

uswe wish co d ors let willthem open loc when conjunction prying han dhs. We leave.

guarantee t e tl need a black liberarory ~eit u risoners until they release us. That We ar e m fact To

, and

ay, bisexual h t raffirms polItICS a " ac was rei cransgender sexualIrIes '111 need a black liberatOry les bian

sexuality and genri : lession rooted in many

black communIrIes. e .

~nsform the visicor inco somerhmg

, dand feared. A prisoner. he despISe

politics that unders ran s t ero

der play in reinforcmg the oppres "6 D velopmg a P

ea.

rog ressive

nder con

of the anti-civil rights

Black As direCt reCIplentS servarive Republican

how racism and a vance u

and depersonalization

" that Wideman felt while visiting his brother. Just as he was made to feel powerless , intimidated by the might of the state," residents of African American inner-city neighborhoods who deal with insensitive police officers unresponsive social workers , and disinterested reachers

African American reactions to racial resegregation in the post-civil rights era ,

when it comes to raCIsm m :ut sexualiry to Like Nelson Mandelas v ~frican American women and the Unired States, life fo d to bemg m pnso .' Cerrainly the

Until recently, questions of se

impersonal bureaucracies often subjected them to the

same sorts of " humiliarion

report similar feelings.

MandeIa

hiteare distorts the experIences all LGBT people W , su h comparisons of LGBT Black people. Moreover

cities experienced the brunt of punitive governmental policies that had a similat intentY Dealing wirh

al politics tequires exammmg sexu I tions , contemporary African Americans living m hererosexIsm mutUally construCt one anot 1er.

hyper-segregared , poor

especially rhose living in

eat , the cops ignored him and didn t pull him over for an imaginary infraction , and he didn t have to kill any-

one. Is this art imirating life , or vice vetsa? Sociologist Elijah Anderson s ethnographic studies of workingclass and poor Black yourh living in Philadelphia suggests thar for far roo many young African American males Ice Cube s bad days are only roo reaL" Just as male prisoners who are perceived as being weak encounter relenrless physical and sexual violence

, weaker mem-

bers of African American communities are preyed upon by the strong. Rap artist Ice T explains how masculinity and perceived weakness operate:

inner-city neighborhoods

resemble those of people who are in prison. Prisoners

that rum on one another are much easier to manage than ones whose hostility is aimed ar their jailers, Far too often , African Americans coping with racial segregation and ghertoization simply rum on one another reflecting heightened levels of alienation and nihilism. '" Faced with no jobs , crumbling public school systems , rhe influx of drugs into rheir neighborhoods , and the easy availability of guns , many blame one another. Black yoUth are especially vulnerable. " As urban prisoners , the predilecrion for some Black men ro kill others over seemingly unimportant items such as gym shoes jewelry, and sunglasses often seems incomprehensible ro Whire Americans and ro many middle- class Black Americans. Privileged groups routinely assume that all deserving Americans live in decent housing, attend safe schools with caring reachers ,

and will be rewarded for their hard work with college opportuniries and good jobs, They believe that undeserving Blacks and Larinos who remain locked up in deteriorating inner cities get what they deserve and do not merir social programs

that will show them a fUture. This closing door of opportunity associated with hyper-segregation creares

a siruation of shrinking opportunities and neglect, This is the exact climate drat breeds a cultUre of violence

that is a growing component of " street culture " working- class and poor Black neighborhoods,

in

Given this context , why should anyone be surprised that rap lyrics often rell the stOries of

young Black men who feel char they have nothing ro lose , save their respeCt under a "code of the screec "" Ice Cube s 1993 rap " It Was a Good Day," describes a " good" day for a young Black man living in Los Angeles. On a " good" day, he didn t fire his gun , he gOt food that he wanted ro

You don t understand anyone who is weak. You look at gay people as prey, There isn gheuo teaching that Some people s

t anybody in the

sexual preferences

ate predisposed, You re just ignorant. You gOt to get

educated , you gOt to get our of rhat jail cel! cal!ed the ghettO to real!y begin to understand. Al! you see is a sissy. A soft dude. A punk.

Women , lesbian , gay, bisexual , and transgendered people , children , people living with HIV, drug addictS prostitUtes , and others deemed ro be an embarrassment to the broader African American community or a drain

upon its progress or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time become targets of silencing, persecution

and or abuse. This is whar prisons do-they intolerance.

breed

The experiences of people in prison also shed light on the myriad forms of African American resisrance ro the srrictures of racial oppression. No matter how restrictive the prison , some prisoners find ways ro resist,

Often within plain sight of their guards

, people who are imprisoned devise ingenious ways ro rejeCt prison policies. Nelson Mandela tecounts the numerous ways

that he and his fellow prisoners outwitted , undermined rricked , and , upon occasion , confronted rheir captors during rhe twenty-seven years that he spent as a polirical prisoner in South African prisons. Craving news of the political struggle oUtside , prisoners communicated

by writing in milk on blank paper, letring it dry to

invisibility and , once the note was passed on , making the words reappear with the disinfectant used ro clean their cells. They smuggled messages ro one another in plastic wrapped packages hidden in food drums. '6 In the case of solitary confinement where an inmate could

11'

.'

"'

FOUNDATIONS.

. THEORIZING SEX, GENOER , AND SEXUAlITY

118

. RETHINKING

PRISONS FOR OUR OODlES , CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

offered lor by Northern states. But just as gender three hours a day in a dark freedom

constIrU r -

be locked up for twen y

cell, just surVIVIng

red n act of resistance. As age , skIn tsel son is designed to break ones slOn I

r

and class affeCt the contours of oppres me cate ories shape strategies of eseve

African American women s slave nar ~aAs

Mandela observes, ~n

Ive To do this, the authori- resIstan~e. spirit and destroy one s res en and young people could more easIly away than women tives pOInt :ut, m ning ~ ~lr ev ~eakness demolish , mothers , and ties attempt to expl break out / r :/of individ~aliry-all with initiative, negate a SIg hat spark that makes each of older peop ;~en as now, African American women the idea of stampIng our r "17 Mandela and are often re ucrantto leave their families, and many sachf0 ' us human and eac ' persona ree dom in order to sray behind nfice th elr own

every

us w 0 we are.

d the function of actUal

and for others who depend on ifs prisons under raCIa apar , very light-skinned them, n er , as an extenSIOn 0 difficulr choice of " passncan theIr every ay behind. More recent y, ng their love ones I ' . " d Ing an pol iticizes nmates 0individuten I those 0 prIson

his fellow prisoner

~ reco

Ive

;::~: and of apartheid polic

rIson.

and ca te ~or ChII

1m ~::w segregation

Amencans face t e

. s resemble

RecognIzIng r at

eavl

the antidiscrimination an

bene CIarIeS . Americans who were as prIme also AutObIOgraphIes by frican A of theAfrican civil rights movement affirmatIve aCtIon policies nd affluent Americans have , for examolirical beliefs imprisoned beca~se of theIr ~ Shakur

eor ,

pOln

, or who became many mlddle- clas

pie , Angela DavIs and Assat .

acrions certaInly

lmpnso nment for example, moved to dIStant :o escap e the problems associated with o :he si nificance reflect a desire e Jac son Malcolm or ack nei hborhoods. If one d wor poor an " Ing-c ass I st for resistance. In rhe ~~a ~class African of actual incarceratIon as a c m as Nike ads proclaim, why not o can "buy one s ree d American 1980s, many poor and work g ban ~ce 'and " just do ir

politicized during their

;hire suburbs. Such

,f

ghettos and facing exerCIse personal ch

youth who were locke up In ~r refused

the closing door of opportUnIty

In other sItUatIon

to turn their

African Americans have recog-

;, he rison and , through unruly, chose to rap nized the confines 0 r ~hrou h organized political d them and in spontaneous UprISIngs or rh ~t jailers. A series of protests, have tUrne~ U culture r

Y rage upon one another. Insread , man about the violence and into lerance

n In uentIaa rhe process,dcreate

har

C f d' n the SoUth ur ~ ;~:~:o

:::~:~ ~a :~s by virtUally everyone

Afro- Caribbean

, :~~;~~~~~~i Afncan

~he

break dancing, tag- working- class Afnca

Jew

h as New York , Detroit (1992) and CincInnatI :~~~n ~~a

~~:::i

;:h

rap about hIS goo

d da represents

money, and dwindling

the rip prospects.

ubrage at a soCIety

berg It

CItizens.

I u ck African American brurality agaInst un oth er . d Black prorests Iso eflect rhis process More organIze t had tha ~ out off Black youth used rap h . :e r el lic forums to sha of tUrnIng upon r lailers 0 raCIS and refusing to so thoroughly wrItten t em :st laws un) and custOms. HistOrically, f 0 ortUnity cooperate WIth and hip- hop to protest the cl f ican Americans impov~at ~;;r ~:::n~ty ~;: the face social formations t

of an immense hIp- op ICe

in their lives and to claIm t e

erished and vIrtua y p

chatrel slavery, labo(

. nand ghetof the dehumanization of raCIal segregatIo ou thern agriculrure , and exploitation of the JIm Crow ::~~e tOization. :'~ho ;:~w h of ur an g er s-all S arke4 :la and his colleagues and the cont as those ex lite :merican political prorest ;~i f resistance such as hip- organIze without developIng new forms 0 A16~)i

uch f noncooperatIon '

vived

hoP

:~:r ~f ;:i~~~; TYPi ~ll

t the,formation of the N abolitIOnIst movemen (1910) the size of Marc l15i'

