Exploring Sexuality from a Black Perspective
Review By Rudolph Lewis
I like very much what Mya B has done with the digital camera. Her first full length documentary, Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality in America, partakes of a full-blown movement by conscientious black artists to put the new technology to the task of our liberation as a people. Mya B daringly undertakes to bring to focus our American heritage of sexual puritanism and hypocrisy,
a subject that is only undertaken casually, though sexuality is such a strong undercurrent to the stability of all our lives as Americans.
Mya Bs major point is that silence rules black sexuality, particularly, black female sexuality. It was Dr. Hilda Hutcherson (I believe), one of the featured authorities, who said her mother gave her this sexual prescription and nothing more: Keep your pants up, your dress down, and your legs closed.
Dr. Hutcherson is a woman quite educated and middle-class, a professional. So in her case, sexual repression may have in a Freudian way transferred energies into a certain kind of discipline, focus, and drive for success. But Hutcherson concludes that her puritanism decimated the intimacy between her husband (whom she loves) and her, and they divorced. The relationship could not be reconciled.
Mya B interviews a good cross-section of Black women, beautiful and often luscious, old as well as young adult women in their 20s and 30s. That this silence occurred for this age group, children of my generation, suggests that the sexual revolution of the 70s and 80s did not run very deep in matters of sex as it plays out in black life. So the black Baptist preachers seem to have the last word on black sexual ethics, these days. And their ambivalence toward sexuality is legendary, witness Jesse Jackson.
Mya B puts forth the argument that black female sexuality is governed more by the inadequacies of black Protestantism, puritanical to the core, and unable to confront matters of sex and sexuality beyond the proscriptions in the Bible. The attitude is, Dont ask, dont tell. Be silent. Thus the general response of these young women is that their mothers told them wait until marriage before sex, and nothing more. They all thought it was good motherly advice. Few however followed it.
There was an Afrocentrist also who spiritualized black sexuality into Maat, again a return to ancient texts as a means of resolving post-modern realities. He says he and his mate pray before they have sex. He thought that was light years beyond the stereotypical structures in which the West has placed black sexuality and particularly black female sexuality.
In the Manichaean world of black sexuality in America, Mya B points out that there are two stops for the black female: Jemima and Jezebel, one undersexed, the other oversexed.
Both females have biblical correlates, and both command in their own manner. Jemina is always rotund with a scarf tie to the front. Her breasts are ample, and that was necessary for she had to nurse not only her own children but also those of her mistress. And in her affections she was thrown into an emotional dilemma, the black baby (boy) at her breast is her love and her blood; but she knows her realistic hope lies in the affections of the white child (boy) on the other tit.
Opposite of Jemima, Jezebel does not give way to the airy hypocrisy of Virginia patriarchy. These black women know American white men, their need for slave cabins, Harlems, and gangster honeys. And the dark of night. These Jezebels know sexuality stark naked stripped of romance and the Church as a field for power, for struggle, or the submission to power. It provides advantages and opportunities. The few strippers interviewed said they loved to be sexy, naked, dancing before an audience, and I assume, an audience that has dollar bills to spend, the more the better. A female acquaintance concluded that the whore was lying about her liking her job. Im not quite so willing as she to abuse what now is called sex workers. Im a union man.
One of the most enlightening pieces of Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality in America is a rape scene, repeated like a leitmotif. Im uncertain about the source of the dramatization. The scene has its sexual ambiguity on one level, and its shocking revelatory aspect on the other. It takes place in a barn (or a horse stable) on the hay, a beautiful, well-limbed chocolate woman drenched in sweat and horror fights off the advances, the attack of a white man, her master, presumably, or maybe an Irish “nigger trainer.” One senses, on one hand, why such a possession (such a woman) is desirable; the other, is that the camera pans to five or six black children watching the rape, and back to the rape.
One comes to the radical conclusion: we are the children of that rape, that we blacks of America are bastards. And that America has been indeed SILENT on that issue of rape. Where all these yellow babies come from, one is afraid to ask. We should ask Nathaniel Turner’s mama; she’ll tell how it works, how it happens, off the slave ship and in the homes of good Christian white men..
It is something we black folk should just get over, recommends the suburban soccer mom. Thats what counseling and psychoanalysts are for. “Get a hold of yourself, get over it!” This callous attitude toward the profundity of black suffering, of course, is derived from the ignorance of black life, by both blacks and whites, old and young. We, it is not understood widely, are a people born in violence, much like America, shaped by violence, and we have been slaughtered by outrageous gang violence (entire villages and towns), and by torture and lynching. There is a great measure of shame attached to this existential reality of black life in America, this vulnerability, this centuries long courting of death by black men to carve out their own human reality.
