Parlour: You talk a lot about the Politics of Pleasure, what does that mean?
Joan Morgan: Much of my work as a feminist revolved around how do we improve black women’s lives. I had been investigating how we talk about black women, particularly in terms of sexuality, without talking about pleasure. Instead, we identify the racial and sexual history, particularly in the United States, and why that history prevents or complicates black women’s sexuality from enjoying a sex positive space.
Feminism is very good at dissecting the politics of respectability and the culture of dissemblance thanks to Darlene Clark Hine. Still, we’re not so good at articulating a language for pleasure, which is crucial for any human being but it plays a critical role in other black women’s issues with which we don’t necessarily make the connection. For example, if we’re talking about black women and the rate of new HIV cases – the percentage of black women among new infections is disproportionately high – but when you look at the prevention, the language is ‘If he doesn’t want to use a condom, tell him to back off’ or, ‘If he really cares about you he’ll use protection.’ The discourse is centered around men’s pleasure.
Parlour: So part of your focus is to illuminate our sexual history, combatting the idea that during the Middle Passage, people were too stressed out to have sex; we were busy trying to survive.
Morgan: Yes, and some scholars are challenging that notion, saying there was probably same sex love during that time and even during slavery. In this way, Caribbean fiction, like Marlon James’ The Book of Night Women, has been really helpful. We often look at Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson are the beginning of the story but there were multiple kinds of sexual relationships that black women had during slavery; involuntary, voluntary, strategic, non-strategic, love. But these conversations have been erased out in order to lay the blame for much of the black female struggle on racism and white supremacy, where it needs to be. I get that but I’m very concerned about what is taken out of the narrative to fulfill that agenda.
I am bringing back an old tradition of doing class notes on some of these ideas.
Joan Morgan, hip-hop feminism pioneer, has been moving her work into conversations around pleasure and sexual politics. Jeff Chang, hip-hopper-about-town and the head of Stanford’s Institue for Diversity in the Arts, asked Joan if she’d like the be the artist in residence for WinterQuarter. Joan agreed and then developed a class called “The Pleasure Principle: A Post-Hip Hop Search for a Black Feminist Politics of Pleasure.”