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Book Showcase: Black Sexual Politics
2005-11-01

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Book Showcase: Black Sexual Politics

—Patricia Hill Collins ( Routledge; $17.95 )

Topics related to race, gender or politics can be fairly controversial by themselves. Discussing all three simultaneously can create a volcanic mix that might prove to be too hot for some.

It is this incendiary olio that is the focus of Black Sexual Politics, in which Patricia Hill Collins rejects the approach of self-help books and argues that becoming empowered involves learning to think for oneself.

Collins contends that modern American popular culture capitalizes on and magnifies Black sexuality ( e.g., Black men as Mandingo warrior lovers ) , as seen in everything from rap videos to paternity tests on syndicated TV series like The Jerry Springer Show. The result, she says, is a new type of racism that involves Blacks being cast as hypersexual beings. In order to confront social inequality, Collins says that Blacks need an analysis of masculinity and femininity that deals with the connection between sexual politics, gender ideology and empowerment.

The author examines the impact of what she says are distorted social images by examining several issues, including sex and youth; interracial romance; the hip-hop world; sexual violence; and HIV/AIDS. For example, in the chapter Why We Can't Wait: Black Sexual Politics and the Challenge of HIV/AIDS, Collins declares that the media masks structural barriers ( such as institutionalized rape ) by using visuals of African-American masculinity and femininity to stigmatize straights with a promiscuous Black hyper-heterosexuality and pathologize the sexual practices of LGBT Black people.

Not even the iconic Oprah Winfrey is safe from Collins's analyses. In a chapter entitled Get Your Freak On, Collins lauds Winfrey's impact, saying that the talk-show queen's success provides a stamp of endorsement ... that goes far beyond any expertise she might possess on any given topic. However, the author also contends that even though Winfrey urges people to change themselves to make their problems disappear, the advice stops short of connecting those changes with necessary resources and opportunities.

Although there is no separate chapter that focuses exclusively on the LGBT community, pro-gay rhetoric is sprinkled liberally throughout the book. At one point, Collins calls for a [ B ] lack liberatory politics that affirms [ B ] lack lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sexualities. Elsewhere, she opines that women, [ LGBT ] people, people living with HIV ... and others deemed to be an embarrassment to the broader African-American community ... become targets of silencing, persecution and/or abuse.

In Black Sexual Politics, Collins weaves together such topics as history, sociology and even biology to present her case that there is a new type of racism—any book that invokes Cornel West's assertion that [ w ] hite fear of [ B ] lack sexuality is a basic ingredient of white racism is not likely to tiptoe around the subject.

Collins is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park and is the Charles Phelps Taft Emeritus Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies at the University of Cincinnati.


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