Joan Morgan on Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure

Most scholarship and literature on Black women’s sexuality focuses on the history of sexual violence against them. Hip Hop feminist Joan Morgan calls for a greater focus on pleasure in her 2015 The Black Scholar article on the subject:

As black feminist theorists, we’ve made a commitment to reframe the existing narrative about black female sexuality by positioning desire, agency and black women’s engagements with pleasure as a viable theoretical paradigm.1

Morgan asks Black feminists to deepen their understanding of Black women’s pleasure and how this informs the contemporary Black feminist agenda.

The Politics of Silence

For the most part, Black feminist scholars focused on what Morgan terms black female interiority: the spectrum of emotions, erotic and otherwise, regelated to the realm of Black women’s private lives through a politics of silence.

Referencing an insular, triangulated conversation between historians, literary critics and feminist theorists, [Evelyn] Hammonds conceded that black feminism’s long-standing focus on the politics of respectability, cultural dissemblance and similar discourses of resistance—interventions that theorized black women’s sexuality as an accumulation of unspeakable acts or positioned black women in “binary opposition to white women”—succeeded in identifying black women’s sexuality as a site of intersecting oppressions. What they failed to do, she argued, was to produce the “politics of articulation” necessary to disrupt them. 2

Black feminist thinkers interested in pushing back against the narrative about remaining silent about sexuality study history and literature as well as film, television, music, strip clubs, pornography and visual expressive cultural work. Their work satisfies Evelyn Hammonds call for a politics of articulation that all black feminist theory to be inclusive of pleasure and the erotic.

The Politics of Pleasure

According to Morgan, three events precede the development of pleasure politics:

  1. Erotic can provide information about Black female sexuality.
  2. Master narrative erases pleasure from black female subjectivities.
  3. Challenges to teaching when pleasure deemed illegitimate.

The politics of pleasure offer Black women an empirical understanding of desire, incorporating Black women’s erotic maps as expansive and inclusive of queer and transgender women:

I position, quite deliberately, “Pleasure Politics” as a liberatory, black feminist project. It elevates the need for sexual autonomy and erotic agency without shame to the level of black feminist imperative. Accordingly, a politics of pleasure operates with an empirical understanding that feminist principles do not necessarily legislate desire.3

According to Morgan, achieving this politics of pleasure means Black feminist thought needs to engage a multidisciplinary lens that draws on diaspora and transnational studies. Diaspora studies would help offer Black feminist thoughts a way to recognize that in the post-modern world we have deterritorialized identity and reconstructed it as situational.

  1. Page 36 
  2. Page 37 
  3. Page 39