Get Your Learn On

Americans are obsessed with sex and fearful of black sexuality. The obsession has to do with a search for stimulation and meaning in a fast-paced, market-driven culture; the fear is rooted in visceral feelings about black bodies and fueled by sexual myths of black women and men. The dominant myths draw black women and men either as threatening creatures who have the potential for sexual power over whites, or as harmless, desexed underlings of a white culture. There is Jezebel (the seductive temptress), Sapphire (the evil, manipulative bitch), or Aunt Jemima (the sexless, long-suffering nurturer). There is Bigger Thomas (the mad and mean predatory craver of white women), Jack Johnson (the super performer — be it in athletics, entertainment, or sex — who excels others naturally and prefers women of a lighter hue), or Uncle Tom (the spineless, sexless — or is it impotent? — side-kick of whites). The myths offer distorted, dehumanized creatures whose bodies — color of skin, shape of nose and lips, type of hair, size of hips — are already distinguished from the white norm of beauty and whose fearful sexual activities are deemed disgusting, dirty, or funky and considered less acceptable.

Yet the paradox of the sexual politics of race in America is that, behind closed doors, the dirty, disgusting, and funky sex associated with black people is often perceived to be more intriguing and interesting, while in public spaces talk about black sexuality is virtually taboo… black sexuality is a taboo subject in white and black America and that a candid dialogue about black sexuality between and within these communities is requisite for healthy race relations in America.

Cornel West

excerpt from “Black Sexuality: The Taboo Subject” in Race Matters,

Second Vintage Books Edition. Boston: Beacon Press (1993): p. 119-131.

Excerpt from p. 119-120

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