Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Black feminist book club: The black woman as keeper of the black man's sexuality

This year, I pledged to read more black feminist writing and I invited What Tami Said readers to join me. Right now, our Black Feminist Book Club is reading When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings. I welcome guest submissions on the content and themes of this book.


written by guest contributor Brown Girl Speaks
Black women like those at Lyric Hall responded to Ida B. Wells's antilynching campaign as not only a call to arms for the race, but for women specifically as well.
As we read along and discuss Paula Giddings's When and Where I Enter, the topic of the black woman as "the keeper" emerges. We are all too familiar with the notion of black women as keepers of the family, the black church, the black community, etc. Giddings's essay on Ida Wells-Barnett's anti-lynching campaign suggests that at some point, and possibly still, that we are also the keepers of the black man's sexuality.

It's pretty common knowledge that numerous lynchings occurred in the Jim Crow era because of often unfounded rape accusations of white women against black men. Sometimes these allegations were even brought on by other white family members in order to protect them from the scandal of their daughters'/sisters'/ wives' secret sexual relations with black men. Giddings notes that historian A. Philip Bruce attributed the black man's lust for the white woman to the black woman's own sexual prowess. A lasciviousness exceeding that of the black man and one of which he could not satiate. And being the brute that he is, he had no choice but to force himself upon the chaste white woman.

Alright, I'll let you collect yourself from the hysterical laughter that rubbish ensued.

Are black women responsible for keeping the black man's penis in check? Do we even want the job? I think I can safely speak for all and say “no” on both questions. I gather that this conversation might have been more appropriate and substantial in another era but not in today's climate. Even though the notion of miscegenation is still present in the minds of many, it's no longer the dominant school of thought. When looking at the question in retrospect, I believe the answer is still 'no'. Every individual is responsible for her or his own sexual liaisons then and now.

It's shameful to think that black women were demonized sexually not only as seductresses of white men but also as not keeping the black man's sexual appetite under control and it's ludicrous attribution to the lynching of numerous black men.


Aiyo said...

Wow, I'm surprised that this does not surprise me.

Crunktastic said...

The Black feminist bookclub sounds awesome, and I will try to participate when I can. I have read Giddings book, and I think you raise important questions and point to the all out utter ridiculousness of sexual discourses in the 19th century. But I want to add that what was unique about Wells is that her findings indicated that accusations of rape actually were NOT the cause of most lynchings. Rather, she found when she went to various cities to investigate that in only 1/3 (or so) of cases was rape even accused. Largely, Black men (and women and children) were lynched because their business enterprises were an economic threat or because they challenged some unjust decisions made by a white person in some way. The other thing that Wells also said, which is what got her run out of town, is that white women were actively pursuing and encouraging interracial relationships, whether Black men were consenting or not. So I'm not sure that her campaign was so much about protecting Black male sexuality as it was about exposing white people's insistent refusal to adhere to the rule of law and their dogged commitment to terrorizing Black folks by any means necessary. And she exposed the gendered dynamics of white racial terrorism (the ways that the myth of the Black rapist and the insatiable Black woman were created to justify using rape and sex as tools of racial domination), which is why she gets read in a Black feminist frame, specifically.

KrisDeLaRash said...

I would say that it is a heterosexist and borderline patriarchal idea to think that Black women should be the "keeper" of Black men's sexuality.

Firstly, it is heterosexist because the assumption is that all Black women generally concern themselves with the sexuality of Black men, when in reality many women, especially queer Black women have no interest in policing Black men's sexuality. We are not all straight, nor do we all find ourselves preoccupied with dilemmas of heterosexual interracial dating.

Secondly, I say that the idea is borderline patriarchal because patriarchy itself involves itself in policing the sexuality of women and men, to the detriment of individual development and of the society as a whole. For example, what good has come from Black women's sexuality being policed by Black patriarchal men? Coming from a household headed by a full-time patriarchal father, I still had intimacy, confidence and femininity/masculinity issues. And to top it all off, my virginity (the thing my father made sure to guard) became useless after I realized I was a lesbian!

Frankly, there are plenty of patriarchal women that already police the sexuality of marginalized Black men, specifically men that don't fit into stereotypes of hypermasculinity. How many of you have called a brother "suspect" before?

I think we all need to stop it. Replicating systems of domination will get us nowhere.

Sex is a need just like oxygen, water, food, shelter and love.

Julia said...

So, I'm still very early on in the book, and I read the part about the construction of black male sexuality as being rooted in the construction of black female sexuality, but Giddings didn't present any evidence of this. Does she go on to do so? And are others convinced? Perhaps I'm simply not far enough along yet...

Tami said...


I don't think Giddings buys into the idea of black male sexuality being a reflection of black female sexuality. But she references this as a recurrent theme of early sexism and racism, and gives examples of that.


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