Professor discusses intersection of black sexuality, politics


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Photo by Tianfang Yu |

Erica Edwards, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside, discussed the depictions of black women’s sexuality yesterday at the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett Building on Douglass campus.


Black women have been portrayed as both marginalized and empowered, excluded and included, said Erica Edwards, an associate professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Edwards presented her ideas at a talk titled “Living Text for a Dying Nation: Black Sexuality and Textuality after Empire” yesterday in the Ruth Dill Johnson Crockett building on Douglass campus.

Edwards specializes in African-American literature, gender, sexuality and black political culture.

Her work, published in journals such as American Quarterly and Black Camera, demonstrates how people have been rethinking modern African-American literature and its relationship to popular culture and history, said Nicole Fleetwood, director of the Institute for Research on Women.

The discussion was based on Edward’s studies of African-American literature and the war on terror, which she is currently writing about for a novel.

Edwards said Michelle Obama, Condoleezza Rice and other black women in politics and the media are featured as both foreign threats and as part of American democratic promise in today’s political culture.

Black women’s sexuality has profound implications for “blackness” and power within critical studies of gender and sexuality, Edwards said.

“[It] has lubricated transformations in the political economy and discourses,” she said.

The main question is how society should interpret African-American cultural production amidst post-9/11 political transformations.

Black women have filled an essential position in the framework of social security through an era defined by the war on terror, she said. In the post-9/11 era, the diversity of black feminism was lost in the political landscape.

In the decades after World War II, representations of black women’s sexuality surfaced to announce the incorporation of black subjects into the government of an increasingly global state.

Edwards said scenes of fantasy in films allow the placement of contemporary narratives of freedom into the context of black women’s sexuality.

As an example, Edwards displayed a screenshot from the 2012 film “Lincoln.”

In the scene, Lincoln’s housekeeper is introduced as his lover as he hands her a Senate emancipation bill.

The scene demonstrates the scandal of interracial sex, but in a broader sense, Lincoln’s black lover serves to connect emancipation to democracy, Edwards said. The film sets a different kind of imagery around black women’s sex into motion.

“The tying of [blackness] to freedom positions the woman as a political sexual subject,” she said.

These representations hint at the possibility of a new kind of being in which the black female is the very force of economic and political survival or preservation, Edwards said.

“Depictions of sexuality may reveal how the black woman functions as a living text for a dying nation,” she said.

The Institute for Research on Women, the Department of English and the Department of African Studies sponsored the seminar. Fleetwood said the institute brings together interdisciplinary scholars who conduct work on women’s sexuality.

The overarching theme of IRW’s seminars this year was “decolonizing gender,” said Fleetwood, an associate professor in the Department of American Studies.

She said the co-sponsors asked Edwards to speak because of her exciting and timely research.

Edwards offers a surprising approach to current affairs that are also grounded in cultural history, Fleetwood said.

Yasmina Madeira, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, attended the seminar to receive extra credit in one of her classes and was excited about the topic of discussion.

“I like to learn more about anything that pertains to minorities,” said Madeira, a Latin American studies major.


Carley Ens

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