;~:~~s~:~:~~~7:~~;:0 ~~~~~nired ~egrO ~~:~;;~I Iy ' :~: ~~::n " comef oUt ::fc incarcerated people cannot v unta rI tern h anyorganIZatIO d cc. AssociatIon (192 . s , Underour. chatfi nd way to brea tfv prison but must . rhe CtvII rIghts an Black Power movemen tel sl aver

h' r of

~~~~:d tam y re~~~

Ipare m d h increased VISI I Ity 0 c

d R ilroad cer-a the Undergroun

~spirations of enslaved Africans to

break out of the prISon 0 savery an d to flee to the quasI

f Black youth tro"

; cultUre reflect resisrance to racism.

describe the oppression of lesbian

, gay, bisexual , and transgendered people, Historically, because religion

and science alike defined homosexuality as deviant LGBT people were forced to conceal their sexualiry, 2I' For homosexuals , the closet provided some protec-

rion from homophobia thar stigmatized LGBT sexual expression as deviant. Being in the closet meant rhar most hid their sexual orientation in the most important areas of rheir lives, With family, friends

many LGBT people passed as "straight

, or ar work

" in ordet to

avoid suspicion and exposure. Passing as straight fos-

tered the perception that few gays and lesbians existed.

The invisibility of gays and lesbians helped normalize heterosexuality, fueled homophobia , and Supported

hererosexism as a system of power.

Because closets are highly individualized

, situated

within families , and distributed across the segregated spaces of racial,

erhnic , and class neighborhoods

closeted LGBT people to live openly and to unsettle the normalizarion of heterosexuality. Transgression

also came to characterize one strand of gay group poli,. tics , moving from the gay and lesbian identiry politic,

of the first phase of "gay liberation " to more tecem queer politics, " Gay pride marches rhat embrace drag queens , cross- dressers , gay men who are flamboyantly dressed , individuals with indererminate gender identities , and mannish lesbians push rhe envelope beyond

accepting the LGBT people who are indistinguishable from everyone else , save for this one area of sexual orientation. Through public , visible , and ofren oUtrageous acts queering " normal sexuality became anorher hallmark of LGBT politics, The phrase re queer , we here , ger used to it " embraces a clear stance of defiance. Ar rhe same rime , another strand of gay politics strives to be seen as "good gay citizens " who should be entitled ro the same tighrs as everyone else, Practices

such as legirimating gay martiages and supporting

adoptions by gay and lesbian couples consritUte another

, and

expression of rransgression. By aiming for the legiti-

than social identities of gender , race , and class , LGBT people often believe thar rhey are alone. Being in the private , hidden , and domestic space of the closer leaves many LGBT adolescents to suffer in silence. During the era of racial segregation , heterosexism operated as smoothly as it did because hidden or closeted sexuali-

and lesbian couples simultaneously uphold family, gay yet profoundly challenge its meaning. Racism and heterosexism , the prison and the closet

because sexual identity is rypically negotiared later

ties remained relegated to the margins of

riblechoUSIng, no )0little s, . cu 18 tura t: h' sand otherreations. II the sameusua y police The catalyst IS

yoUth created rap,

ging (graffitI), as IOn .

Ice Cube s

s In CIne

an UprISl

~~:i r

Racism may be likened to a prison , yet sexual oppression has more often been portrayed using the metaphor of the " closet. "'" This metaphor is roUtinely invoked to

society within

racial/ethnic groups. Staying in the closer

stripped

LBGT people of rights. The absence of political rights has meant that sexual minorities could be fired from their jobs , moved from their housing, have their chil-

dren raken away in custody battles , dismissed from the milirary, and be targets of random street violence often with little recourse, Rendering LGBT sexualities

virtually invisible enabled rhe system

of

heterosex-

ism to draw strength from rhe seeming naturalness of heterosexuality. Since the 1980s , gay, lesbian , bisexual , and transgendered people have challenged heterosexism by coming our of rhe closet. If the invisibility of sexual oppression enabled it to operare unopposed , then making herero-

sexism visible by being "out " attacked hererosexism at irs core. Transgressing sexual borders became the hallmark ofLGBT politics. The individual decision to come out to one s family or friends enabled formerly

macy granted heterosexual couples and families

appear to be separate systems , Americans point out rhat

both

bUt LGBT African systems affect their

everyday lives. If racism and heterosexism affect Black LGBT people , then these systems affect all people including heterosexual African Americans. Racism and heterosexism certainly converge on certain key points. For one , borh use similar srate-sanctioned insritutional mechanisms to maintain racial and sexual hierarchies. For example , in the United States , racism and heterosexism

both tely on segregating people as a mecha-

nism of social COntrol. For racism

, segregation operares

by using race as a visible marker of group membership that enables the State to relegate Black people to inferior schools , housing, and jobs. Racial segregation relies on enforced membership in a visible community in which racial discrimination is tOlerared, For hetero-

sexism , segregation is enforced by pressuring LGBT individuals to temain closeted and thus segregated

from one another. Before social movements for gay and lesbian liberation , sexual segregarion meant rhat refusing to claim homosexual identities vitrually eliminated any group- based political aCtion to resist heterosexism.

,'

,-

,, ..

l\ETHINKIN(' I.

.'

) "

, '' .

, '

" "

GEN " OU"DA or

For anotber, th ~ St ~ h

h ed a very important ro e

~to?oppression.

PRISO"S FOR OUR BODIES , CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

DEli AND SEXUALITY

' TIONS: THEOlllZING SEX,

In support of

(and ,

categones of Whites ace through sitional rwo oppo

f men nder through tWO caregorIes 0 and Blacks, :~d

.peo k 's

support ofbererosexlsm

; maintained laws that

, the

tOgether these and

ld en an oat ge

also s are alacocompletely , White masculine I" norma, one must d to disCIplIne t le popu . White mascuI rhe core hegemo.nlC of ptactices that are c eslgne

I'

Racism and hererosexlsm "

uo These disciplinaty and hererosexua

practices can best be seen In rh arrenno.n pal d b th by the

d o.r

arria "

gion ro the Inst;rut

in taCt a natura an ' Peo

anized reli-

, female e, If marriage were be BI, kac

;Is fem

between het-

~ ~u

, an esn

It I

I ,

a fact that Black lesbian

, :~s :;posftional logic

f the opposite

da

sex and the same race. nst

laws

becomes an Important sexua have and that assignedb toween sys tems Racism and t e cwo

the tax system

' rh taX breaks t lar lave

peop e ried. SimIlarmerous y,eto en d laws passe banstares their assIgne race, nu nin

mean lUg. 0 r heterosexIsm, r ' d \Y/hiteheterosexl/a no"na lze h'ISvety d same

eCISIO

Tl ese restrictions lasted ated

k S e Court

interracial marrIage. 1

until the land mar l

n 1967

y t

that now depen s on a deviant

In ity relies upon the

26

sexual

Ity

White homosexl/abty.Just

requIteS t e

as racial no.rma 1

;rrem The srare has also passed peo.p e arr rom laws designed toLGBT eep d I Federal Defense of 1996 , the US. Congress passe r le

that overtUrned state awS,

srl marizarion of the

7 Black people, hererosexual normalpractIces 0

I'

of the sexualI pracstIgmatIza

I both cases ,

installing WhIte

n l union rices ofaho.mosexuals, norma narura, and ideal requires Marriage Act d tharfi e ned marrIage as " In all of these cases, hererosexua Ity as x , unnaru-

lega

between one man and one woman. r has a compe Ing I

h tbe srare , perceives t ar I

. nterest in stigmatizing

altemare se

:,alities as abnormal

' f IU . , an SlU rat

d to marry the disciplining the population to marry an The purpose of stIgm

correct partners. '

manufacture ideolo-

pie and BI. -ac peo

. . g the sexual practices 0

eople may be similar,

';;~T

f I rhose 0. '

xual deviance assigned ro eac bur the content 0 t le se or: When ideologies that the stigma of promisCllity gies that defend the statUS quo.

Racism and hererosexIsm a so

become taken- for- differs, Black peo.ple c :~~ererosexual desire. This is the ;alU

defend racism and he~erosexI

:: and inevirable

become hegemonic. Few

d qu aClsm hierarchies they defen, nltlve ramewo both share a common co binary thinking ro produce

, they exceSSIve or unrest

~as borh been assigned to Black the social sexual devIancy t lat ;StIon them andand hererosexism

granted and appear ro e natU

people and been use h:o s

that uses LGBT

onstrucr racism. In contrast,

people carty~igma t

of

ejecting

hererosexu-

ed homosexual desire, lU unteSrral

d I gies. Such aliry y engagldevIancy assoCI' red wirh promiscuItY

hegemonIC I eo 0. lr

thinking relies on oppositional categorIes.

views

that confront Black people .'9

Both sets of ideas frame a hegemonic discourse of sexuality

Black

rhat has at its core ideas about an assumed

promiscuiry among hererosexual African American men and women and rhe impossibility of homosexuality among Black gays and lesbians,

Whereas tbe

perceptions of Blackness became reworked to frame

notions of racial difference that ,

over time , became

fOlded into a broader primitivist discourse on race. Long before the English explored Africa , the terms black" and " white " had emotional meaning within England, Before co.lonizarion , whire and black con-

nored opposites of purity and filthiness , virginity and sin , virtue and baseness, beauty and ugliness , and God and rhe deviL" Bringing this preexisting framework

with tbem , English explorers were especially taken by Africans ' color. Despite aCtual variations o.f skin color among African people , rhe English described rhem as being black, an exaggerated term which in itself suggests that the Negro s complexion had powerful impact upon their perCeptio.ns. "" From first contaCt , biology matrered-racial difference was embodied, European

explorers and the rraders ,

colonists , and setders who

followed were also struck by the

AFRICAN AMERICANS AND THE RACIALIZATION OF PROMISCUITY

Ity

:e 'ulare marriage, For point of contaCt et e uire a concept of sexual deviancy been passed , all desIgned 0 has rewarded beteroseXIsm both t q t the lorm t la eviance takes within example, for many years been denied fot meaning, ye oint of deviance the marrIed coup es WI each sysre m differs. For raCIsm that r unmarne coup s The message White heterosexl/abty no,-ma lZe ro single taxpayers 0 d by a ro give It get mar- IS cteate heterosexl/ality is clear- It makes go od financial sense to witbin deviant Black depends on a marr coura oint of deviance IS cre-

.I

ment ro the challenges

the core binary of

r occurred natUrally wirhlU normal/deviant ,becomes ground zero for juStIfYIng racneed to regulate it, there wou e deviancy assigned to race categorIes, d heterosexIsm.

le would natUrally choose partners 0

help creare the " sexually repressive culture " in America described by Cberyl Clarke. '" Despite their significance for American society o.verall , here 1 confine my argu-

L de ointed out some time ago.

esetles no Ism0 an

:1 occ ~rrence

f ' erosexual couples and I I

racial

. I norm is hard to see because It amount of liniry, ThIs mythlca Irs antithesis, its Other , would so taken- for- granted

stare a

tion intO acceptIng the statUS q e enotmous

abse",' of it,

While analytically distinct , in praCtice, these two sites of construcred deviancy work tOgether and both

essness ' ner all sent a masquerades as race normal"hegemonic sexuality nd T h' c I s theo.perates norm, a ind a"similar ~ces :hich sttipped of jobs ~e ~ho came oUt of the closet rnale experIe messa hererosexua Ity, rher. In essence , to be , htI Ybun e tOge did so at rheit own tIS . on set fashion) are tIg

e thar L

exm:r

space) seemingly resides in the

~:r lesser binaries, In this contexr

LGBT people hate agalUSr ' . bout " normal race WI teness which ironically, refused tosh punt ' CrImes LGBT people were I eas a I normal" gender (us lUg o.ffer protectIon W that failed to

with Black people as a race) is

of heterosexual desire , rhe parhology of homosexuality (the invisible , closeted sexuality that becomes impossible within heterosexual rhought ro lie in an

sexuality rhrough twO oppositional ws that regulated where and wo.men, exuals and homosexuals, A masracism, the state sancno.ned la caregones of hetero , Wo ' and atrend school. In Black people co.uld live ter binary of norm ~ d deviant overlays and bundles

in sancnonlUg ot

by implication ,

Ideas about Black promiscuity that produce contemporary sexualized speCtacles such as Jennifer Lopez

