First things first: we are not talking to Jamilah-come-lately. If you ain’t been boycottin’ R. Kelly since Aaliyah was 14, if you even needed to see the piss tapes to persuade you further, if Kevin Powell’s BK Nation petition was your entry into this conversation, you ain’t got the answers.
Second: if you’re trying to engage in an analysis of Black women’s sexuality, without acknowledging the role of pimp culture in your framing, you ain’t been doin’ the education.
‘Pimp culture’ is the umbrella under which we map the interlocking systems of oppression that create the material conditions under which Black women experience bodily and psychic harm. Vestiges of the gator-wearing, fur cape-lined pimp show up in our private and public spaces and we feel the brunt of his solid gold cane in our experiences of mass culture apparatuses. Pimp culture employs white supremacy, misogyny, racism, homophobia and the dogma of rugged individualism to physically and psychically undermine our sense of self, diminishing our capacity for self-determination.
Pimp culture is in line with other terms used in anti-violence discourse – sexual violence, culture of violence, rape culture. Yet, in the Black feminist tradition, we use the term to center the unique experiences of Black women and signal the specific forms of knowledge that we bring in understanding the depths of physical violence and psychic trauma on individual and societal levels.
Collectively, these forces show up as, for example, the vicious maligning of nine-year old Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis who was “jokingly” called a cunt by a major news media outlet. The sexualized verbal battery of a Black girl child, on the public stage, in her moment of glory, was an act of psychic aggression meant to humiliate Black girls and women, while underscoring that in pimp culture we are primed to be sexually exploited even in our most innocent moments. The language used was an attempt by pimp culture to turn a Black girl child out as a sexual spectacle, reminding those of us who are grown that we don’t own the mechanisms of our representation, nor do we have the allegiance of anyone in power who will ride for us.
Many of the comments on our first blog, “The Problem with BeyHive Bottom Bitch Feminism,” along with dialogues in the Twitterverse, support the idea that we should celebrate the presentation of sexual pleasure by Black women, especially when it’s done inside of marriage. In an effort to subvert the politics of respectability, some Black feminist hash-taggers have relied on strategic amnesia that discounts the reality of the material conditions of our sexual lives. To wit:
Black women comprise the highest group of new HIV infections, a rate 20 times as high as white women and 5 times that of Latinas;
Black women die in pregnancy or childbirth at a rate 3-4 times that of white women due to lack of adequate sexual health services.
Whenever we consider Black women on stage, we also consider the auction block. When we think of public displays of Black female sexuality, Saartje Baartman isn’t far from our minds. When Black women voluntarily show “the actual inside[s] of [our] vagina” to an audience of strangers and peeping Toms, the torture of Anarcha Wescott takes center stage. Sexual violence is not a joke. We breathe these histories alongside our freedoms, which interrupt any fantasies of an ahistoric sexuality and make us suspicious and critical like a mutha.
Real Colored Girls are serving notice: game recognize game, and we are not here for corporate entities to consume our bodies, shit them out, repackage and sell them back to us as avatars for the music industrial complex. RCG are committed to defining healthy, loving, kinky, freaky, juicy, queer, bi and hetero sexualities for Black women. We are most concerned with publicly taking care of Black women’s sexuality by addressing historical and present trauma and arguing for the creation of a cultural environment in which it is safe for us to express ourselves sensually and sexually.
A cadre of Black feminists and Black women sympathizers (those who don’t proclaim to be feminist but ride for Black women) are calling for a “pleasure principle” that creates space in pop culture for Black women to express empowered sexualities. Any set of propositions that seeks to determine the fundamental basis for our sexual expression must consider the structural conditions under which said propositions are engineered. Pop cultural texts are produced inside of this context, and failing to acknowledge that in your analysis limits the work of dismantling the structures of pimp culture. Twerk it out.
Real Colored Girls encourages the communities of folk engaged in recent discussions about this work to move beyond Bey and consider what this moment has triggered around the presentation of Black female sexualities. Beyonce seems to have mastered the impossible, given the realities for most Black women in the U.S. – taking charge of her cultural production. Close reads of her recent and past work from writers Emily J. Lordi and Daphne Brooks invite us to consider the complex challenges for Black women artists. Even though Beyoncé is suspiciously sexy and joyfully raunchy, it would take a contortionist to situate her performances as a safe & empowered representation of Black women’s sexualities. Beyonce is a product of the hip hop generation – she woke up like that. In contracting with pop culture to distribute feminism, have we diluted the struggle of our Black feminist foremothers? For RCG, this is about the political economy of culture – how global corporate structures are not the context for transformative revolutionary action, and we shouldn’t look to them for our politics.
Our dream is for a revolution for Black women and our sexualities. As Mother bell exhorts, living out this dream requires us to do,
…the critical project of openly interrogating and exploring representations of black female sexuality as they appear everywhere, especially in popular culture.
Real Colored Girls are willing to ride for our radical politic, while acknowledging our privileges as artists and academics. We promote an oppositional consciousness that imagines radical spaces for sexual expression – physical, virtual and spiritual – which is risky and not without sacrifice. We call upon the lives and recorded texts of womanists and Black feminists as scripture and theory in the flesh.
Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Alice Walker, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Barbara Christian, June Jordan, Michele Wallace, Harriet Tubman, Patricia Hill Collins, Sojourner Truth, M. Jacqui Alexander, Zora Neale Hurston, Sonia Sanchez, Toni Morrison, et. al.
bell hooks cautions that Black women,
…haven’t as a group really carved out different ways to live our lives.
This is an amazing opportunity to do this work. In the spirit of loving Black women, we invite interventions that construct a post-capitalist imagination in which to dream ourselves whole.