This essay rereads black feminist engagements with silence and the constellation of terms that vibrate around it—invisibility, interiority, domesticity, privacy—to both demonstrate black feminism’s precarious relationship to silence and indicate the ways in which that contention with silence has spurred a fraught move toward confession and publicity. This form of black feminist storytelling—characterized as a bind of black sexual freedom—generates a culture of confession and exposure that reinforces black female fungibility under the guise of sexual liberation and limits alternative conceptions of black erotic freedom. Given that both silence and publicity are fraught spaces for black sexual injury and its redress, this essay posits that a discursive and material space like what Kevin Quashie has theorized as “the quiet” offers black women and the black feminist imagination alternative ways of reading, rehearsing, and enacting black erotic freedom. Extending Quashie’s conceptualization of “the quiet,” the essay develops a conception of “black sex in the quiet,” a hermeneutic that acknowledges the ways in which black fungibility renders every space precarious yet mines the various ways that black subjects carve out alternative imaginaries of black intimacy in the space of the public. Black sex in the quiet is used to read neo-soul artist Erykah Badu’s music video “Other Side of the Game,” an ostensible scene of black cis heteronormative domesticity, for quiet articulations of black erotic freedom.
Black Sex in the Quiet
shoniqua roach is an assistant professor of black feminist theory in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Oregon, where her research and teaching focuses on black feminism, black sexuality studies, and black literary and visual cultures. She is currently working on her book manuscript, provisionally titled “Black Sexual Sanctuaries,” which explores the possibilities for black women’s sexual citizenship and erotic freedom within domains often overlooked or dismissed, including privacy and domesticity. Her work appears or is forthcoming in the Journal of Popular Music Studies, Women & Performance, Feminist Theory, Signs, and the Journal of American Culture.
Shoniqua Roach; Black Sex in the Quiet. differences 1 May 2019; 30 (1): 126–147. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-7481302
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