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Since writing my review of Erotic Revolutionaries: Black Women, Sexuality, and Popular Culture, entitled “Erotic or Thanatic?: Black Feminist Criticism on the Ropes,” originally written for Palimpsest: A Journal on Women, Gender, and the Black International, with SUNY Press, I have been nothing short of bullied, harassed, shamed and threatened by the author of the book, Shayne Lee, a tenured professor at Tulane University. While I will not waste time here (or anywhere else) rehashing all that he said, I will allow the open letter below, written on my behalf, and in support of black women everywhere, by black feminists united, to speak for itself. Please feel free to share, sign, speak, and resist. Intellectual gendered bullying is unacceptable.
Many thanks to my sisters and brothers in the struggle, particularly those who were brave enough to speak on my (and any other women who have ever been bullied by a man in a position of power) behalf. We will no longer take this sitting down.
First, no man is a feminist who threatens a woman. Period. The fact that you found it reasonable to undermine and demean Tamura’s formidable mental prowess via text message, not only reflects an unhealthy sense of personal and professional boundaries on your part, but also a penchant for intellectual violence. And since you can’t model healthy communication practices in public, we don’t trust that you are prone to exercise them in private either. Do you always call women who disagree with you “idiots,” “mental midgets,” and “hacks”? Intellectual and discursive bullying is always egregious, but it is especially egregious for a Black man to do this to a Black woman, especially when that Black man claims to be advocating the cause of Black women.
The ability to engage in civil discourse, even when our opinions are diametrically opposed is one of the hallmarks of the academic enterprise. Because you are a tenured professor, we believe you know this. Rather than being merely a function of forgivable ignorance, your campaign of calumny against Dr. Lomax is calculated, intentional, troubling, and disgusting. Moreover, the notion that you can in any way participate in laying out a sexually revolutionary agenda for young Black feminists when your private and professional choices employ attacks on women who want to engage in dialogue is beyond our comprehension.
Sending petty, threatening text messages to a colleague who critiques your work is not revolutionary. Making immature, obnoxious, ableist, and violent comments about colleagues on Facebook is not revolutionary. Being petulant and rude when folks check you on your foolishness is not revolutionary. Claiming to be a “revolutionary brotha” while threatening to violently silence a sister with a “smackdown” and a “well-deserved spanking” ain’t revolutionary.
There is a long and well-documented history of backlash against black feminist politics, including personal attacks against “second-wave” black feminists by Black men. The line-up includes Michele Wallace, Ntozake Shange, Alice Walker (perhaps the most demonized), Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Anita Hill. As early as the 1830s, Maria Stewart, the first woman of any race to speak publicly about women’s rights, delivered a farewell speech to the black community, especially ministers, after a brief career on the lecture circuit. Deeply resentful, she argued, “let us no longer talk of prejudice, till prejudice becomes extinct at home. Let us no longer talk of opposition, til we cease to oppose our own. . . . Men of eminence have mostly risen from obscurity; nor will I, although a female of a darker hue, and far more obscure than they, bend my head or hang my harp upon willows.” The fact these words ring true today and in this situation speak to both the tenacity of a black feminist politic and its necessity.
There is also the equally predictable “trashing” of black women in favor of white women in your text, though we don’t recall such behavior from a self-defined “feminist” black male: “Where are the black counterparts to white scholars like Jane Gallop, Pepper Schwartz, Camille Paglia, and Katherine Frank who generate feminist theory as the driving force to advocate female pleasure and agency? Why are no African-American professors writing bold and sexy feminist texts like EROTIC Faculties by Joanne Frueh or PIN-UP GRRLS by Maria Elena Buszek?” This question has been answered by Evelynn Hammonds, Tricia Rose, and others. The privileging of white women’s sexual scholarship does not mean that black women have not done this work nor does it reflect the unique standpoints of black women in the academy who take more risks to do it. The work of Alice Walker, Audre Lorde, Tricia Rose, Layli Phillips, Maria Stewart, Michele Wallace, Patricia Hill- Collins, Nikky Finney, bell hooks, Toni Cade Bambara and new scholarship by younger black feminists who navigate the personal and political in online spaces, all challenge this assertion. The Black feminist agenda has never been merely a white feminist agenda in Blackface. So you want to “restore the proverbial clit” to its rightful place in Black sexual politics? Well, last we checked, and most of us check often, our clits are right where they belong–at the center of our being, being engaged on our terms, not yours.
We, therefore, resent your attempt to put us on the defensive when it comes to pro-sex discourse, namely so that if we invoke our history of sexual oppression and question the very real costs of embracing popular notions/representations of the erotic, then we are dismissed as parochial gatekeepers and perpetuators of respectability. Clearly you don’t understand, suffering as you do from unchecked (Black) male privilege, that Black women’s positionality in the academy is complicated. Our pro-sex stance is often instilled in the very classrooms where we learn to think about why the histories of racism and sexism have given Black women’s sexuality such a negative rap in the first place. We don’t need more attacks about our sexual “dysfunction.” We need allies, fellow scholars who are especially sensitive to the ways that white supremacy and male supremacy make the pro-sex framework advanced by white women an always difficult space for Black women to enter and inhabit. Then it might become apparent that we have simply created other spaces, ones not visible to folks who are unsafe. If the spaces are invisible to you, perhaps a whole lot of sisters peeped game at your penchant for verbal violence and deemed you unsafe for access.
So check it. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive review, largely because we are exhausted by your tired antics. We’ll leave that to our colleague, Dr. Lomax and others, who are so inclined. Just consider this as us putting you on notice, that we see you, and we’re exposing your actions so that we are not silenced again. As black feminists, we believe transformation is always possible and should you be open to being accountable for your behavior, you could do so in the following ways:
We will not be intellectually bullied into submission. We have officially given new meaning to the term “come correct,” and we suggest, brother, that you get it together. And here is one of our best examples of rescripting to date…
Shayne Lee, “your revolution will not happen between these thighs.”
In Black Feminist Solidarity,
Brittney C. Cooper
Mark Anthony Neal
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
Alexis Pauline Gumbs
Gwendolyn D. Pough
Robert J. Patterson