This essay works at the intersection of queer critique and black feminism to elaborate the problem that the incorporation of minority difference into the institutions and imaginaries of contemporary global power poses for our habits of thought in feminist studies. Attending to black women’s sexuality in state narratives of black freedom and black freedom-to-secure against the backdrop of the racial makeovers of the late twentieth century, and at the same time turning to black women’s expressive culture as a site that both reflects and troubles those racial makeovers, this essay argues that black women’s sexuality functions at once as a lubricant for neoliberal governmentality and as a domain of collective preservation within this order. The author reads the queer force of black women’s survival in the Museum of African American History’s Changing America exhibit, along with Jesmyn Ward’s 2011 novel Salvage the Bones, as a narrative modality that exposes the limits of queer antinormativity in contemporary queer and feminist theories. Given how black women’s sexuality serves as a resource for both premature death and surplus life, attention to its complex and contradictory figurations in the contemporary era emphasizes how normativity functions as a complicated set of relations and movements, a systematicity in which even that which we have understood as nonnormative, other, deviant, or pathological is constitutive of the norm.

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