Question: Personally I find it hard to think about me being sexual and a black woman because there are sooo many bad stereotypes that I don’t know how to get past, like in porn it’s much easier for me to watch porn with white people than black people because I think of what the world thinks of us. It’s hard because we are all seen as ghetto as black people so when I hear other black people talk like that I get turned off sometimes. I just don’t want it to be a black thing if that makes sense at all. I’m listening to your podcast right now btw!
This is such a real and important conundrum that we have to navigate, so thank you for sharing your question. When European colonizers first came into contact with African people, they saw people who were comfortable with nudity and who knew how to dance with their entire body. These were such different realities than theirs that they didn’t understand it, and instead of saying teach me your ways, they labeled it as demonic and hypersexual. These stereotypes of the Black body and Black sexual expression being immoral, hypersexual, and a form of deviance have followed us ever since. From little Black boys being murdered for allegedly making sexual advances at white women to the porn industry’s racist undertones (overtones) of Big Black Dicks and Big Ghetto Booties.
In reaction to these messages and all the other negative ones that assert Black people are inherently more animalistic and less than human, we developed a politics of respectability. As a community, we believed that if we changed behaviors to counter those stereotypes then white people and institutions would affirm, love, see, respect, and treat us like humans. And we changed so much! If they think we are hypersexual, we need to practice abstinence and celibacy (there’s nothing wrong with celibacy and abstinence, especially when someone makes that choice for themselves and is not shamed into that decision). If they think we’re these naked animals, we must always dress modestly and professionally. If they think our dancing is too wild, we must shame those who twerk in public. We minimized and denied ourselves as sexual beings in order to prove that we were not the stereotypes they think we are.
Now here we are. Still dealing with messages from white controlled media that tell us we’re hypersexual, unlovable, angry Black women, hypermasculine men, violent, sexual deviants, and whatever else. On top of that we have all these respectability messages from our own community that says we need to be less sexual, hide our bodies, don’t be so loud, don’t dance so freely, don’t talk about sexual abuse, don’t talk about sexual pleasure, keep your legs closed, etc.
So yes, yes, yes, we can see how it is difficult to ignore all of that and just be sexually free. What we do know, is that no matter how much we’ve tried to change ourselves to be more respectable, we are still dealing with injustice and inhumane treatment. Knowing this, we believe that it is important for Black people to start redefining and/or reclaiming our Black identity in all aspects. We don’t have to continue associating or reacting to what we’ve been told is Blackness. We can reclaim words or stereotypes, like people calling themselves ratchetscholars, or sophistirachet as they reclaim the word ratchet. Like the author Ramona Lofton who goes by Sapphire, a stereotype people use to characterize Black women as angry, aggressive, and dominating. Or we can redefine Blackness, which movements like BlackGirlMagic and BlackBoyJoy are doing, by creating new narratives of Blackness.
So how do we reclaim and/or redefine Black sexuality? On a broader level, we hope that’s what Afrosexology is doing, but on a personal level, what can you do?
First start by really thinking and writing down the messages you’ve received around Black sexuality and their sources. Are these messages you’ve been told by white people and institutions, are these messages that came from the Black community, religious institutions, media, are these messages you’ve internalized? How can you start parsing through these messages to see which ones you hold as truth and which ones you want to begin to challenge? It’s important for you to recognize what your sexual values are vs. which ones you feel like you must perpetuate despite wanting to reject them. Writing affirmations to counter the messages you wish to challenge may be helpful. Maybe find some readings, podcasts, videos from Black women who are more in tune with their sexuality. Some people who are a constant source of inspiration to us are Ev’Yan Whitney, Fannie Sosa, Shannon Boodram, Adrienne Maree Brown, and Ericka Hart. Audre Lorde’s Use of the Erotic is such a powerful piece that talks to the power that lies in our erotic. We also have lots of recommended books listed on our resource page. All of these things challenge sex-negative and shameful messages that we often internalize.
Next try to dream, reimagine, or fantasize about what living your most sexually liberated life means to you. For some folks that means practicing celibacy and for others it means going to sex parties. Forget white supremacy, forget respectability politics, forget shame, forget sexual violence. If none of these things were limiting you from expressing yourself, who would you sexually like to be? Some of our worksheets might help you explore what you sexually want. This can be a difficult question to sort through, requiring a lot of internal dialogue. If you’re lucky to have a mentally open circle of friends, maybe pose the question and see what people come up with. Write out what this version of you is like. Remember, you get to redefine what being a Black sexual woman means to you.
Next come up with small and big action steps to reclaim your sexuality. What are some goals you can set for yourself that embody you working towards expressing your sexuality. Maybe you want to watch more porn starring Black people. Maybe you want to be able to talk to some of your friends more openly about sex. Maybe there are some resources you want to invest in so you increase your sexual knowledge. Maybe you want to purchase some toys to explore your body more. Maybe you want to go to an orgy. I suggest that you get a journal specifically for your sexuality. Write down your goals and action steps to accomplish those goals. Journal about your sexual journey, what you’re learning, exploring, find challenging, all of it.
Because all those things we told you to forget about - shame, respectability politics, sexual violence, white supremacy - do exist, you need to have a plan to resist. As you begin to reclaim and redefine your sexuality, people or things may make you feel vulnerable and at risk. What is your plan to resist, protect, and heal yourself, if someone tries to shame you? What do you need to do to make sure that you feel like you still deserve and can be sexually free?
And finally, remember that this is a lifelong process. All of this runs so deep, so even when we’ve learned to completely unpack and reject one stereotype, we may still be struggling with others. It can feel overwhelming at times and like you’re not growing at a fast enough pace (which is why we recommend keeping a journal), but know that you can get to a place where you own yourself as a sexual Black woman.
We hope this is helpful to you!
with Peace, Power, & Pleasure,
Dalychia & Rafaella