In “Why We Get Off: Moving Towards a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure,” Joan Morgan builds on Audre Lorde’s theory of the erotic, stating that “I want an erotic that demands space to be made for honest bodies that like to also fuck.”1
Later in the piece, she speaks about how her Caribbean identity informs her work in the field of Black sexuality studies:
Rather than delineating the specifics of its stops and starts, I’d come to understand both my identity and my feminism as a ting that bends and leans, intersects and divides, stops h’an drops h’an bubbles and wines.”2
I definitely relate to the above statement as the daughter of Jamaican immigrants. Before Rihanna hit the radio, I knew all the words to “Action,” a reggae song released in 1993 in which the songstress Nadine Sutherland croons “I need some action/Tender satisfaction/My chemistry is flowing/Can you cause a chain reaction?”
Women weren’t alone in centering lyrics around woman’s sexual agency. In his late 1990s hit “Heads High,” dancehall artist Mr. Vegas affirms a woman’s right to reject lewd sexual advances in an equally vulgar manner, instructing women to “lift up yuh brow men ah guy know/say him fi move him blow wow.”3
Audre Lorde writes about the power of women in her essay “The Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power.” Lorde treats the erotic as a space for women to create agency:
Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.4
I think Reggae and dancehall music are terrains in which the liberation possible through women’s erotic power plays out. In the dancehall, women take center stage as ‘queens,’ whose movements are praised for overt sexual titillation. In this space, Black women’s agency as people endowed with sexual desire and power. In the dancehall, women are not only aware of their erotic power, but gain status for displaying it.
Like all projects for Black liberation, however, the sexual politics that inform reggae music do have significant drawbacks. In particular, queer- and transphobic lyrics, particularly from male Reggae and dancehall artist, reinforce heteronormative beliefs about relationships.
Personally, I think it’s important to note these lyrics are in dialogue with conservative religious beliefs impossible for Black Jamaicans to hold if not for colonialism. Therefore, a conversation about Black sexual politics in Jamaica and anywhere in the African Diaspora should be a conversation about colonialism. Furthermore, a conversation about a liberating Black sexual politics in the African Diaspora should be about decolonialization, deconstructing and reconstructing new sexual identities independent of colonial identities.