How The Colonial History of Hypersexualization Obscures the Possibility of Black Asexuality
Black asexuals deserve to have more visibility and clarity, and Black people deserve to embrace our sexualities outside of the confines of prescribed hypersexualization.
This essay contains discussions of sexual and reproductive violences, and racist fetishization
“Western social thought associates Blackness with an imagined uncivilized, wild sexuality and uses this association as one lynchpin of racial difference. Whether depicted as ‘freaks’ of nature or as being the essence of nature itself, savage, untamed sexuality characterizes Western representations of [people] of African descent.”
—Patricia Hill Collins, “Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism”
Blackness is hypersexualized. The myth of the uncontrollable and socially-menacing Black libido persists and finds its roots strongly affixed to white colonial and supremacist rationale. Its result has been psycho-sexual and socio-sexual racism, fetishism, and terrorism against generations of Black people of all sexualities, orientations, and genders. Blackness negates the need for consent in the social imagination since we are constructed as always consenting—either passively or enthusiastically—to the sexualization imposed onto us.
The evidence lay plainly in our ancestors’ lives and deaths on the plantation, where sexual and reproductive violences stripped them of control over much of their own sexualities and family planning. White slaveholders, of course, used their own beliefs about the sexual deviancy and subhumanity of Blackness to justify and rationalize their brutality, but these ideologies predate the Transatlantic Slave Trade and they have lingered for centuries after, continuing to manifest in how Black sexuality is perceived in contemporary society.
In every space, we are conceived of as sexually deviant Others. As an asexual Black woman, I think of this truth and I consider what possibilities there are for me to subvert this projection through embracing my asexuality since it is the violent, exploitative history attached to Black sexuality which works to construct Black asexuality as an impossibility. My asexuality will never be separate from larger endeavors to excavate Black sexuality from beneath dehumanizing white colonial interpretations, and I find myself deeply concerned with what little space there seems to be for Black asexual visibility in the face of our hypersexualization.
Stereotypes about Black women are largely defined, in one way or another, by and through our presumed sexual expression and practice. As a result, we are more readily sexually objectified and fetishized than our white counterparts. The Jezebel is always sexually available and this is evidence of her loose morals. The Matriarch uses her sexuality to emasculate, control, and alienate men. As such, she is perpetually single and, therefore, of very little value. She is seen as the source of all of the “Black community’s problems” and the absence of Black fathers is always blamed on her. The Welfare Queen is not only a sexually irresponsible “breeder” of bastard children, but she is also a leech and a drain on society, so much so that government policy has been enacted because of her laziness, greed, and sexual habits.
In stark contrast to these others is the Mammy. Asexuality is written on her and her body, but only as a means to relegate her to a life of eternal servitude to others. She is undesirable and undesiring of sexual expressions, which means that she is unencumbered in her ability to be a surrogate mother and a tireless domestic worker. Unconcerned about her own pleasure outside of being a jolly and content participant in her own subjugation, her prescribed asexuality renders her non-threatening and endlessly available to perform any labor that might be asked or demanded of her. Mammy is constructed as asexual without her consent or input, in the same way that the others are constructed as hypersexualized without theirs. Both of these social scripts leave Black women, and those assumed to be women, in a constant struggle with racialized assumptions about our (a)sexuality, its purpose, and its possibilities. Though these stereotypes were originally written onto and are primarily associated with cis Black women, they are also attributed to and have impacted the lives of Black trans women, as well as many folks of other genders who were assigned female at birth.
The Black phallus holds a distinctive place in the social imagination in regards to Black sexuality and masculinity. It conjures up images of the Black Brute, the Black Buck, the Black Breeder, and the Mandingo—all different versions of the same lie about the aggressive, animalistic, sex-crazed Black man who preys on innocent white women and breeds countless Black children. This renders Black men and the Black phallus as desired and fetishized on the one hand, but feared and demonized on the other. Myths about and expectations of the Black phallus are perpetuated in the everyday conversations about Black sex. One result is that Black masculinity is often significantly defined through sexual conquest, leaving Black men under immense pressure to engage in hyper-masculine and patriarchal rituals that involve promiscuity and predatory sex. As with stereotypes about Black women, these ideas about the Black phallus impact the perception and experiences of trans, non-binary, and otherwise genderqueer Black people as well.
Even Black children are not free from this hypersexualization. There is a maturity inscribed onto Black children at a very early age and they become sexualized through this “adultification.” I think of the Fast Black Girl as the Jezebel’s younger sister. She is a girl who is impossible to sexually abuse and exploit since she either knowingly makes herself sexually attractive or doesn’t do enough to make herself unattractive to men. Consider this alongside the way social expectations of Black masculinity leave Black boys vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation as well, which are easily framed as achievements of sexual prowess and something they are encouraged to be proud of, rather than situations in which they were taken advantage of by a predatory adult.
All of these things, and many more, are formed through racist understandings of how sexually accessible Black people are and should be, of how we use sex irresponsibly and immorally. We become understood by and through ideas about whether or not we are deemed sexually desirable and whether or not we even deserve to have our own autonomous sexual desires while others project their needs onto us. I believe this is the historical and social narrative that works to eclipse the possibility of the existence of a Black asexuality—at least one that does not look like Mammy’s subjugation and servitude. It helps to foster the denial of a Black asexuality that exists simply because it is one of many natural ways of being or one that directly challenges centuries of a presumed hypersexualization.
The other side of this coin is the pervasive whiteness of mainstream queerness, including and especially asexuality. Heteronormativity is a product of whiteness, its delusions of inherent supremacy, and its violent colonial rule. Asexual queerness resists this. However, in mainstream queer spaces, all aspects of queerness become associated and aligned with whiteness. White sexuality becomes a “neutral” space in the white queer imagination, a blank canvas onto which they can paint a multitude of expressions without the limits of racialization because whiteness itself is seen as raceless and pure. Because white supremacy and colonialism have cultivated the myth that Black sexuality is inherently and permanently debaucherous, white sexuality is allowed to be malleable and exploratory in ways that Black sexuality is not.
Asexuality is already such an invisibilized identity, even in queer spaces, and the assumed impossibility of Black asexuality creates even further invisibility for Black asexuals. We are continually fighting anti-Blackness, against racialized cultural assumptions, expectations, and demands on our sexual expression. It warps our view of our own sexuality and creates barriers to seeing asexuality as a true possibility for Black people. It keeps many Black asexuals from being able to recognize our own asexuality as authentic and valid and prevents others from acknowledging our existence or helping to create space for us in asexual and queer spaces. But our existence is undeniable. Black asexuals deserve to have more visibility and clarity, and Black people deserve to embrace our sexualities outside of the confines of prescribed hypersexualization.
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