Is there any psychoanalyst, guru, living saint, or black Baptist preacher capable of healing such a chasm within the black American psyche. We ask too much of individuals in curing individuals of a dilemma so encompassing, so horrific. None should expect that Mya B with her documentary Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality in America to resolve such a dilemma. But I think Mya Bs film is a good start, despite its shortcomings.
The major flaw in the argument of the film is that there is an attempt to discuss black female sexuality without a discussion of black male sexuality and white male sexuality and the entanglement of the two. For it has always been white men who (their cultures which) have established the structures in which black sexuality has operated. And those structures set black men and white men at odds, with black men always in the weaker power position, that struggle undermines societal accomplishments, thus decreasing their availability as scholars, business men, family men, and respect from black women.
There is a kind of mother-child relationship that exists too often between black men and their women. Too much teenage love unresolved in the lives of black women. One senses that black female sexuality has yet to really mature. That may result because black women have not yet truly dealt with the male sexuality issues of black men, and their existential implications. In these days and times of evangelical sway and republican ideologies of power at any cost, our middle-class leaders tell us, in the name of self-reliance that we cannot blame white people for anything, witness Bill Cosby.
Unfortunate, today we have the prevalence of female positions that are oriented too much around the personal (witness Oprah), outside the context of the larger struggles of black life. Let me point out to you a statement made recently by spoken word artist Ro Deezy, known also as “Sister Cypha”:
You cannot change a person. Too often, women hang onto unhealthy relationships (both intimate relationships and same-sex friendship) for the sake of having someone around. We need to learn to stop identifying ourselves by our relationship status. A lot of women stay in unhealthy relationships as a result of their assumed inability to cope with the sadness or emptiness that they may feel if they leave.
The truth is, if you are in a bad relationship, chances are, you already feel sad and empty. Its one of the oldest saying in the book, you can do bad by yourself.
“Sister Cypha,” www.Femmixx.com
Black women sessions are filled with stories of their unhealthy relationships with black men after the evening of pleasures has resided. Many black women however have managed to disassociate their sexuality from the church and even from men, though they continue to have relationships with both. I was quite shocked when I first heard a church-going friend speak in terms of being “serviced.” Of men making “service” calls, or as the more hip call them, “booty calls.”
Mya Bs film is not a Ken Burns production. But I think shes on her way to that kind of artistry and professionalism, and thoughtfulness. The dvd is worth any value she places on it. I recommend it highly. Though it contains nudity and semi-nudity (African slaves), I recommend its instructional value for older teenagers, especially those of high school age. It might indeed be an icebreaker for parents to use in ethical and rational discussions about sexuality in America with their teenage daughters and sons.
* * * * *
This 74-minute documentary explores the reasons for sexual silence in the black community with historical facts and testimonies that dates back to slavery and the myths that were created about black women from slavery, the Jim Crow era, and up to now.
In this documentary, fifteen black women in Chicago from all ages, backgrounds, and professions speak for the very first time about their sexual wants, needs, and desires, aiming to clarify these sexual misconceptions and reveal the truth about their sexuality “in their own words.”
In the age of misogynist hip hop, as black women are portrayed as “freaks,” Mya B sets to destroy the present sexual myths about black women. Among those interviewed, Little X and Nzingha Stewart, two well-known black music industry and the societal impact of the “video hoe” images.
Mixed with melancholic music, film clips, and hard-hitting interviews from every-day people, professors, and music video directors. This film takes us on a journey into American history, unveiling the hidden skeletons that lie deep in the bedrooms of many slave owners.
Mya B can be contacted at 718-398-0725 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Mya Baker is a young filmmaker and raised in chi-town. She currently resides in brooklyn, NY where she came to be around people of like mind in the independent film industry. Graduating from Columbia College of Chicago in 1995 with a concentration in film studies gave her the writing and production skills needed to pursue her passion as an independent filmmaker.
She was inspired by film as a young child with her indoctrination into the film world with the movie, Exorcist. Since then, she has been a horror movie fan, and fascinated by the works of Spike Lee, Mira Nair, Jim Jarmuch, David Lynch, John Singleton, Pedro Almodovar and many others.
From working as a PA on several independent films and interning, she decided to venture into her own project. After two years of groundbreaking interviews and obtaining historical information, she has just finished her documentary entitled Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality in America. This documentary has already received a Telly Award for 2004 and has been making noise at various film festivals.
Her first documentary short, Warrior Queen was shown in 1994 at the Dusable Museum of African American History at Chicago. Mya B also writes poetry and is well rounded with her knowledge of music. She hopes to incorporate this knowledge of music into her future productions by working with hip-hop producers on film scores for her next projects.
She is now working on some feature length screenplays and on a short film.
posted June 2005
update 6 August 2008