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.
Everyone needs to watch this video, left, right, center, apathetic—it doesn’t matter. This is the very essence of rape illiteracy that is still being fought in 2012.
Share with everyone. You never know who needs these words the most.
I love Melissa Harris-Perry and this is incredibly powerful.
“When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift.”
Brought me to tears.
You need the text of this letter. Man… Melissa Harris-Perry for PRESIDENT.
Dear Mr. Mourdock,
Sometimes I still flinch when I’m touched a certain way, even if it’s the loving embrace of my husband. I can’t stand to watch TV shows where rape is the central plot line. Even some seasons of the year are harder for me. Those of us who are sexual assault survivors call these triggers. We spend our lives — the lives we lead after the attack — avoiding and managing these triggers.
A congressional debate shouldn’t have to come with a trigger warning. But apparently, Richard, yours should. Because in Tuesday’s debate for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat, you said this Tuesday night during a debate in New Albany, Indiana.
“I believe that life begins at conception…The only exception I have, to have an abortion, is in that case of the life of the mother. I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.”
Rape and sexual assault are complicated experiences for survivors. Some of us fight, kick, scream, and resist at every moment. Some of us eventually give in to save our own lives or to manage the horror. Some of us know that what is happening is rape, others of us just know it is wrong, but don’t have the words to describe why. Some of us push the memories down and try to forget, others of us battle openly with the nightmares and scars every day. There is no one right way to survive. There is no one right way to feel.
As we heal, we learn not to judge ourselves or to judge our fellow survivors, because we learn that judgment can wound as deeply as assault. If a woman finds herself pregnant after a rape, we do not judge the choices she makes.
I am descended from American slaves. I have foremothers who found themselves pregnant with children whose birth increased the wealth of the very man who enslaved and raped them. Somehow, through the angst and misery of that experience some of those women found a way to love and embrace the children they bore from rape. So I do not doubt the compassion or judge the choice of a survivor who carries a rape pregnancy to term.
But the whole point is choice. Consent. You see, Mr. Mourdock, the violation of rape is more than physical. Rapists strip women of our right to choose, of our right to say no, of our right to control what is happening to our bodies. Most assailants tell us it is our fault. They tell us to be silent. Sometimes they even tell us it’s God’s will. That is the core violation of rape– it takes away choice.
Richard, you believe it is fine to ignore a women’s right to choose because of your interpretation of divinity. Sound familiar?
Let me explain something to you. When we survive sexual assault, we are the gift. When we survive, when we go on to love, to work, to speak out, to have fun, to laugh, to dance, to cry, tolive, when we do that, we defeat our attackers. For a moment, they strip us of our choices. As we heal, we take our choices back. We are the gift to ourselves, our families, our communities, and our nation when we survive.
Now let me say this very clearly to you Mr Mourdock, and to all of your shameless endorsers: we did not survive an attack on our consent just to turn around and give up our right to choose to you. Not without a fight.
Are you sure you want to have that fight?
I love this woman.
: sigh :
i just love her.
Today, most Americans have never heard of Emancipation Day. Even I did not know about the holiday until I began research on the origins of Juneteenth, the unofficial commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Texas in 1865 – a cruel two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. The absence of the formal holidays that explicitly recognize America’s end of slavery is peculiar, for it has not only meant that we forget the cause of our nation’s only civil war, but also the lives and contributions of millions of enslaved African Americans whose labor built our country. In turn, their descendants now have an ambivalent relationship to the nation’s past: we have become civic strangers in our own home.
This is also why the Emancipation Proclamation occupies such a unique place in our pantheon of America’s democratic texts. Unlike Thomas Jefferson’s excising of slavery from his final draft of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, or last year’s slavery-free reading of the Constitution by House Republicans, the Emancipation Proclamation is both a site of slavery and a symbol of American freedom. As a stubborn reminder of our founding paradox and redeemer of our violent racial past, it is inherently more deliberative, sincere and ultimately closer to the practice of democracy than its predecessors.
In our era of new racial disenfranchisement – biased voter ID laws, harassing “stop-and-frisk” policies and the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans and Latinos – we can still feel the long arm of slavery. Today, we need a new Emancipation Proclamation, one much like the original, that comes out of protest against racial inequities in the present, with the promise of a more democratic future.
The recent controversy over Barney Frank accusing Log Cabin Republicans of being “Uncle Toms overlooks some important historical facts. Those facts are significant because his overlooking them reveals a lack of understanding of the differing contexts of oppression of LGBT people and people of color, particularly African Americans, that is widespread in the primarily white LGBT movement.
But first, as a gay man, I gotta give it to Mr. Frank. Log Cabin Republicans (called that in deference to Lincoln) are worthy of criticism. I may, like Mr. Frank, disagree with Republicans who happen to be LGBT, but I have the most profound disrespect for LGBT Republicans who serve as apologists for Republican bigotry.
But to call them “Uncle Toms?” That was just wrong.
Before speaking, Barney Frank should have considered the context of slavery out of which the character Uncle Tom comes. He was not voluntarily in the service of his master as are Log Cabin Republicans. Volition was something slaves were denied.
Moreover, Uncle Tom’s real life equivalents didn’t profit by their support of their masters. Slaves were property. According to the logic of slavery, they were nothing more than units of production. When they didn’t work, they were “fixed” through terrorism and violence, and when they wore out, they were discarded.
