Black Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies. Edited by Juan Battle and Sandra L. Barnes. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2010, 462 pages. Paperback, $32.95.
Like foreplay, some people approach the task of exploring Black sexuality as if it is a chore, ignoring its relevance to the larger body of work on human sexuality. It is considered a special topic, separate and too difficult to discuss. Some have learned to do without it. Others approach with hesitation. However, if done well, as it is in Black Sexualities: Probing Powers, Passions, Practices, and Policies, it enhances the developing discourse on the human sexual experience and opens us to receive a more balanced understanding of sexuality across cultures.
The editors, Juan Battle and Sandra L. Barnes, undertake the extraordinary task of critically considering and then compiling the most prolific works discussing Black sexuality in this book. Determining which aspects of the vast expanse of Black sexuality to emphasize apparently was not too daunting a task to the editors, who found a way to approach it as inclusively as possible. The volume contains five sections with four chapters each, plus an epilogue, where the authors discuss everything from the available theories that used to explore Black sexuality, including those that have been misused in the past, to sexuality over the life course. It addresses how everyone of the African diaspora, from grandmothers to baby boys, experiences and identifies with the wide sexual spectrum. The editors recognize that while this book seeks to start new conversations on Black sexuality from a variety of perspectives, it is in no way all-encompassing. It serves as an invitation to explore what the authors have found, and then charges the reader to add to the body of knowledge.
Battle and Barnes utilized the World Health Organization's (2006) broad working definition of sexuality as their foundation, which acknowledges sexuality as a "central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy, and reproduction" (p. 5). They highlighted the importance of refocusing the study of Black sexuality to marginalized sexualities within the Black community, noting that in many current and historical texts, heterosexual marriage is privileged and given the most attention in research. The editors also argued that there is a relative paucity of research about Black sexuality in general. In keeping with their intent to advance the body of knowledge, they highlighted authors who address lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender folks, along with people who engage in sexual practices that have been deemed "atypical" by past writers.
In one chapter, Kevin McGruder asks for heterosexual couples to share some of the heterosexual privilege, arguing that the reason there may be such a high level of homophobia is because some Blacks hold so few privileges that they may be even more reluctant to give up the few they possess. Battle and Barnes also intended to use the platform of this work to support authors who conscientiously avoid the deficiency approach (i.e., analysis from the perspective that Black sexuality is "deviant and in need of explanation or remedy"; p. 138). In the chapter, "Revisiting Black Sexualities in Families," Erica Chito Childs and colleagues offer a survey of familiar themes in Black sexuality works, but through the lens of lesser-known authors who acknowledge and study the intersectionality of race, class, gender, and sexuality. These authors offer explanations and new ideas for future research, which they hope will be performed by Black people, using mixed-method approaches to "privilege the voices and experiences of Blacks" (p. 148).
All of the authors, in some way, reiterate the history of the study and abuse of Black people in the guise of science and early sex research, noting examples like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the use of labels such as "jezebel" and "bucks" to refer to Black women and men, to emphasize their supposed hypersexuality. …