Racist stereotypes and the embodiment of blackness: Some narratives of female sexuality in Quito Book Chapter

Rahier, JM. (2003). Racist stereotypes and the embodiment of blackness: Some narratives of female sexuality in Quito . 296-324.

cited authors

  • Rahier, JM

fiu authors

abstract

  • In this chapter, I focus on the way sexuality, a fundamental aspect of identities, has been negotiated and renegotiated by Afro-Ecuadorian women within what I call the Ecuadorian "racial-spatial order" from the perspective of the particular local context of Quito at the end of the 1990s. The premise is that identities are multiple, multifaceted, and nonessential; they are performed and performed anew within evolving socioeconomic and political situations, following personal or individual preferences and decisions. This requires us to view blackness in terms of personal, social, cultural, political, and economic processes embedded in particular time-space contexts, which are constituted within local, regional, national, and transnational dimensions. My approach is twofold. First, I examine the reproduction of stereotypical representations of black females as hypersexualized beings in Ecuadorian society, or in what could be called the Ecuadorian common sense. Second, I analyze the narratives of sexual life history that four Afro-Ecuadorian women residing in Quito shared with me between 1997 and 2001, during long conversations held in a variety of locations. This examination provides not only the opportunity to appreciate the affects that these racist, stereotypical representations have had on the lives of these women, it also allows us to uncover the way these four women, as sociopolitical and sexual agents, have developed different strategies for pleasures and positive self-construction within a particular racist society. The focus is on the interface between the personal and the structural or societal, between self-presentation and interpellation. Indeed, the research reveals that different individuals or agents submitted to the same socioeconomic and political reality make different choices, which always express an original combination of both resistance and accommodation or adaptation to this reality (see Foucault 1975, 1978; Butler 1997). This research follows the work of various scholars who consider the connections between power and sexuality important because the relation that we have with ourselves as sexual beings is a fundamental component of modern identity. Giddens (1992:15), for example, wrote, "Somehow . . . sexuality functions as a malleable feature of self, a prime connecting point between body, self-identity, and social norms." And before that, Foucault (1978:103) had already stated that "sexuality is not the most intractable element in power relations, but rather one of those endowed with the greatest instrumentality, useful for the greatest number of maneuvers and capable of serving as a point of support, as a linchpin, for the most varied strategies." The work of Franz Fanon in Black Skin, White Masks (1967), although problematic because of its characteristic peripheral treatment of black women (Bergner 1995), has been conceptually fundamental to this research. For Fanon, sex and sexuality are not exclusively about personal or individual pleasures and desires. He approached sexual desires and sexual practices or performances as highly responsive to social and historical circumstances. Where other intellectuals such as Freud (e.g., Fuss 1995; Lévi-Strauss 1962; Merleau-Ponty 1962) had theorized about the body in such a way as to standardize the white male body into the norm with which all other bodies had to be evaluated and imagined, Fanon powerfully introduced the notion of the (nonwhite male) racialized body, the black body, which is, he asserts, in colonial and "postcolonial" (neocolonial) contexts, an ontological impossibility (see also Mohanram 1999). Although the former reproduced the Western tradition that includes "disembodying" the white male by standardizing his body, Fanon insisted on the opposite: The "embodiment of blackness," or the fact that blackness is nothing but body. Copyright © 2003 by the University of Iowa Press. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • December 1, 2003

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) 10

  • 0877458634

International Standard Book Number (ISBN) 13

  • 9780877458647

start page

  • 296

end page

  • 324