Center for Race & Gender Thursday Forum Series presents...
Bodies of Difference and Desire
Meditations on Mammy: Asexuality and Blackness
Ianna Hawkins Owen, African Diaspora Studies
The Asexual Visibility and Education Network functions simultaneously as a message board based community and as an advocacy organization advancing the claim that asexuals are “just like everybody else.” In this context, black asexuals on AVEN have created threads/posts seeking out other black asexual users. Non-POC responses in these threads have employed various color-blind strategies that reveal the trouble the black asexual poses to the campaign of fusing “asexual” with “everybody else.” After nearly ten years of isolated posts/threads, a permanent thread was created to centralize posts by asexual people of color. In light of this newly institutionalized nexus of black and asexual, this paper meditates on the oft-cited asexuality of the historical figure of the Mammy and asks how thinking through her constructed image might become valuable to the project of finding the black asexual. This paper intends to engage issues of temporality, relations of power, and the ethics of “using” the Mammy. Moreover, if asexuality is a kind of failure of a normative mode of desiring, of reproductivity, and if blackness is almost universally hypersexualized, how do we situate the black asexual via our memory of the Mammy figure? Her body acts as a site that demands conversation between Lee Edelman's radical queer anti-futurity and Hortense Spillers' impossible black gender/sexuality, confronting the questions: is black always already sexual? Is a black asexual possible? What is generated by the woman (slave and enslaved to nostalgia) remembered as non-generative?
Jasminder Kaur, African American Studies
In this paper I engage in a close reading of a digital high fashion advertisement to interrogate ‘black’ difference and dispossession. For many scholars of race, gender, sexuality, high fashion is a locked down toxic site, a space often unharnessed due to stereotypical representations. I, however, reposition it and open it up to innovative theoretical uses for the analysis of difference by deconstructing an image that deploys tropes of abjection, and that simultaneously celebrates a body of difference, to sell. My larger project interrogates the source of material dispossession of black subjects - abjection. Abjection is the condition of being despised, degraded, and expunged from society. I propose that, if one wants to understand black dispossession, one needs to engage with the role that abjection plays in the production of difference. Abjection is the narrative that justifies and sustains the notion of ‘black’ difference .I look at how the intersecting categories of difference (gender, race and sexuality) function to construct and exclude the ‘black’ subject from capital accumulation; from worth and value; from the realm of ethics, morals, beauty, and good; and ultimately from the realm of being ‘human’. In this paper by engaging in multiple interpretations of the same image, I demonstrate that at the same time that high fashion is a site of the production of categorical difference, that the space simultaneously disrupts these categories and as such may offer alternative possibilities. And as such I show what the space may offer for a study of abjection.