My writing throughout this course, Black Sexualities at Amherst College, has mirrored my struggle to situate black sexualities—as an academic field, mode of inquiry, and call to action—within a larger social and political context. When we read Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice earlier in the semester, I attempted to link the virulently sexist and homophobic elements of his work back into the historical subjectivity of black manhood. But what complicates any interpretation of Cleaver’s thoughts is the evident disconnect between his objectification of women in general and his heartfelt apologies to black women in the concluding chapter. Any effort to understand the nuances of American black masculinities and femininities must be rigorously informed by an examination of both systemic and internalized racism. I am left wondering if the distance between Cleaver’s musings and the principles of black feminism is not actually as far as that between queer-of-color liberation and the white LGBT movement.
I had been excited to read Audre Lorde all along and the intensity and passions conveyed in Zami did not disappoint. Her characterization of eroticism as power encapsulates the very nature of the personal-as-political ideal. This distinction that differentiates the erotic from the pornographic, the sensual and the purely sexual, marks the thin line that divides exploitation and affirmative power. I found that concept essential to deconstructing Iceberg Slim’s Mama Black Widow, a striking reminder of the ostracization that occurs even at the margins of the mainstream. Otis Tilson’s brutal experiences attest to the persistence of boundaries even in spaces already defined as non-normative.
The latter half of the course crystallized my understanding of the complexities inherent in building a queer-of-color movement accountable to our greater communities. Cathy Cohen’s The Boundaries of Blackness illuminates the social and cultural barriers that inhibit the amalgamation of the AIDS movement with black political organizing. The failure of traditional African American institutions to perceive intersectionality and AIDS as more than a LGBT issue reflects a problematic framing rooted in our tendency to categorize and separate. In many ways, I feel like analyzing Siobhan Brooks’ Unequal Desires ties in the conceptual fragments from the semester, highlighting the primacy of race, gender and sexuality, but as qualifiers to the development of modern capitalism. Such a systemic critique of the status quo political economy and its impact on human sexuality is precisely what queer activism today needs.