Destiny s Child , Ja Rule, and the many young Black

men on the US. ralk show circuit have a long histOry, HistOrically, Western science , medicine , law , and popular culture reduced an African- derived aesthetic concerning the use of the body, sensuality, expressiveness

and spitituality to an ideology abour Black sexl/ality. The distinguishing feature o.f this ideo.logy was its reliance on the idea of Black promiscuity. The possibilicy of distinctive and worthwhile African- influenced worldviews on anything, including sexualiry, as well as the heterogeneiry of African societies expressing such views , was collapsed into an imagined , pathologized

Wesrern discourse of whar was thought to be essentially Aftican. 'o To varying degrees, observers from England France , Germany, Belgium , and other colonial powers perceived African sensuality, eroticism , spirituality, and/or sexuality as deviant , our of control , sinful , and as an essential featUre of racial difference. Western religion , science , and media took over 350

differences between their own culrures and those of continental Africans. Erroneously intetpteting African culrures as being inferior to rheir o.wn,

European colonial powers rede-

fined Africa as a " primitive " space , filled with Black peo.ple and devoid of the accoUtrements of mOte civi-

lized cultures. In this way, rhe broad erhnic diversity among rhe people of continental Africa became reduced

ro more generic terms such as " primitive savage and " native. " Wirhin these categories , one could be an Ashanti or a Yoruba , but each was a savage , primitive

native all the same, The resulting primitivist discourse redefined African societies as inferior.

Western natural and social sciences were deeply involved in constructing this primitivisr discourse

that reached full fruition in the nineteenth and eady twentieth centuries

Through laboratory

ments and field reseatch ,

experi-

Western science attempted

to undersrand these perceived racial differences while creating, through its own praCtices ,

those very same

differences. For example , Sarah Barrmann s dissection illustrates this fascination with biological diffetence

as rhe site of racial difference ,

with sexual difference

of women further identified as an important tOpic o.f srudy .'6 Moreover , this perception of Africa worked

years to manufactUre an ideology of Black sexual-

with an important idea within nineteenth-century

The racism of slavery and colonialism needed ideologi-

science , namely, the need ro classify and rank objeCts places , living things , and people, Everything bad its

icy thar assigned (hererosexual) promiscuity ro Black people and then used it to justify racial discriminatio.n.

cal justification. Toward this end , preexisting British

place and all places were ranked.." With its primitiveness and alleged jungles , Africa and its peoples marked

'"

..

.,

. '

~ k' " Black

PRISONS FOR OUR BODIE s, CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY

. RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX

the bonom, the worst place ro be

, and a place ripe for

commodities that were owned as private property. As

, Africa was

colonial conquest. Yet at the same time

the hisrory of animal breeding

caregory

dangerous, different, and alluring, This new of primitive siruared Africans just below Whites and right above apes and monkeys, who marked rhis boundary distinguishing human from animals. Thus, wirhin Western science , African people and apes occupied a fluid border zone between humans and animals.

Wirh all living crearures

classified in this way,

suggests, the sexual

, chickens, pigs, dogs , and promiscuiry of horses, cattle other domesticared animals could be profitable for their owners. By being classified as proximate ro wild animals and , by analogy, eventually being conceptUalized as being animals (chattel), the alleged deviancy of people of African descent lay in their sexual promiscu" that also was believed to characterize ity., a " wildness

inimal sexuality. Those most proximate ro animals,

Western scientists perceived African people as being , primarily because more natUral and less civilized Aftican people were deemed ro be closer ro animals and natUre, especially the apes and monkeys whose appearance most closely resembled humans. Like African peo-

those most lacking civilization, also were those humans animals. wh~ ' came closest ro having the sexual lives of , people of Lacking the benefits of Wesrern civilizarion African descenr were perceived as having a biological

Europeans, The primitivist discourse thus created the

science because understanding rhe animal kingdom , cul-

its animal counterparts as well as the human "

category of " beasr " and rhe sexuality of such beasts classification of enslaved African as "wild. " The legal slavery people as chattel (animal-like) under Americanjezebels, that produced controlling images of bucks,

from one another. Donna Haraway

and breeder women drew meaning from this broader

mighr reveal important insighrs abour civilization race " from tUre, and what distinguished the human " races

s stUdy of prima-

' fascination with

rology illustrates Western scientists the stUdy identifying how apes differed from humans: ", the close of apes was more about humans, Moreover proximity ro apes and mopkeys that Africans occu-

pied within European derived taxonomies of life such as the Grear Chain of Being worked ro link Africans and animals through a series of overlapping construcrs.

, a place of wild

Apes and Africans both lived in Africa animals and wild people. In both cases, their source of wildness emerged from their lack of cultUre and their "'" This famacting oUt of instinct or bodily impulses. ily tesemblance between African people and animals was not benign-viewing Africans and animals alike

as embodied creatures ruled by "

insrinct or bodily

impulses " worked ro humanize apes and dehumanize Black people. In this context , stUdying the sexual

practices of

interpretive framework.

Hisrorically, rhis ideology of Black sexuality rhat pivoted on a Black heterosexual promiscuity not only gender-specific ways. In upheld racism but it did so in S. society, beliefs in Black male prothe context of U. miscuity rook diverse forms during distinctive hisrori, defenders of chanel slavery cal periods. For example believed that slavery safely domesticated allegedly dangerous Black men because it regulated rheir promiscuity by placing it in the service of slave owners. Srrategies of control were harsh and enslaved African men who were born in Africa or who had access ro their African past were deemed ro be rhe most dangerous. In contrast , the controlling image of the rapist appeared after ' feared that the emancipation because Southern Whites ity of Black freedmen constitUted unfettered promiscu a threat ro the Southern way of life. In this sitUation,

African people and animals rook on special meaning.

beliefs about White womanhood helped shape the

Linking African people and animals was crucial ro Western views of Black promiscuity. Geniral sexual

mythology of rhe Black rapist. Making White women responsible for keeping the purity of the White race

fucking, intercourse or, more colloquially, the acr of " characterized animal sexuality. Animals ate promis, cultUre, and civilicuous because they lack intellect zation. Animals do nor have erotic lives; they merely

fuck" and reproduce. Certainly animals could be slaughtered ,

sold, and domesricated as pets because

within capitalist political economies

, animals were

av-

:S

. Afncan American men live

lIes as sexual property, The m th rha It was Impos- with the ideological I sIble to rape Black women bec : r ~ey were already hererosexualiry throu tacy that constructs Black male ~mages of wIld beasrs , crimipromiscuous helped mask rhe se ~: ~plottatIon of nals , and rapisrs. A c ~lli g case was provIded in 1989 enslaved Black women by their own . SIng enslaved by the m

~u t

White men "cast themselves as protecrors of civilizafamil" rion , reaffirming not only their role as social andwell:'4O ial ' heads,' but their paternal property rights as

African American women encountered a parallel female promiscuitY. set of beliefs concerning Black White Americans may have been repulsed by a Black

b" lesSIms F anon

e la coverage nof a espeCIally

constltured rhar came to e nown anorher form of control A In IVI uals who are traIned panic. In th' IS case Black women for med'

lea expenmentat'Ion

as

th "

brutal crime

entral Park Jo

, a WhIte :oman Investment banker , dissecteast anda crItICal e IOlogl- jogging in Central Park w :: on . s raped , severely beaten cal and . social phenomena , scientists b ame voyeurs and left for de . t ' t e po Ice believed rhat of Black W to warch

mens 0

extraordrnatre

narure thar was inherently more sexual than that of

ple, animals also served as objects of stUdy for Wesrern

. 1'

as unclvllIzed" uc Ing, natives) belong in atu re preserves (for rheir Own prout the actions of Whiteonsmen d rhat they recrion) unassi trared ate , undo . mestIcated poor and simultaneously were fascinat WIt t e . women working- class Afr'I an mencans ebong I In racially w 0 t ley thought engaged in it ' n er menca segregated neighborhood ery,II a hIre men wirhin a slave-ow amIlY f: . n s could This belief in Black s ~omi ' also continues to scUlry treat enslaved African women wirhi ~ir ' own famltake gender-specific for sexuality rhat they redefin

she hadgang-raped beenby :s many as twelve Black ' now tememr e tIme h

or example

etween 1845 and 184 and Larino adolescents Th orror of the crime itself ered variously as the Father of A . ~n Gynecology, is not in question fo .

h'~s e ar ~ack ~as . truly ~ppalling.

the Father of Modern Gynecolo men of the Vagina , conducted sur slave women in his backyard ho

the Architecr Bur as African A cu tUfa crItIC Housron A. :~tn~xpenments on Baker points out ~was wh also noteworthy aboUt the

Alabama. Aiming to cure sPI

~al In Montgomery, case was the way i a ~ It crystallized issues of race

ua lty In the

fistul as resulting gender, class and n mass medIa. The ' lms vere a assault occurred dur when young Black men way to peer Inro Black women : vagInas. Placing Lucy, and hiphop culture Ing a tIme were becomIng increasingly visa slave woman into knee-ches pOS1tIon for examina- ible in urban ubl.IC space. Lacking spacIOUS basement tion , Sims inserted a ewter poon s Into her va recreation rooms an we -rended soc cerfi e s , African

ISCO d

from hard or extended chil

Th

recounts, Inrroducin

the be

saw everything, as no man ha Ii

Th

Ina an

an e 0 rhe

poon

ever seen befo reo e

American and Latin

streets and in

0 your set U

ub!' IC par s

th .

' elr eqUIpment on

, creattn g publ' IC hIp- hop

StU a was as plain as rhe nosea man s face on ,"' bre kd rheaters. Graffiti and enormous boom e events rhemselves may b , b. ur their effects boxes blastin rh e over ~ angry a lyncs ancIng, of gangsta rap effecrivel

persisr under rhe new racism' This belIef In an inher- " blackened" g ur an spaces ~ aBerk ~scnbes how public ent Black promiscui reappears toda or example space became a site of con roversy. Urban public space depicting poor and working- class Afncan Amencan of the late rwenti erh -century (be . came. .. spaces of Inner-city neighborhoods as dan gerous ur an Jung es audiovisual Contest It ~~~ethIng like this: ' My billwere SUV- driving White subu b r i ~~~t~s come to score boards and neon a ~d :a Ills and hlgh- decibel- level drugs or locate prosritures also . a hIstory of television advertis reIY fo ~ the public good. racIal and sexual conquest: ~;x H :alIty es IS linked Your boom boxes :~~ a are evIl pollUtants. Erase wirh danger, and understa ~din . oth draw upon rhem , shUt them do wn.~'.2 I hlstOncal imagery of Africa a a ContInent repler The atrack in Central P ar occurred in this politianger and peril to the White exand I hunters cal , social and C p orers ultural COntext.Th"e par panic " rhat who penetrated it. usr as Contem poraty safar I tours In followed th upon t IS fear of young rIca creare an ima ned rnca as t e " . Iremans Black men in , as evidenced by their playground" and mask its economi , , their ~ap m space

. h Wh" e WIt

I ent rew ublic

, Jungle loudness and their disrespect for language masks social relation C t;toItatIOn ~segregation order (graffiti). In doin US1C~ It referenced the primitivthar leave working- class Black Sc~~munItI 0 ype ~s Isolared ist ideology of Blacks g :~;lIStI " ~edia phrases Impoverished , and dependent o ~ ;elf such as " roving bands " and , at were used

;tate and an illegal internarional drug ~~~:tI . .

n er

~re t t IS to describe young urban Black anIJac LatIno males dur-

e proxImate AfrICan

OgIC , Just as wild animals (and th

this

peno were on! y comprehensible

became

