By Scottie Lowe
From the rhythmic tales of the sagacious griot, weaving colorful, hushed tales of slaves whose love endured the horrors of dehumanizing captivity, to the Harlem Renaissance with its unapologetic yet poetic examination of those mysterious elements that made our natures rise, to the soul-stirring harmonies of R&B that have been the soundtrack to seduction for decades, African Americans have always had a long tradition of erotic expression. In 1992, an editor by the name of Miriam Decosta-Willis, published an anthology of erotica called Erotique Noire that was not only groundbreaking, it truly was a celebration of Black sensuality and set the stage for a new genre of expression. Today, if one is brave enough to venture into the African American section of any bookstore, they will find it’s filled with shelf after shelf of degrading, crude, and offensive books that don’t even deserve to be called erotica. We’ve come a long way baby, but it certainly hasn’t been an erotic evolution.
Writing Black erotica is a lot like rapping. Anybody who can come up with three words that rhyme can call themselves a rapper; anyone who uses the words dick, pussy, and fuck in a sentence can call themselves an erotic writer. Black erotic today consists of the same storyline told over and over again: super-beautiful women with abnormal libidos and superficial standards who seduce their super-rich, basketball-playing lovers who always have super-sized genitalia complete with matching, heightened sexual appetites, and a non-existent commitment to being in a relationship. Throw in several dozen references to capitalist trinkets and you essentially have every Black erotic story on the shelves today.
Black erotica has made being ghetto equivalent to being Black. African Americans have a unique culture and experience that have the potential to come across on the page in the reflections, words, and perceptions unique to the Black experience. That, however, doesn’t have to include baby mamas, visiting day at prisons, spelling the words boys with a z, or eroticizing the N word. Instead of writing about the beauty, pain, and history of descendents of slave, Black erotica has become little more than cliché tales of dysfunction with a few sexual escapades thrown in for good measure. Yes, our stories need to be told, but glorifying behaviors that are unhealthy isn’t art. There certainly is more to Black life than what we are being force-fed.
The road to where Black erotic currently resides has been paved with immaturity, ignorance, and fear. So terrified are the Black middle class of being associated with the freaks and nymphos depicted in Black erotica, so distanced are African Americans from a healthy example of sexuality, they sit in complicit silence, never demanding more, never complaining about the proliferation of erotic literature that reduces Black sexuality to nothing more than a sweaty, recreational activity. Rather than talk about sexuality openly, mature conversations about the subject are shunned in an effort to diminish the impact and scope of what goes on behind closed doors. So desperate are Black Americans for any sort of erotic imagery and representation that reflects the lives of melanin-rich people, that that they know no better than to embrace the vulgarity that denigrates and diminishes the humanity of the entire race.
Erotica is not pornography no matter how much the conservative talking-heads want to insist it is. Erotica is ART created to arouse the senses. There is subtlety, nuance, emotion, and creativity in true erotica. Porn has no subtlety; it’s graphic, it’s hardcore, it’s about arousing one region only. Pictures of oiled booties and close up shots of a woman’s labia are not erotic. Women being used, slapped, spit on, choked, and degraded is NOT erotica. “Erotica is tasteful but porn is tasteless,” is how porn star Linda Lovelace described it. As the old folks used to say, “She ain’t neva lied.”
The images of African Americans in the adult industry are largely atypical of the true Black experience. The perpetuation of racist and stereotypical images prevalent in the adult industry work to foster unhealthy perceptions of African Americans and render the majority of Black people without an avenue for healthy erotic expression. The perpetuation of the Black woman as the ghetto bitch, ghetto whore, and ghetto freak is not reflective of the vast and overwhelming majority of Black women. The perpetuation of the Black man as the barely literate, one-dimensional bull is offensive and steeped in sick prejudices that are not reflective of the vast majority of African American males either.
When our literary diets consist only of poorly written, grammatically incorrect, inane tales of ghetto sex, when the commercial objectification of Black women’s bodies can be downloaded for free 24 hours a day, that’s not feeding our souls, it’s poisoning our minds. It’s crippling for Black people to subsist on damaging and dysfunctional depictions of intimacy. We MUST raise the bar when it comes to what we are feeding ourselves erotically, when it comes to the sensual sustenance with which we nourish ourselves.
Even with the proliferation banal Black entertainment and the horrendous mediocrity of porn, there are still those who value the melodies and harmonies of jazz, who feel the angst of Morrison’s Beloved, who treasure the beauty of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, and who appreciate the artistry of true erotica. Long gone are the days when we dog-eared the pages of Erotique Noire and quoted passages to our lovers in steamy late-night phone calls. Truly empowering erotica lifts us up, paints a picture of our lives and our sexuality that have nothing to do with exchanging sex for money or adultery but that allows us sensual release and to mentally travel to a place of sights, sounds, sensations, and tastes that arouse all of our senses.
Scottie Lowe is the owner of www.AfroerotiK.com, a website dedicated to showing Black people in a positive sexual light and the creator of Sensu-Soul, the groundbreaking erotic video that shows the depth, intensity, and passion of Black love.
Click here to see a short video.