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Joan Morgan on Black Sex, Identity and the Politics of Pleasure

Where do Latinas fall into that theory, especially since the Catholic church has a special type of guilt for all things sexual. How does a woman’s relationship with religion play into the Politics of Pleasure?
The Politics of Pleasure is supposed to be a question around brown women, though I am particularly talking about black women’s racial and sexual histories. Still, I’m very aware about how those histories intersect with other racial and sexual narratives, black women don’t exist in a vacuum. In terms of finding strategies to address that, I mine a lot of different places like queer studies. I look very closely at its non-identitarianism, the way that it actually makes us part of its agenda, sexual freedom, and a kind of tolerance without being judgmental.

I also looked at what I call ‘Caribbean erotics,’ including writers like Carolyn Cooper and others. I’m looking at different cultural spaces, not identity politics, but different theorizations around sexuality that can lend to this particular discourse of pleasure. I already come to this discussion knowing that the church and racism are problems.

In the class I’m teaching at Stanford this semester, we begin to articulate language in this discourse and my first tactics is to say the narrative and our history will not change. However we do have the power to reframe that narrative. History doesn’t have to be stagnant and how we interpret that history or what we look for, in terms of black women in the archives of history, does not have to be stagnant. I believe that pleasure has always existed, it had to have existed, even in the Middle Passage or we simply could not have survived as a people. What I think though is that those stories get sacrificed to the agendas of racism, sexism or misogyny. Intellectually, my job as a feminist and a scholar is to unearth and reframe those stories so that there actually is some attention to pleasure.

So part of your focus is to illuminate our sexual history, combatting the idea that during the Middle Passage, people were too stressed out to have sex; we were busy trying to survive.
Yes, and some scholars are challenging that notion, saying there was probably same sex love during that time and even during slavery. In this way, Caribbean fiction, like Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women, has been really helpful. We often look at Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson are the beginning of the story but there were multiple kinds of sexual relationships that black women had during slavery; involuntary, voluntary, strategic, non-strategic, love. But these conversations have been erased out in order to lay the blame for much of the black female struggle on racism and white supremacy, where it needs to be. I get that but I’m very concerned about what is taken out of the narrative to fulfill that agenda.

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