I will teach my daughter not to wear her skin like a drunken apology. I will tell her ‘make a home out of your body, live in yourself, do not let people turn you into a regret, do not justify yourself. If you are a disaster it is not forever, if you are a disaster you are the most beautiful one I’ve ever seen. Do not deconstruct from the inside out, you belong here, you belong here, not because you are lovely, but because you are more than that.’
The asexual Mammy and hypersexual Jezebel work together to suppress black women’s own liberated sexual ethics that reflects their perspectives, values, and humanity. Slavery’s stereotypes linking natural black femaleness to sexual promiscuity and black female respectability to sexlessness leave a crippled cultural language for black women to define an alternative sexual ethics.
There is a significant difference between the Mammy/Jezebel dichotomy and the Madonna/whore dichotomy, which helps to police white women’s sexual behavior. Black sexuality is defined as inherently and essentially immoral; the black female body represents promiscuity. Unlike black women, white women were never defined as animal-like and naturally immoral. Indeed, at the time of African enslavement, Victorian culture treated white women as essentially pure and moral, corruptible but not innately corrupted. Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham observes that the pervasive imagery of black female promiscuity had the effect of ‘ascrib[ing] pathological uniformity onto black women as a group, such that every black woman, regardless of her income, occupation, or education became the embodiment of deviance.’
Thus, redeeming the black female body has often meant desexualizing it. It is extremely difficult in a culture seeped with these slavery images to imagine a positive black female sexuality because black women’s bodies and behavior are so easily seen as depraved.