What’s on my Mind

A Declaration: Toward A New Politics of Black Female Sexuality*

Found this awesome article on The Feminist Wire today. The writer does a great job of condensing a great deal of what we’ve talked about in the last week regarding Black women’s sexual autonomy (and stereotypes regarding Black women in general).

I found his inclusion of the recent attempt by a Virginia woman to have Beloved removed from the high school reading curriculum interesting. She found the material too adult for high school students – reasoning often cited by parents who don’t want their children exposed to such horrors (in this case of slavery).

To which I respond – if we can’t have a real discussion about slavery in a classroom – traditionally regarded as a “safe space” (with exceptions, of course) – where and when can we? If we can’t expose students to a history that makes them uncomfortable in a classroom – where and when can we?

Negating the necessary story that exists within Beloved, also negates the history of sexual autonomy that Williams writes about in his essay. As he says:

…Black women’s sexual histories still remain muddied or excluded in America’s public education system. In high school I read novel after novel after novel about white women’s sexual lives (i.e. Jane Austen’s entire body of work, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter). In history I learned extensively about white women’s struggles and triumphs for erotic and sexual autonomy. Never in my public high school did I learn such a history or encounter such a novel about Black women’s struggle for sexual autonomy.

We can’t continue to ignore the history of the Black woman’s struggle for self-definition and free expression via sexual agency or otherwise. Our history in this country is fraught with the “uncomfortable,” – there’s no escaping it. Stop denying our history because the truth is too painful to deal with. If it’s painful for someone on the outside looking in, imagine how painful it was for the women that Beloved‘s Sethe represents. Imagine how painful it is for Black women of today who must live with the legacy that such an “uncomfortable” “intense” history has created. Stop trying to erase our history and the art that that history has created. When you really break it down, Beloved is a love story – it is a story about the ability to love freely, on one’s own terms without the shackles of slavery, or the metaphorical chains of social limitations. Beloved teaches its readers about the beauty of love without conditions. And that’s a lesson that everyone should be exposed to, regardless of how difficult the teaching of it is.

At the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves – do we want the whole story, or do we only want the parts that make it easier for us to sleep at night?

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~ by Kristen on March 26, 2013.

6 Responses to “What’s on my Mind”

  1. OMG! I can’t believe that parents would feel offended at their children learning of the history of what women have endured and of the origin of the oppression of black people as a whole. That’s telling America that we are over the idea of slavery, its giving them a free pass to not have to acknowledge the wrong they have done to the black community.

    • It wasn’t so much that she was offended. She believed the material was “too intense” for her senior-in-high-school, AP English taking son. Beloved is a difficult book to read, and it is necessarily intense. Nothing about slavery and the dehumanization of it was easy, so reading about it should be intense and uncomfortable. What’s more, believing that your one child can’t handle a text is one thing, but attempting to have it banned in the school district overall is another. I don’t think it is either good or helpful to shield children of that age from the content of Beloved or the history associated with it. That was an opportunity for that mother to read the book with her child and help him through the tough parts – to talk about them and discuss why they were so intense. Instead, she sought to have the book removed.

  2. Great info! Thanks for sharing. I too believe it is critical for children to learn the whole story. It is hard to believe that a parent would not want their child to be fully educated on slavery and the history of black women. If Beloved is a novel that truly captures the history of black women, then it should certainly be included in the curriculum for students.

    • I agree. The real, in depth history of slavery is often overlooked in high school classrooms. This particular student was 18, and a senior in high school. I could understand her consternation if this was an 8th grade student, but it was an AP English class – in other words college level. Beloved, as with many of Morrison’s texts, captures so much – historical moments relevant to Black women, relevant to Black women as slaves and former slaves, as women growing up with the legacy of slavery (as we saw in The Bluest Eye).

  3. I must admit, yours is one of my favorite class blogs, your posts are always so insightful and interesting as well! Thank you for sharing this. Often, I grow so tired of people who feel uncomfortable with America’s past trying to restrict younger people from knowing. This person’s excuse, that the material is “too adult” is also particularly bothersome, because, people often assume that children and young people are too young to know [about] certain things…yet, when are they supposed to know? And like you said, what about the young people of color?

    • Thanks for compliment! I definitely think that people often underestimate their children, and, sadly, it seems like that doesn’t change as they get older. Based on the articles I read about the incident the young man involved as 18 years old. If 18 isn’t a decent time for someones (burgeoning adult) child to deal with the impact of slavery, I don’t know when is. I’ll admit that Beloved is a difficult book to read precisely because of its subject matter, but the subject it deals with wasn’t easy to live through, to say the very least. Why should anyone expect that reading about it will be?

      I could understand if he she’d gone to the teacher in question and asked him to make an exception on her son’s behalf, but she tried to have the book banned altogether. And that’s altogether a different story.

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