~~~~"

' ~~:;::~ , ::~::

;:"

.-

;:~~~ ~., ;", ..,.;';". . ::~~~ ~:; :'::.:

::;;; ~~:: :::::'

PRISONS FOR OUR BODIES , - rL OSErS FOR OUR MINDS

, GENDER, AND sExuALITY

24 .

In her important book

Killing the Black Body: Race legal scholar

of long- standing assumptions of Black promiscu-

Reproduction ,

icy. Drawing upon the histOrical

Dororhy Roberrs claims that the " of reproductive freedom has uniquely marked Black women s histOry in America:~7 Believing the unquestioned assumption of Black female promiscuity influclass Black women are

promiscuity, the phrase "

,,'intO the new verb

discourse on Black

to go buck wild" morphed

of "wilding " that appeared virtU-

ally overnight. Baker is

society does not view th ..h ~:te e mot ers In a naturalized , normal In the first place:"" Black people effeCtively ~~~ir ese women as suitabl

RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEoRIZING SEX

especially insighrful in his

wilding " sounded very much analysis of how the term " Loc s hit song " Wild Thing," a song like rapper ToneWilding

and the Meaning of Liberty, sysrematic, denial

~se xualtty am ~ng

omosexualIry

Ith' ~n a I OglC rhar construCted race itself fr ~""I;ry

iVi::'~~~~l

~~~~ AND THE SEXUALITY

Contemporary African A some teal contradictions her

'h

;~o

CO"";,""".

~~ polItIcs ~onfrom

::mb 0Is f0 srruCts Black people as rhe n ~tUral :course t at conssence of hyper-

ences how poor and working-

Depicting people of African descent as

treated. The inordinate attention paid ro the sexual

embodied ,

natUral sexuality rhat " fucked

lIke anI- hererosexuality and White

the homosexualit

pI

eop e as rhe source of

In ers evelopIn

whose content described sexual intercourse. " " belong to the same nexus of meanand " Wild Thing

lives of adolescent Black women reflects this ongoing concern with an assumed Black female promiscuiry. , poverty,

mals and produced babies installed Bl ac people as

ing, one that quickly circulated through mass media,

Rather than looking at lack of sex education

and became a plausible (at least as far as the media

high rares sexual assault , and orher faCtors that catalyze , researchers

was concerned), explanation for the brutality of the

of pregnancy among young Black women

crime. " Resurrecting images of Black wilding" became inextricably tOry and wild , rape and "

and policy makers often blame the women themselves incapable of making

of straighr and gay Black people :t~e s rIcan merIcan h o Internalize racist ideologies that link sexua Ity assume was ro be impossible among Black Black h:~:rs w :;osexualtrY with racial authenticiry people :~:~~::~ame-sex b sexual praCtices did not result can pro ematlC so unons to adolescent pregin repro nancy, rape , sexual violence theand troublIng , growth

linked with Black masculinity.

their own decisions. Pregnancy, especially among poor been seen and working- class young Black women, hascapacity ro

men as preda-

deeply The outcome of rhis case shows how

scenarios that

entrenched ideologies can produce years

afrer five

obscure the facts. Ironically, twelve , doubts young Black males were convicted of the crime arose concerning their guilt. A convicted murderer and , confessed ro the rape, and serial rapist came forward

stOry was cor-

claimed he had acted alone. After his evidence roborated by DNA testing, the

againsr the

and assume that the women are

and offered Norplant, Depo-

s fertility

Reminiscent of concerns wirh Black women under slavery and in the rural SoUth, contemporary preoccupied wirh

social welfare policies also remain women Black women s fertility, In prior eras, Black were encouraged ro have many children. Under 'slavery, wealth

having many children enhanced slave owners " was less likely ro be sold: and a good " breeder woman , having many In rural agricultUre after emancipation children ensured a sufficient supply of workers. But in the global economy of today, large families are expensive because children musc be educated. Now Black women are seen as producing roo many children who contribure less ro society than they take. Because Black women on welfare have long been seen as undeserving, s promiscu-

long- standing ideas abour Black women ity become recycled and redefined as a problem for the state.

fh hd

a baby. If she has an abortion she can avoid prosecu-

tion, bUt if she chooses to give birth, she risks going ro prison. Similarly, when a judge imposes birth control as a condition of probarion, for example, by giving a defendanr the choice between Norplant or jail, incarceration becomes the penalty for her choice to remain fertile, These practices theoretically affect all women,

primarily to poor and'

but , in actUality, rhey apply working- class Black women. As Roberts points out,

prosecutOrs and judges see poor Black women as suit" able subjects for these reproductive penalties becaUSe

task of Black sexual polirics Thi

Europeans , black Africans-of all the n

~ent y acc ~pts racIst views of Blackness and ad ~ocates an antIraClst politics rhar advocares co t e het-

Since prImItJve man is supposed to be close ..ro narure ruled by insrinCt , and cultUrall

erosexisr norms associated with

P "ncate he

posItIon Inadver-

in

b I' ..

o py g

Ite norma Ity 5 ' uc

e lets also foster perceptions of LGBT Black.

, his sexual energies and ~ur-as beIng less aUthenticall

heterosexual

b' I .

Blac

people

aut entlC Bla k

lets demoted exclusively ro their " nat lIr purpose' peop e (according to the le sClentIhc racIsm) are . 10 oglCal reproduction, If black A mans were the , rhen LGBT Black ~en ~:~P :~:~;;s most prImitive people in all humanit tically Black because they engag Ite indeed , human , which some debated '::"t sexual practIces. This entire syste m 0 sexual regularion is rurned on its head w en eterosexual Af '

choose sreril-

woman is prosecuted for exposing her baby to drugs in the womb , her crime hinges on her decision to have

amental

sexual praCtices of Bla

a to be

of birth control that encourage them ro ization. Pregnanr Black women with drug addictions receive criminal sentences instead of drug treatment controversial ways

faces women in these sitUations. When a pregnant

c peop e as the' un f

, rIca, the myth that homosexuality is

incIdental is the oldeSt

ate world-most epitomized " primitive man

women. Black women are denied reproductive choice Provera , and similar forms

and prenatal care. Criricizing cwo in which the criminal justice sysrem penalizes pregimpossible choice that nancy, Roberts identifies the

mong AfrIcan Americans. Such bel'Ief's

generate strategies designed to te ulate ti rhe ghtly

Y hs Europeans have creared about

, Roberts surveys a

young Black men. In 2003, all of the reenagers origi, unforrunally convicted of rhe crime were exonerated nately, after some had served lengrhy jail terms. African American women also live with ideas about Black women s promiscuity and lack of sexual restraint.

0-

mp-

~c as

of HIV/AIDS a Among the m t Af . absent or an mostg.endurIn F or arIve peoples

have been repeatedly denied reproductive autOnomy

long list of current violations against African American

, r e concWIt Black analysis of Black sexualiry rhar g ak comprehensive needs

of hererosexualiry. Within thi

tions

control their sexual lives. As a visible sign of a lack of discipline and/or immorality, becoming pregnant and class women needing help exposes poor and workingto punitive state policies.'9 Arguing that Black women

and control over their own bodies

. oreover

fertility linked perceprions of promisc~lt ern

as evidence that Black women lack the

original " wolf pack" seemed far less convincing than in wilding " as the natUral state of the cIimare created by "

essence of nature

f eterosexual

ro be the most heterosexuaL"

H;W

'h,

" th

ani- I dh ere

ac people :;";';.~T;OO' of to BI breed like

mals

en Black sexual praCtices that did nor

to these assumptions challenged k peoP le could nor b

~::~:r

were omosexu aI were nor aurhemically

it

suc natural protection and rhus had t woe ar proVIng t eIr

heterosexualiry. By a c

peop e

