WHAT LOOKS LIKE PROGRESS BLACK FEMINIST NARRATIVES ON HIV/AIDS
Most folks continue to articulate a vision of racial uplift that prioritizes the needs of males and valorizes conventional notions of gender roles.
bell hooks, “Ain't She Still a Woman?”
S i n c e the release of Boys on the Side, progressive black feminist discourse on HIV has emerged on the literary scene. Charlotte Watson Sherman's touch, Sapphire's Push, and Pearl Cleage's What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day forge a dramatic convergence between evolving commentary on women and AIDS and black women's writing, and for this alone these three texts are worthy of critical attention. They are trailblazers in the way they draw on black feminist literary innovations to imagine the story of AIDS from black women's standpoints. All three novels focus on HIV in black women and girls, and all challenge the still standard assumption that AIDS is a disease of the socially unacceptable and guilty. They also candidly and repeatedly challenge the black community's silences on HIV.
At the same time that they address (and protest) racial and gender silence on the epidemic, each novel utilizes traditional conceptions of femininity, particularly in terms of gender and caretaking. African American women's mothering, caretaking, and community activism are often expressions of political and cultural self-preservation rather than instances of diminishment and destructive self-denial—these latter themes are often associated with white middle-class women's experiences of mothering. 1 Mothering for African American women can be a radical, resistant act, one that slaveholders attempted to deny them—yet women still mothered— and one that continues to be threatened by economic racism and racial vi