INJURY OF INEQUALITY AND REIMAGINING BLACK SEXUAL WORLDS
And, adding insult to injury, after the creation of the wound, as Hayes describes, the wound cannot properly heal–since the individual does not have access to the proper resources to care for the injury.
The intentional and systematic exclusion of marginalized communities from protection and social safety nets is essentially what creates these injuries of inequality.
Watkins-Hayes maps out examples of these injuries taking place in our legal system (mass incarceration), housing (residential segregation), and employment (chronic unemployment) (Hayes, 13).
Yet, Hayes goes on to say that,
“Researchers also consider how individuals and communities respond to these injuries, identifying processes of identity formation, everyday survival, struggles for mobility, and political resistance in a context of constraint and confinement”
So, while the system may be structurally designed to exclude specific communities, it is as a result of this exclusion that inspires the formation of new worlds and new politics.
When we look at black sexual politics, we can see this taking place. Looking at government programs, like welfare, or turning to black culture, we can see the development of new black sexual politics and worlds as a result of an “injury of inequality.”
INJURY OF INEQUALITY WITHIN THE WELFARE SYSTEM
Let’s first look at the welfare system. Government welfare was a system that was initially inspired to accommodate “certain ‘deserving’ mothers,” which should read as a system that excluded black mothers. This exclusion is, by definition, an injury of inequality.
Here, the systematic oppression of black people is visible. However, the exclusion of black mothers acts as salt to the wound. As black mothers are already economically disadvantaged with substantially less opportunity for economic mobility.
Thus, by excluding black mothers from welfare programs, the system only further disenfranchises a disadvantaged community. And, it was no coincidence that when black women were finally included in the Welfare system, that the benefits of the program were exponentially slashed while also heightening surveillance and policing of those who received the now minimal benefits.
Thus, the welfare system became a way to reinforce the color line. And, with black women now included in its benefits, the conversation around receiving welfare benefits changed.
Currently, there is a negative stigma around being a “welfare mom,” you may have heard the phrase “welfare queen.” Terms associated with black motherhood that read irresponsibility, “ratchet,” like that of “baby mama.”
But, along with this exclusion, this injury of inequality, black women create their own politics, their own sexual worlds.
NEW WORLDS IN MUSIC
Looking to Fantasia’s “Baby Mama,” a song that is an anthem for “baby mamas,” we see her reclaiming the words. In what society says she should be ashamed of, she stands in proudly.
While Watkins-Hayes describes this as individuals navigation of an unsafe terrain, Terrion L. Williamson gives a new term to understand this: “the black grotesque.”
It is within the black grotesque that the black being is re-valuized. The absence and refusal of shame is where the black grotesque is embodied. Standing in the black grotesque means standing proudly in who you are even though society says that what you are is grotesque and that you should be ashamed.
The black grotesque is what society doesn’t want to see: the baby mama, black mothers (in general), etc.
Yet standing proudly in the black grotesque signals the creation of new worlds and possibilities, ones unattached from the shame and stigma society places on black bodies. And this signals liberation.
True liberty can look like the grotesque, but it’s not a liberty within our institution, but a liberty that makes us personally feel good. A liberty that doesn’t produce shame.https://youtu.be/aN0eSVXhdSE
Fantasia acknowledges the typical negative connotation that comes with the term baby mama but refuses it. She claims it as a “badge of honor” and stands proudly in being a baby mama.
She then turns the narrative of what it means to be a baby mama on its head and provides recognition for the hard work black, single mothers do, in spite of the injury of injustice perpetrated by the state and stigma.
In this way, Fantasia has created a new world for herself and others. One that stands in the black grotesque: what she should be ashamed of she is not—and that is where she finds liberation.
INJURY OF INEQUALITY: THE HIV/AIDS EPIDEMIC
We can also see this happening if we examine the response from black, queer individuals during the HIV/AIDS epidemic of the 80s.
During this time, black men faced injuries of inequality at the hands of the state: without access to care and proper protection, and from the stigma society placed on their bodies.
A stigma that was, and is, dangerous.
Yet, again, in response to injury, communities were formed.
Bonds were made within such an intimate-loneliness as described by writer and activist, Essex Hemphill.
The communities that formed found common ground in intimacy and politics, and all represented forms of resistance to the injury they faced.
Writer Darius Bost, provides a useful analysis of Hemphill’s work, stating
“I suggest…scholars look toward Hemphill’s expressions of desire as expanding our perspective of black queer bodies from their association with risk and abjection to include their passions and longings”
Thus, Bost calls for the formation of a new sexual politic.
INJURY OF INEQUALITY AND THE BLACK BODY
Looking to Kara Walker’s 8 Possible Beginnings or: The Creation of Africa-America, a short film that depicts 8 possible beginnings of Africa-America and the story of slavery within America. Walker provides an excellent example of the expectation of labor and productivity from civilians and specifically black bodies.
Yet, this expectation, as it pertains to black bodies, leaves no space for pleasure. Black reproduction is meant to have a purpose: labor and productivity. Those who reproduce outside of this purpose are seen as irresponsible and are looked down upon. Have you ever heard the argument: “You shouldn’t have kids if you’re poor.”
Thus, the cycle perpetuates itself: the state denies the opportunity for economic mobility; yet, if you dare wish to have a family you should be economically stable, but the state will not provide adequate compensation for systemic violence so that you may be stable.
Ultimately, the responsibility falls on the individual’s shoulders with a complete lack of consideration of societal and circumstantial contexts.
Writer Dorothy Roberts describes the idea of non-value beings in her novel, Killing the Black Body.
An idea, that pairs nicely with the idea of the black grotesque and creating new worlds.
Roberts explains that there was never a space designed or intended for black repro-futurity. Hence, black bodies are then viewed as beings of non-value, unless these bodies are produced with the intention of labor and productivity.
Thus, when a non-valued being reproduces with another person of non-value, they create a non-value being.
Or, another way of saying this is: she has so many kids, and no job, her job is having kids!
Or, she’s just mooching off the government, she’s so irresponsible.
Or even, why would she have a kid if she can’t afford it? It’s not my responsibility to raise her kids.
Since black bodies are deemed to have no value, they don’t receive the same considerations a valued being might have.
It is in this way, that black bodies are written out of societal narratives, and through this writing out, black individuals must take the script and re-write it, so they are considered in.
By navigating a space that was not only not intended for them but actively attempted to exclude them, blackness is re-valuized with value that does not find validation within the system but outside of it, in new a world.
And, it is here, where the black grotesque occurs, where new worlds and understandings are created.
LIKE A PHOENIX, WE RISE
Thus, from these injuries of inequality that Hayes’ describes, we also see the many new worlds that are created. Worlds made for individuals to survive but also to thrive. We not only allow space for the grotesque and refuse the shame we are supposed to associate with it, but we begin to allow room for pleasure, freedom, and humanhood.