~~~~;; :~~~::d

~~:ed upon heterosexualiry e me system The IstOrIca h' Inv1SIbdIty of LGBT

~~:::x ::~~: t

homo ~exu a~CIt y p ecause rhey were protecred b ~I' ho':=""Ii'" 10 oom~' , Wh'~ :~h

n asImdarfashIOn , visible , vocal LGBT.Blac

who come out and claim an~~c

A ~cans . reflects this double containment,

Af~~c '

Black" ~oPle BI were k allegedly nor threatened by bo

at ~:;~;~:h

prom;,";" '" ""roc"" '" ,

~k poom.,";" ,,

Ith. In r e prIson of

poopl. iop'"

d,. CO

racism that se re at

,ho', .lkgcd ""

:1 :,,

promIsCuity and within the closet of h erosexIsm ue

er totea h I ege sexual deviancy of homo ~'::"':' h.rero.,;,m

~ ~mmp';om .""", :;' ~::d'

mmunItles as oUtsIde them. For exam-

hetetosexual, the BlackChurch , one of the mainsrays of African ~ helped ~efine Whiteness as well. In rhis context ~emencan mosexua Ity could be defined as an internal thr ~t deeply religious ethos within African Amer to the Integrity of the (Whire) nuclear famil In a promIscuouS

reSISrance to racial oppression

fostere

:can

Bel leiS culrure.

c d Ie an

'" The Blaurch k Ch remaInS the linchpin of

......

..

,"

''

'"

" '

,'

PJUSONS FOR OUR BOOIES , CLOSETS FOR OUO MINDS

RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY HistOrically, this combination

African American communal life, and its effecrs can be , neighborseen in Black music , fraternal organizations " As religious scholar hood associations, and politics, for African Americans, a C. Eric Lincoln points out

people whose tOtal experience has been a sustained con-

multiform stress , religion is never fat from the of consciousness , for whether it is embraced threshold , it is the focal elewith fervor or rejecred with disdain "56

dition

of

ment

of the black experience.

to challenge arguments abour sexual deviancy, Insread

the Black Church has incorporated dominant ideas of promiscuiry and homosexuality

within its beliefs and practices, " Some accuse the Black Church

of

relying on a double standard according to

which teenaged girls are condemned for out-

of-wedlock

pregnancies but in which the men who farhered

rhe

children escape censure. The girls are often required to of the confess their sins and ask for forgiveness in fronr

entire congregation whereas the usually older men who impregnate rhem are excused. " Others argue that rhe postUre about

Black Church advances a hypocrirical

homosexuality that undercuts irs anriracist postUre: Just as white people have misused biblical textS to argue that God supported slavety, and that being

Black was a curse , the Bible has been misused by

of homoAfrican Ameticans to justify rhe oppression

sexuals, It is ironic that while they easily dismiss the , they Bible s problematic refetences to Black people be accept without question what they perceive ro

its

condemnation ofhomosexuals.

resistant to change is char it has long worried about protecting the community s image within rhe broader of Black sexual devihints society and has resisted any

ance, straight and gay alike. Recognizing the toll thar the many histOrical assaults against African American families have taken , many churches argue for traditional

patriarchal households , and they censure women who

seemingly reject marriage and the male authority that creares them. For women , the babies who are born out wecH.ock are irrefUtable evidence for women

s sexual

transgression. Because women carry the visible stigma

men , they become pregnant and cannot hide their sexual histories-churches

sexual transgression-unlike

Black

promiscuity and immorality fueled racism. In a similar fashion, the Black Church' s resisrance to societal srigof all African Americans as being sexually matization deviant limits its ability to take effective leadership

within African American communiries concerning all of

sexualiry, especially homosexuality. Black

Churches were noticeably silent about the spread

HIV/AIDS among African Americans largely because rhey wished to avoid addressing the sexual mechanisms

HIV transmission (prostitution and gay sex). Within Black churches and Black politics, rhe main arguments given by African American intellectUals and

of

community leaders that explain homosexuality

s pres-

ence within African American communities show how closely Black political rhoughr is tethered to an unexamined gender ideology. Backed up by interpretations of biblical teachings , many churchgoing African Americans believe thar homosexuality reflects varying combinaof male role models as a consequence tions of: (1) the loss

, trends of the breakdown of whom tUrn to that in turn fosrer weak men, some traditional religious values homosexuality; (2) a loss of of the Black family structUre

that encourages homosexuality among those who have turned away from the church; (3) the emascularion

Black men by White oppression; and (4) a sinister plot by popularion genocide (neirher White racists as a form of

gay Black men nor Black lesbians have children under this scenario). " Because these assumptions validate only one family form, rhis point

One reason that the Black Church has seemed

of

of sexuality because rhey recognized how claims

iinarters

At the same time, the Black Church has also failed

aboUt the dangers

more often have chastised women for promiscuity. In a sense , Black churches historically preached a politics of respectability, especially regarding marriage and

of

view works against both

Black srraighrs and gays alike. Despite testimony from , families headed children raised by Black single mothers broken homes by women alone routinely are seen as " family

that somehow need fixing. This seemingly prostance also works against LGBT African Americans. Gay men and lesbians have been depicted as rhreats to Black families , primarily due to rhe erroneous belief thar gay, lesbian , and bisexual African Americans neither want nor have children or that they are not already part

family networks.

62 Holding fast to dominant ideology,

many African American minisrers believe that homo-

whire sexuality is unnatUral for Blacks and is actUally a " disease. " As a result , out LGBT African Americans are

seen as being disloyal to rhe race.

raCla segregatIon

and IntOlerance within African A erIcan communmes that Influenced Black Church activities explains the deeply close red natUreofLGBT lack expenences, The taCIal segregatIon of Jim Crow in the rural SoUth and soCIal InstItutIons such as the Black

urc t lar were

creared In rhis COntexr made living as openly gay virtually ImpossIble for LGBT African Americans. In small

nlad e sense or LGBT Black people to remain deeply closeted. Where was the space for OUt B lack es lans In nIta HilI s close- knir se ated mmunIty 0 Lone tOwn and rural settings of the South it

A' ., le

ma)otIty

of

Tree In wll1ch generations of wom rounne y gave Irth to thIrteen children ) Would comIng out as gay or bIsexual Black men make any difference in resisting rhe threat of

lynching in the late nineteenth century

In these contexts , Black homosexuality mighr have fur rher derogared an already sexually stigmatized populatIOn. Faced WIth this situarion , many African American gays , lesbIans , and bisexuals saw heterosexual pass Ing

as the only logical choice. Prior to

s lesbian and Isexuas ound It very dItficulr to reject heterosexuality outnghr. Cmes provided more O tions but ncan , mencans residential housing segregation further limIted the OptIons that did exist, Despite these limita-

Norrhern cmes , Black

lor

tIons , gay and lesbian Black urban dwellers did manage left

behInd : Fot example , rhe 1920s was a critical period for Afncan American gays , lesbians , and bisexuals who ;ere able to mIgrate to large cities like New York. of the Harlem YPIC ally, the arr and lIterary traditions

r'

RenaIssance have been analyzed through a race-onl

. Ut

LGBT sexua mesmay have been far more imporrant within Black urbanlzanon than formerly believed. Because the majorIty of Harlem Renaissance writers were middle- class , a Black cultural nationalist framework

common assumption has been that rheir response to claims

of

Blac ~

promiscuity was ro advance a politics

respecrabilIty, ' The artists of the Harlem Renaissance

appeared to be criticizing American tacism , bUt they gender and sexuality thar respectability. Contemporary reteadings of key texrs of the Harlem RenaIssance suggest that man bad a h omoalso challenged norms

of

were llpheid by the politics of

rotIC or queer content. For example ,

sexua Ity expressed in the corpus of

Lan

ston

Hugh ess

work6'

tItIS hfi lmmaket Isaac Julien s 1989 . pnzeWInning short film Lookin g- 01 Lang.rton created controversy

VIa It ~ assoCIatIon of Hughes with homoetOricism JulIens Intent was nOt to criticize Hu ' ur rat er to ' e-essentlalize black identities In ways r ar creare space tor mOte progressive sexual politics. Ar a confer-

h" rk d' '

ence on Blackpopular culture , Julien explains this process of recognIZIng different kin

ac I entItIes: ' I

a term used- in t e way t1at terms black communit ' or ' blac olk are usua y about-tO exclude others who are part of thar

t Ink blackness IS

I e rhe

an led

tI

communIty... ro create a more pluralistic interreactIon (sllj In rermsof difference , borh sexual and racial one has to start with deessentializing the nor ion of th . black sject. b ""5. BasICally, rejecting the erasureof gay

Blackmale u

Identmes ,

Julien s project creates a space in

ac an queer. MIddle- class African Americans may have used literary devIces to confront gendered and sexual norms

whICh Hughes can be both

, early-twenrieth-century migration ro

to carve OUt new lives that differed from those rhey

locare a lesbian subtext wirhin Pauline Hopkins s novel Contel1d/ ~g Form a homoerotic tone within the shorr stOnes ot Black lIfe detailed in Cane a alt ffM~

new analyses

but workIng- class and oor Afri can mencans In ~~~:s also challenged these sexual polirics , albeit via

erenr mechanIsms. During rhis same decade workIng- class

Black wo

men

ues

sIngers also expressed

gendered and sexual sensibilities r hat eVIare rom t e polItics of respectabilit 66 ne n s In t e lyrof the blues singers explicir references to gay

les-

~, and bIsexual sexual expression as a natural parr of lIved Black ex nence. y proclaIming that " wild women don t get no blues " rhe new blues singers tOok on and, reworked long-standing ideas about Black women s sexuality. Like most forms

of popular music

Black blues lyrics talk aboUt love B , w 1en compare to other American popular music of the 1920s and 1930s , Black women s blues were distinctive. One sIgnIficant dIfference concerned rh blue provocative and pervasive sexual- includin homo xua-

"67

Imagery, The banIshed ftOm

blues took on themes char

were

opu arImusIC-extramarital affairs

domestIc vIOlence ,

and the shorr- lived natur re atIOns IpS all appeared in Bla men s

The

ove ues. theme o ~ women loving women also appeared in

Black women s blues , giving voice ro Black lesbianism and bisexuality.