Women were regularly raped, and men sometimes castrated at the whims of their masters. Under such circumstances, a servile attitude is a form of self-defense. This survival strategy is not to be compared to Log Cabin Republicans whose agenda is more like self-aggrandizement.
I need white people to stop pretending consent was possible during slavery.
Stop lying to yourselves that those black cousins are the result of illicit love affairs & grasp that slaves could not say no.
When consent is not an option, when you’re only seen as 3/5ths of a human being & you have no legal standing? You can’t say yes.
I need white America to sit down for a sec. Look into the faces of black Americans with the same last names & figure it the fuck out.
Our ancestors were raped by your ancestors. Regularly. Some of the kids were treated kindly. Most were not. They were sold.
White mistresses punished the slaves for “tempting” master & congratulated themselves on that bloody work. Read the narratives.
Not the cleaned up ones either. Read Incidents in The Life of A Slave Girl & understand that Mammy was a victim, not the one who loved you.
She couldn’t care for her kids, couldn’t choose her husband or their father most of the time. She was a slave.
Millions of people died on the Middle Passage. Millions more died here at the hands of your ancestors. Own that.
Now you want to sing Kumbaya & keep oppressing our communities & erasing our contributions. Spare me the tired bullshit.
Male slaves fared no better. There’s a long history of them being raped, tortured & killed too. That was slavery. Stop romanticizing it.
Our children were fed to alligators as bait (feel free to look that up) died of starvation or exposure & that was slavery too. Yep, we were livestock & you use sickly livestock as bait.
Stop watching Gone With The Wind & fantasizing about beautiful plantations if you can’t accept what happened on those plantations.
House slaves had it better in the sense of access to food & possibly better treatment, but they were still slaves.
14 year old slave girls weren’t falling in love with the men who could beat them & everyone they loved to death.
Read the tales of enslaved women who killed their children to spare them. Read about people beaten to death as an example.
Sally Hemings could have left Jefferson in Paris. Of course her entire family was still in his power. And his “love”? Didn’t free her. Ever.
Go look at the pictures of former slaves backs. Whipped until they bled & left to scar so they were maimed for life & couldn’t run.
Also before you talk about the cleaned up narratives, remember that the people relating their stories knew lynching was always possible.
Records of slavery were deliberately destroyed so that former owners wouldn’t have to pay anyone.
That “peculiar institution” was generations of blood, pain, & terror. That’s what built America. Never forget that.
Now stop talking about anyone’s white ancestors like they deserve the fucking credit for the success of people descended from slaves.
American slavery began in 1619. June 19, 1865 was the last official day of slavery. Do the math on how long it takes to heal that wound.
After slavery was officially over? Black codes & Jim Crow laws followed. America’s history of oppression is longer than that of freedom.
Also before any dumb motherfuckers land in my mentions. I have a degree in history. I will read you to filth & bury you in sources.
Trust & believe there is no country here for people who want to romanticize a system that is still grinding away at my community.
All this fluffy fucking talk about American history to coddle white kids feelings & engender patriotism? You won’t get it here.
My ancestors built this country, I served this country & I will tell the damned truth about this country. Don’t like it? Fuck you.
Now let me get in my feelings about slavery before Africans were brought here. Because we weren’t the first people enslaved.
We were deliberately sought out for our skill sets & resistance to disease. Know why we were resistant? We’d had contact for years.
All of that “My ancestors never owned slaves so it has nothing to do with me?” Go look at those NDN ancestors again. See how many were free.
While you’re in there checking that out? Look up those old country ancestors & see how many benefited from slavery indirectly.
Also while we’re talking about NDN relatives? Yo, learn a name besides Cherokee. Better yet, learn about the genocidal tactics they faced.
Look up immigrant groups becoming white in America. Find out who had to bleed so they could gain access to white privilege.
Let’s really talk about the Red Summer of 1919 & how it wasn’t an unusual occurrence. Tulsa, Rosewood? They were just famous.
Let’s talk about welfare & who could access it. Hell let’s talk about who is collecting more of it right now.
Let’s talk about the primary beneficiaries of affirmative action (spoiler! White women!) & what it means to attack black people instead.
Shit, let’s get into the Great Depression & the Great Recession & who is hurting the most financially through both.
Let’s talk about conditions on reservations, in the inner city, & the violence faced by POC who try to leave those areas.
Hell, let’s talk about why we don’t see shows that reflect the American population set in the past, present, or future.
Go read Columbus’ diaries & see what “civilization” really meant to the people he encountered.
For that matter go read up on King Leopold & the Congo. I’ll wait while you cry.
That’s the thing about whiteness as a social construct in America. It’s not about white people, it’s about white power over others.
When we’re talking about white privilege? We’re talking about what it takes to shape this society based on oppression.
America is a young country with a lot of power because of genocide, slavery, & continuing oppression. Individuals build institutions.
All of these conversations aren’t about bringing out white guilt, they’re about ending this institution developed over the generations.
Also let’s be clear that America is sick with this ish across the political spectrum. It may manifest differently but it exists everywhere.
Before I go, let me also suggest that people who are curious about anything I tweeted about take a tour through Google with terms.
It’s not that I won’t answer questions, but there are books out there that I think everyone should read on slavery, whiteness, & America.