Black Female Sexuality in Music
The black female body has been stereotypically sexualized for years and has had major effects on young black women’s sexual decision making. Black women have been viewed as sexual objects since as far back as slavery. We constantly expend a lot of energy fighting off sexualities that are imposed upon us time and time again. It’s exhausting having to constantly let it be known that black women can be sexual and comfortable in our own skin without having to be objectified and fetishized. Since slavery, the black female body has consistently been dissociated from whiteness in America. It has been put on display to be viewed as deviant from white “civilized” society, but also used for the pleasure of white men. These representations can be seen historically with women such as Sarah Baartman, also known as Saartjie Baartman. Historical abuse of black woman, from slavery and beyond, has been validated by the idea that black women are hypersexual, therefore unrapable and or incapable of being abused. Thus, hypersexualized representations of black women often lead to a discourse on respectability politics for black women to dismiss, or counter notions of their seemingly inherent reactiveness. Music has been one way in which black women have countered this discourse. Many black female vocalists throughout history have reconstructed and redefined the tired notions of sexuality that have been placed on them. They created a space for the expression of black female sexuality within pop culture as well as daily life. Artists such as Bessie Smith, Nina Simone and Beyoncé and Missy Elliot used their music to let it be known that we are claiming our sexuality back. They let us know that yes, they’re black, yes they are female and most importantly, they have the right to express that it’s not taboo to want to be sexy.
Before going into detail about this topic, it is important to talk about the history and where this all started. It is important to understand the racist and sexist roots of stereotypes about black female sexuality. The bodies of black women were hypersexualized to justify white men raping them on the slave ships, plantations, and during the Jim Crow era. In fact, as in any war-torn country, rape was used as a method to terrorize black women and their families well through the Civil Rights era. What was natural to their bodies — their hair, their lips, their hips, their thighs — were deemed dark and lascivious and worthy of plunder. Black women were the original poster children for slut shaming. That is something that shouldn’t be reclaimed.
Around the year 1810, the hypersexualization of black women came into fruition. Historically known as the ‘Hottentot Venus,’ Sarah Baartman’s body was put on display in life and death for a white audience to scrutinize her “oversized” buttocks, labia and clitoris as evidence of the primitive sexuality of black women. Baartman was reportedly sold to a British doctor...