,"

,. ,, .p

,"

.,

,"

.,

. '

PRISONS FOR OUR BODIES , CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS , GENDER , AND SEXUALITY

RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX

, lesWhen it came to rheir acceprance of Black gays

posture of " don t

be toO out and we will accepr you

has had a curious effect on churches themselves as well

bians, and bisexuals, urban African American neighbor-

rendencies. On the one

as on African American anriracisr politics. For example , the Reverend Edwin C. Sanders, a founding pas-

hand, Black neighborhoods wirhin large cities became areas of racial and sexual boundary-crossing that sup-

ror of the Metropolitan Intetdenominational Church

hoods exhibired contradictOry

in Nashville, describes this contradiction of accepting

LGBT Black people , just as long as they ate not roo the unspople, one community srudy of the lesbian community in visible. As Reverend Sanders points our: " . Buffalo, New York , found racial and social class differ, ken message. . says its all right for you ro be here ences among lesbians, Because Black lesbians were con- " just don r say anything, just play your little role. You , lesbians had fined to racially segregated neighborhoods can be in the choir, you can sit on the piano bench more house parties and social gatherings within their lt don t say you re gay. "" Reverend Sanders describes class les, Whire workingneighborhoods. In contrasr how this policy limited the ability of Black churches ro , ironically, bians were more likely to frequent bars that deal with rhe spreading HIV/AIDS epidemic. He notes were typically located near or in Black neighborhoods, how six Black musicians within Black churches died of Audre Lorde desCtibes the Zami, In her autObiography AIDS , yet churches hushed up the cause of rhe deaths. Nobody wanted ro deal racial differences framing lesbian acrivities in New York As Reverend Sanders observes interracial boundaries were City in the 1950s where with the faCt that all of these men were gay black men, '" These works suggest ctOssed, often for the first rime and yet they d been leading the music for them. that African American lesbians constructed sexual idenThe dual challenges ro racism and heterosexism in the tities within African American communities in mban post-civil rights era have provided LGBT Black people spaces. The strictUres placed on all African American with both more legal rights within American society (rhar securiry) women who moved intO White-controlled space (the hopefully will translate inro improved levels of affeCted straight threat of sexual harassment and rape) and the potential for greater acceptance within African , differences in male ported more visible lesbian and gay aCtivities. For exam-

men , for example , may find it easier ro come out of the ?set because they still maintain many of the benefir

closeted and passing as strai ht ma

ot WhIte masculinity. In contrast ,

6'

in patt because o

men can gay lesbIan , bisexual , and transgendered individuals see ~ less

a multIplICIty of Identities African

lIkely than theIr White counterparts to be openly gay

f'

or ro consId ~r themselves completely out of rhe closet. Race , complIcates the coming-our process, As Kevin BoykIn recalls coming out to my family members , I found , was much more difficult tha com Ing out to my rIends. Because my famil had k now n me onger rhan my frIends had , I thought they at least deserved to heat the words 'I'm gay ' from my own lips. . , . On the orher hand , preCIsely because my family, had known and loved me as one person , I wotried that they might not

. , '4

accept me as another. Would they think I hadecelve d

t em or years?'

process, as the dif-

ficulnes faced by African American lesbians and gay AfrIcan Amencan hIgh school yoUth suggest. " Anot ~er telated issue concerns 'the endorsement of paSSIng and/or assimilarion as possible solutions to

raCIal and sexual discriminarion, Black LGBT people pOInt ro the contradiCtions of passin in whi ' among

Afncan .

mencans ,

racial passing is roUtinely casti-

and lesbian women alike. Moreover

American communities. As a resulr, a visible and vocal

and female socialization may have made it easier for closeted within

gared as denYIng one s

Black LGBT presence emerged in the 1980s and 1990s

heterosexual is encouraged. Barbara Smith

African American women ro remain African American communities, Heterosexual and lesbian women alike value intimacy and friendship wirh , and their children, their female relatives, their friends In contrast , dominant views of masculinity condition men to compere wirh one another. Prevailing ideas abour

masculinity encourage Black men ro rejecr close male bonding. friendships that come tOO close ro homoeroric

On the other hand,

the presence of Black gay,

lesbian, and bisexual activities and enclaves within

racially segregared neighborhoods did nOt mean thar LGBT people experienced acceptance. Greatly influ, African Americans . enced by Black Church teachings , bur they may have accepted homosexual individuals

disapproved of homosexuality itself. Relations in the Black Church illustrate this stance of grudging acceptance. While censuring homosexuality, Black churches have also nor banished LGBT people from rheir congre-

gations. Wirhin the tradition of some Church leaders homosexuality falls under the rubric of pastoral care issue. Ministers and is nor considered a social justice

often preach

-o This

love the sinnet but hate the sin."

that challenged the seeming separateness of racism and

heterosexism in ways that unsettled heterosexual Black

benefits of others'

ment that racism and heterosexism come tOgether

rhemselves:

issues about the workings of racism and heterosexism. One issue concerns how tace complicates the closer-

true self,

yet sexual passing as ' a ~ Jan

aCtiVISt who refused to remain in the Closet ' expresses l'Itt e tolerance for lesbians whoare WI Ing ro reap the

people and gay White people alike. Rejecting the argusolely or even more intensively for LGBT African Americans, LGBT African Ametican people highlighred the concharacterize racism nections and contradictions thar and hererosexism as murually constructing systems of oppression, Working in this intersection between these twO systems , LGBT African Americans taised important

hI

Gender and age add urt f er ayers

to rhe comIng-out of com y lexit

Struggles , bur who take few risks

which is now nOt nearly

as frightening, and walk the path we have cleared even pausing ar rimes to comment upon the beauri

ing process and resistance ro it. Just as Black people ability ro break out of prison differed based on gender, s ability to come class , age , and sexuality, LGBT people

ful view : In the meantime , we are on the other side of rhe conrlOenr , hacking through another jungle, At rhe vety least , people who choose to be closeted can speak nut agaInst homophobia. . . . (Those) who ptorect their

our of the closer

closers never rhink about... how their silences con-

displays similar heterogeneity. As

, the contours of the

LGBT Aftican Americans point out closer and the costS arrached ro leaving it vary accord: ing ro race, class , and gender. For many LGBT Whites, sexual orienrarion is all that disringuishes them from the dominant White population. Affluent gay White

mbure to the silencing of Others, ~ if the " wilderness " is not neatly as frighten-

ing Eve as It

In ke

l'

of Blacks. ey Th may, however , express such beliefs in prIvate or behInd rheit backs. In contrast

ety s assumptIon of heterosexualiry along with its tolerance of homophobia imposes no such publ IC censure on straIghr-men and women to refrain from homophobic

comments In public. As a result , closered and openly LGBT people may be exposed ro a much higher degree of Interpersonal Insensirivity and overt prejudice in publIc rhan rhe raCIal prejudice experienced by Blacks and other racial/ethnic groups Black , churches and African American leaders and ~rga ~Izanons thar held fast in the past to the view of don t be roo oUt and we will accept you" faced hostile external racial di ~ates thar led (them) ro suppress differences among AfrICan Americans , ostensibly in the name of raCIal solIdarIty. This version of racial solidarity also drew upon seXIsr and heterosexisr beliefs to shape politi-

M .

cal agendas for all Black peo le. For exa p~ yo~~ nIZIng the histOric 1963 March on wTash Ington were

w,

I artIn Luther King, Jr. gave his legendary " I Have a

Dream S eec h"

AfirIcan

Amencan civil rights leader role in the CIVI ng rs

d.

Bayard Rustin played a ma or

movement. Yet becallse Rusrin was an out gay man , he

A handful of out lesbians of color have gone into the wdderness and hacked through the seemingly impenetrable jungle of homophobia. Our closeted sisters come upon the wilderness ,

'h

e more I usory

t 1an teal. Because of the abiliry of many LGBT indivIduals to pass as srraight , the encou nter IstIncttve orms ot prejUdICe and discrimination. Here racism hererosexism differ, Blackness is clearly identifiable' an epIng Wit assumptions of color blindness of the new raCIsm , many Whites no longer express derogatOry racJaI belIefs In publIC especiallywh'I e In t 1e company

once was , the seemin ben efi

remaInIng

was seen as a potential rhrear ro the movement itself. Any hInt of sexual improprier was fear usnn sraye , In the ba ~kgro ~nd , while Martin Luther King, Jr. maInraIned his posItion as spokesperson and figurehead for the march and the movement B the questIon or ro ay IS whether holding these views on race, gen-

.0

der , and sexualIty makes political sense in the grearl changed contexr of the post-civil ri era . n a context where oUt-of-wedlock births , poverty, and the spread of STDs threaten Black survival , preaching abstinence ro teens who define sexuality only in terms of genital sexual Intercourse or encouraging LGBT people ro renounce the Sin of homosexuality and " ust be straight Impy miss t e mark. Too much is ar stake for Black antiracisr proj-

eCts to Ignore sexuality and its connections to oppresSIOns of race , class , gender , and age any longer.

,"

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PRISONS FOR OUR BODIES, CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

, GENDER , AND SEXUALITY

30 .

RETHINKING fOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX

How do we separate out and weigh the

various

NOTES

, and sexuality in influences of class, gender , age , race

year-old On May 11, 2003, a manger killed fifteen, with four friends, was on her way Sakia Gunn who home ' from New York' s Greenwich Village. Sakia and , New

girls is an everyday evenr. What made this one so special? Which , if any, of the dimensions of her identity

1. The field of postcolonial stUdies contains many wotks ~har examIne how ideas generally, and sexual discourse In partICular, was essential to colonialism and to nationalIsm. In this field , the wotks of French philoso-

got Sakia Gunn killed? There is no easy this question , because at! of them did. More imporrant , how can any Black political agenda that does

prIor frameworks heavily grounded in Marxism and in FreudIan psychoanalysis. Here 1 rely on two m aIn leas

her friends were wairing for the bus in Newark , made sexual Jersey, when rwo men gor out of a car

advances , and physically attacked rhem. The women fought back ,

and when Gunn tOld the men that she ~

was a lesbian, one of rhem stabbed her in rhe chest. connections Sakia Gunn s mutdet illustrates the , sexuality, and age. Sakia , race, gender among class lacked the prorection of social class privilege. She and

her friends were waiting for the bus in the first place because none had access ro privare autOmobiles rhat

affluent. In

offer prorection for those who are more Gunn s case, because her family inirially did not have the money for her funeral , she was scheduled to be buried in a potter s grave. Community acrivisrs rook

up a collection ro pay for her funeral. She lacked the gendered protection provided by masculiniry. Women who are perceived ro be in the wrong

place at the

wrong time are routinely approached by men who feel entitled ro harass and proposirion them. Thus, Sakia and her friends share with all women the vulnerabilities that accrue ro women who negotiare public space. She lacked rhe protection of age- had Sakia and her friends been middle-aged , they may nor have been seen as sexually available. Like African American girls and women , regardless of sexual orientation, they were seen as approachable. Race was a factOr

, but nor in a

framework of interracial race relations. Sakia and her friends were African American, as were their atrackers. In a context where Black men are encouraged to express a hyper- heterosexuality as the badge of Black

masculinity, women like Sakia and her friends can become important players in supporting pattiarchy. They challenged Black male aurhoriry, and they paid for the transgression of refusing ro participate in scripts of Black promiscuity. But the immediare precipitaring caralyst for the violence rhat rook Sakia's life was her

openness about her lesbianism. Here, homophobic violence was the prime factor. Her death illustrates how deeply entrenched homophobia can be among many , beliefs

African American men and women, in this case that tesulted in an atrack on a teenaged girl.

this particular incident/Sadly, violence against Black

ansWer ro

of these sysrems into account, including sexuality, ever hope adequately ro address the needs of Black people as a collectivity? One expects racism ill the press to shape the reports of this incident. In ,a contrast ro the 1998 murder of Marthew Shepard , gay man in Wyoming, no massive proyoung, White not take at!

tests, narionwide vigils , and renewed calls for federal hate crimes legislation followed Sakia's death. BUt what about the response of elecred and appointed offi-

cials? The African American mayor of Newark decried

organizarions that spoke out against the police bearing , the rape of

of Rodney King by Los Angeles area police , and immigrant AbnerLouima by New York City police the murder of Timorhy Thomas by Cincinnari police said norhing about Sakia Gunn s death. Apparently, she was just anorher unimportant litrle Black girl ro them. BUt ro others , her death revealed the need for a new

politics that takes the intersecrions of racism and het, age discriminaerosexism as well as class exploitation tion , and sexism intO account. Sakia was buried on May 16 and a crowd of approximarely 2 500 people atrended her funeral. The turnout was unprecedented: predominantly Black , largely high school students, and mosrly lesbians. Their presence says that as long as African American lesbians like high school srudent Sakia Gunn are vulnerable , rhen every African American woman is in danger; and if all Black women are ar risk, then there is no way rhat any Black person will ever be truly safe or free.

StOler 1995. '

and get them to submit under conditions of oppression

9. FOt

IzatIOn ~f such power through the use of hegemonic

IdeologIes. Volume 1 of Foucault The History of Sex/ialit

yses a sexualIty

10 European societies can be tead also as an analysis of

tace. In thIs chapter, 1 rely on many of Stoler s insights. For a comprehensive overview of works on Foucaulr and sexualuy that do nor deal with race , see Staler 1995 19, n. I. For a description of the S eci fic anIpu atIOn 0 sexual dIscourse within colonialism se McCl Intoc 995 , I man 1985; and Young 1995, 90- 117 2. Jordan 1968 ,

3-

43.

3. Jordan 1968, 136- 178. 4. See , for example , White 1985a. 5. Despite the marginality of all LGBT B ac peop e , subpopularIons did nor place issues of sexualiry on the publIc agenda at the same time or in the same way. Black lesbIans raIsed I ~sues of hererosexism and homophobia

In the 1980s , fairly early in modern Black feminism. For classIC work in this tradition , see Combahee Rivet CollectIve 1982; Lorde 1982; Smith 1983; and Clarke 1983. For a representative sample of more recent works see Clarke 1995; Gomez and Smith 1994; Moore 1997'

Gomez 1999; Greene 2000; Smith 1998. In contrast works by gay Black men achieved greater prominen

later. See , for example , Hemphill 1991; Riggs 1992. ~ngtles Utltted, the documentary by the late Marlon RIggs , reptesents an important path bteak' Ing wor In

Black a . g y mens

stu les Inthe United States(Tong/ies

that anal Untied

1989). More recently, work on Black mas cu

mIty yzes homosexualIty has gained greater visibil-

Ity. See HutchInson 1999; Riggs 1999; Thomas 1996' Carbado 1999c; Hawkeswood 1996; Simmons 1991. '

rks that derail the effects of welfare state policies

on . rIcan AmerIcans , see Quadagno 1994; Brewer 1994 , Neubeck and Cazenave F works . . 2001 or genera

uses sexualIty to illusttare this normalization of power

IS exemplaty in this regatd (Sroler 1995).

er

8. Wideman 1984 , 52.

(Foucaulr 1979). The second idea concerns the normal-

of DeSIre

like they had on gang colors. Other Black leaders and national organizations spoke volumes through their silence. The same leaders and

I'

. h'

Staler examInes how Foucault's ana

kids wearing the rainbow flag were being punished

punIsh deviant populations conStitute a punishment Ind ~~try. PrISons operate by controlling populations ;a IscIplmIng the body. Foucaults work on sexuality a so emphaSIzes tegularizarion and d' ISClp Ine, only thIS tIme vIa creating discourses of sexuality that also aim ro control the body (Foucault 1980 . or an analysIs oucau t s treatment of race , sexualit and , see

straregles that InstItutions use to discipline populations

(Foucault 1980). Despite the enotmous impact that Foucaulr has had on studies of power , few works anal ze hIS rr~atment of race. Ann Staler Race and the Edtlca~on

w,

~cau t 1979). The techniques used to discipline and

from the corpus of Foucaulr s work.T1e est , expressed In IS clasSIC w~rk Discipline and Ptmish concerns the

the crime , but he could not find rhe time ro meet

principal of her high school became part of the problem. As one activist described it srudents ar Sakia's high school weren t allowed ro hold a vigil. And the

(F

pher MIchel Foucault have been pivotal in challenging

with community activists who wanted programmatic

changes ro retard crimes like Sakia's murder. The

88. 7. Mandela 1994 :' J . oucault suggests that rhe rison serves as an exemplat of moder western sOCIety

6. Cohen and Jones 1999,

RACISM AND HETEROSEXISM REVISITED

on stare policy and African A erIcan economIC wellbel ng, see Squires 1994; Massey and Denton 1993'

OlIver and Shapiro 1995. For analyses of jobs and ~rban economies , see Wilson 1996; 1987. 10. West 1993.

11. In the 1980s , homicide became one of the leading causes of death of young Black men (Oliver 1994). For work on the vulnerability of Black youth in inner cItIes , see Anderson 1978; 1990; 1999; Canada 1995'

Kaplan 1997; Kitwana 2002. 12. Anderson 1999. 13. Anderson 1999.

~4. Anderson 1978; 1990; 1999.

368.

5. As quoted in Cole and Guy- Shefrall 2003 139 16. Mandela 1994 ,

367-

17. Mandela 1994 , 341.

21- 61; George 1998 , 1- 21. 19. SocIOlogist Steve Seidman traces the emergence and

18. Ros: 1994

declme of the closet as a meta hor d escrI Ing contemporary LGBT polItIcs (Seidman 2002). Seidman dates the closet as reaching its heyday in the 1950s and early 1960s durIng the early years of the cold war. In his research , he was surprised to find tha many contempoary gay AmerIcans live outside the social framework

of the closet. Seidman sug ests that t

two maIn

ways

r at gay lIfe has been understood since '1969 name y, t e comin Out narrarIve or the mIgration to gay ghettOes may no longet be accurate: "as the lives of at least so gays look more like those of straights , as gays no Ion feel compelled to migrate ro urban enclaves ro feel secure ~drespected , gay identity is often approached in ways sImIlar ro heterosexual identity-as a thread"(Seidman 2002 , 11). UnfortUnately, Seidman s methodology did not allow hi ,,:, ro explore the ways in which Black LGBT people have simIlar and different experiences.

''

'.

PRISONS FOR oua BODIES , CLOSETS FOR oua MINDS

RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX, GENDER, AND SEXUALITY

20. Both science and religion advanced different jusrifications for' stigmatizing homosexuals, Until recently, Western medicine and science viewed sexuality as being

biologically hatdwited inro the human species and obeying natUral laws. Hererosexual sexual practices and natUral" state of teproduction wete petceived as the " sexualiry, and all orhet forms of sexual expression wete classified as deviant. Religion offeted similar jusrificarions, Promiscuity an? homosexuality emerged as impottant categories of " unnarural" sexual activity that normalized monogamous heterosexuality within the context of marriage and fot purposes of reproduction, , the norma!21. This is Foucaulr s atgument about biopower ii- ' ization of practices that enable society ro discipline inc , in , sexual bodies, and gtOUPS

vidual bodies, in this case chis case, srraighrs and gays, as popularion groups that become comprehensible only in the context of discourses of sexuality, This view prevailed until shifts wirhin the stUdy of sexuality in rhe 1980s and 1990s,

22, Seidman 1996, 6. orren serves as an umbtella term for 23. The tetm queer , and anyone lesbian, gay, bisexual , rransgendered else whose sexualiry transgresses the sratUs quo. Nor everyone claims rhe term as an identity or statement of social location, Some argue that the rerm etases social and economic differences among lesbians and gay men, and others consider ir ro be derogarory. Srill orhets use the tetm to acknowledge the limitless possibiliries of gay,

s sexuality. They see terms such as an individual' lesbian and bisexual as misleading in that they suggest

srable sexual identities, Beyond these ideological differqueer here because LGBT ences, 1 do not use the term

African Ametican people do not prefer this term. When participantS in

National Black Pride Survey the

were asked which label from a very extensive list came closest ro describing their sexual otienrarion, 42 petcent self- identified as gay, 24 percent chose lesbian

2000

, and 1 percent marked

11 petcent chose bisexual rransgendered, In contrasr ro high levels of agreement " was one of the lease populat on gay and lesbian, " queer Black options (1 percent), As the survey reportS, "

LBT people do nor readily, or even temotely, identity (Bartle et al. 2002, 19). " of sexuality has been 24, LGBT politics and the " queering civil rights era one important dimension of the postas ' queer '"

and Seidman contends that the posrclosered world of

the posr-civil tights era has shown greater acceptance of LGBT people. Yet , suggests Seidman, acceptance may come with a price. Today, LGBT people are under good gay citiintense pressure ro fit the mold of the " zen " ro be monogamous and ro look and act notmal.

it continues ro justify This image may he safe, bur ' discrimination against those who do not achieve this ideal (Seidman 2002), domains of power " to 25. Here 1 use the framework of " examine the convergence of racism and hererosexism.

, class, and other sysrems Btiefly, race, sexuality, gender of opptession are all otganized through four main domains of power. The StructUral domain of power

(institUtional policies), the disciplinary of powet (the ,. rulesand regulations char tegulate social intetaction),

hegemonic domain of powet (the belief systems that defend exisring power arrangements), and the interpersonal domain of powet (parterns of everyday social interaCtion) are organized differently for different systems of oppression. Here 1 use this model as a heu-

" the

ristic device to build an argument about the interconneCtions of racism and heterosexism, For a discussion of

the framework and its applicability in Black feminist Black Feminist Thought

politics, see chapter 12 of

(Collins 2000a , 273- 290). Loving 26. For a discussion of the

decision and its effecrs on

tion of the Defense of Marriage Acr,

Bureau 2000,

27. Racism and heterosexism share this basic cognitive

ftame, and ir is one shared by other systems of power, 28. Clarke 1983.

setve as markers for consrructing

29. Both sets of ideas also both heterosexuality and homosexuality within the wider society, Prior ro the social movements of the civil rights era that called incteased arrent ion to both racism and heterosexism , racial proresr was contained wirhio the prisons of racially segregated neighborhoods and LGBT protest within the invisibility of individual closets. 1992.

30. Mudimbe 1988; Appiah

90- 117; McClintock 1995.

32. Jordan 1968,

33, Jordan 1968, 5, Jordan

suggeStS that the teacrions of

the English differed ftOm those of the Spanish and the PortUguese who for centUties had been in close contact with North Africa and who had been invaded by peoples both darker and mote civilized than themselves. The impact of tolor on the English may have been more s printipal conracr with powetful because England' Afticans came in West Africa and the Congo, areas with

one of the fairest- '

very datk-skinned Africans. Thus, " skinned nations suddenly came face ro face with 6), one of

the darkesr peoples on earrh" Uotdan 1968,

34. Torgovnick 1990, 18-

biolo

, gy, psychology,anthropology,

20.

35, Hisrorically, stientific tacism has made important contributions ro creating and sustaining myths of

47, RobertS 1997 ,

h'

4.

48. In a context in which the United Srates has the I1Ig ' I 1-

esr teen pregnanc y rate In the Western world , the eve. n

and other social

Ii

Igher rates of reen pregnancy among African A . mencan

SCIences construCted borh Bl k mlsculty . C pro as well as

adolescents IS a cause for alarm' any actors Influence

homosexuality and then S

high tates ptegnancyof among young Blackmen. wo or

lOOt mare time a ';'Clng ,

state and religious insritUtions that aimed t ss ate ~::~~ these practices. For general discussions of ra SCInce, se e GO uld 1981; Harding 1993; Zuberi 2001

example , adult men , some of whomy ma ave hcoerced girls to have sex WIth them , father most of the ab Ies b' om

to teen mothers, Srudies show that as yman as one In four

ausro- tet 109 1995,

37, Foucault 1979.

38, Harawa

198

. n t IS context srudy' ' ng anIma

s that I mlg t reveal what theithumanit and Afncans ' t elf

wete clearly nor human bur close to

' be' .

grante Europeans

mat Ive

stIal1ty. Here the interest in animal

beh avlQt as a

9S

girls are viCtims f 1997 117) 0 sexual abuse (RobertS

q . ~e G ould 1981; Lubiano 1992; Zucchino 1 997' . eu eck and Cazenave 2001.

50. Robem 1997 , 152.

51. As quoted in Cole and Guy- Shefrall 200" 165

form fh be havlor uninterrupted by culture appears o uman

52, For a dIScussion of the ty e of rac la reasonIng that generates Ideas of racial aUthentICIty, see Cornel West

W' h. 10 pnmato ogy, monkeys and apes have a ptivile ed ' relation to narure and culrure in thatSImIans '" occupy the

)3. These same pressuresfosteted viewsomosexuals ofh as

or er zones (Haraway 1989, 1). "

In Aftica ' the prImate lIt-

11 "

The p'ItIia s of RaCIal Reasoning " (West 1993 21-30 . ,

Whit h

inv ISIbl e , c oseted , and assumed to be Wh' Ite. ormalIzed

erarure was tod dby white colonists and western forei uce sClentisrs under no ptessure until w

, etetosexualiry became possible and hegemonic withIn the logic ofborh tacism and hetetosexism

e a tet In ependence

. evelopscienrific , collegia! relations with black AliClcans, .

interracial marriage, see Roor 2001. For the full definisee u.S. Census

31. Young 1995,

Black promiscuity as well as construCting a normal' ~ed heterosexuality juxtaposed to the alleged devianc ' White homosexuality ' eTh sCIent I c racism of medicine

AtClcan prImates, including the people imagined as wIldlIfe , modeled the ' origin of man lor uropean-detlved

ac

includes any Black Christian who wo~;~~ps ~~~~~ :hiS :ember of a Black congregation. The formal use of t e term tefers to independent, histOtic , and Black-

cu cure,. ,. Afnca became a lace ofd ar ness, one lackm teenlghtenmentoftheWestlnd' " la ,hasbeen used to model not the ' ori in of m , but the ongm of civilization.' Both are fi 0 othenng fur western orms ~~~peraClons

96.

' h'

37. Understandings of Black

43,

polluClon that bore stark resemblance I

th h f

eas a Out

so central to conceptions treat 0 racial pollution of eW hlteness grounded in purity (Giddin s 1992 419) . a er 1993, 43. Baket 1993, 33- 60,

44. Dwyer 2002. This case also resembles che well- known case of the ScortSbotO bo s in wh a group 0 Black men were convICted of allegedly raping White women

They too were eventually exonerated

5. White 1985a.

46. Gould 1981; Zucchino 1997' Amort 1990'' Brewer

1994; Neubeck and Cazena

;e 2001.

55,

lk

56

te

Free African Society in 1787 . rFoa Istmg, see Monroe , 7 , n. 1. For a general histOry of the BI ~c wom~urch see Lincoln 1999. For analyses of Blac en s partiCIpatIOn 10 the Black. urc Ch , see Douglas 1999',G'I es 2001; Higginbotham 199" See, Patillo- McCoy 1999 especIally Patillo- McCo

1998 29

but rheir differences marrer " (Haraway 1989 ?

39. Collins 2000a , 6940. Wiegman 1993, 239,

womens promIScuity also build upon a dee IStOflcal theme Wlf 10 Western societies that links deviant sexualIty with disease The h ypervIsI e; pathologized portion of tBla k s sexualIty centered on the women Icon 0 the whore , the woman who demands mone lor sexual favors. This image is pathologized in th prostItutes were associated with ideas about disease and

1"

controlled denominations that were founded a terf

symbol' '

41. Quoted in Ka psaI'IS 1 7

ac

54. only The general use of the term " rhe BI k utch refers to BInstIan k churches Ch' in.rhe U . d S

InCO n 1999, XXIV.

57. Douglas 1999.

58. Cole and Guy- Shefrall 2003, 116. 59, Cole and Guy- Sheftall 2003, 120. 60, Cohen 1999, 276- 288, 61. Simmons 1991.

62. Fot adiscussion of the family networks of BIack gay ar em , see Hawkeswood 1996'Also , see Bartle et al. 2002 , 1363, Higginborham 1993, 185- 229.

men 10 H 1

17.

64. Somerville 2000, 65, Julien 1992,

274.

66. Davis 1998, 67. Davis 1998, 3.

68, Kennedy and Davis 1994. 69, Lorde 1982.

70. Monroe 1998, 281. 71. ComstOck 1999, 156.

PRISONS FOR OUR BOOtES , CLOSETS FOR OUR MINDS

, GENDER , AND SEXUALITY

34 .

RETHINKING FOUNDATIONS: THEORIZING SEX

Cole, Johnnetta Bersch , and Bevetly Guy- Sheftall. 2003. in Afi'ican Gender Talk: The Strtlggle jor Women" Eqllality

72. ComstOck 1999, 156. 73. Boykin 1996, 90.

New York: Ballantine.

Am,, ican Conmllmities.

75. Moore 1997; McCready 2001.

Kllowledge, ComcioltSl/ess, and the Politics of ElI/powel'll/ellt.

76. Smith 1990, 66.

New

77. Boykin 1996

, 81.

78. " Skeleron in Newatk' s Closer: Laquetta Nelson Is Forcing Homophobia Our inro the Open

" 2003.

York: Routledge.

Combahee River Collective. 1982. "A Black FeminiSt

Ed. Gloria T. Hull, Statement:' Parricia Bell Scott , and Barbara Smith , 13- 22. Old Bllt Some of Vr Are Brave.

Westbury, NY.: FeminiSt Press.

ComstOck , Gary David. 1999. "' Whosoever Is Welcome

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