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Black Feminist in Public: Tamura Lomax on Discourse, Power and the Misreading of Jezebel

Black Feminist in Public: Tamura Lomax on Discourse, Power and the Misreading of Jezebel

Black Feminist in Public is a brand new collection of conversations between artistic black ladies and Janell Hobson, a Ms. scholar whose work focuses on the intersections of historical past, widespread tradition and representations of ladies of African descent.


Tamura Lomax is a black feminist unbiased scholar who acquired her Ph.D. in Faith from Vanderbilt College. She can also be the co-founder, CEO and visionary for the on-line feminist and anti-racist publication The Feminist Wire and writer of the recently-released Jezebel Unhinged: Loosing the Black Feminine Physique in Faith and Tradition.

Lomax talked with Ms. about her new guide, the place faith and popular culture meet and the racial dynamics of the #MeToo motion.

Tamura Lomax (Lehigh College)

You describe your work as a Black feminist research of faith. How is that this totally different from a Womanist bible study?

For womanist students, their work on the black feminine physique has to do with: What does God take into consideration this? What’s the theological assertion that we have to make? I’m not in that. I’m not a theologian. I’m a religionist. I’m a spiritual historian so I don’t begin with theological questions. As a religionist, I might ask questions like: Who’s God? Is there a god? Who is that this determine that folks worship? What does it imply to them?

Jezebel Unhinged is a guide about discourse and energy, fact be advised. It’s about the manufacturing of information and the way it turns into discourse, and how that discourse not solely turns into highly effective, however it turns into true.

When did you begin doing this work?

Jezebel Unhinged emerges from my dissertation, nevertheless it’s not my dissertation per se. I actually targeted on discourse and the historic discourse round Black womanhood since the medieval interval to now. I started this work in a masters’ program. I took a course referred to as Sexuality and the Black Church, taught by womanist scholar Kelly Brown Douglas, based mostly on her guide of the similar title. That class actually opened up for me this entire new world of analysis. I started focusing on the Black feminine physique in common tradition and common faith, and the relationship between the two. It was that semester that I made a decision to do Ph.D. work and started focusing on not simply faith, but in addition ladies and gender research and African American Research.

That’s once I linked up with Kimberly Wallace-Sanders. I took a course together with her referred to as Promoting the Physique. That work, between Kelly Brown Douglas and Kimberly Wallace-Sanders, set me on my path to start this analysis that turned my dissertation and now, Jezebel Unhinged.

Fascinating, as a result of that’s my trajectory. Kimberly Wallace-Sanders’ The Black Feminine Physique in American Tradition is the course I took together with her at Emory. That was in 1999. It was from her class that I actually began to assume extra about representations of the Hottentot Venus, and that ultimately turned my dissertation, which then turned my e-book Venus in the Darkish.

That’s actually fascinating. I got here in proper after you then. I took her, I feel it was 2002 or 2003. You had already graduated. Brittney Cooper and I have been each in that class.

I feel each Beverly Man-Sheftall and Kimberly Wallace-Sanders have their stamp on the present crop of black feminists.

I don’t assume Kimberly will get the credit score that she deserves. She has an imprint on fairly a number of voices which are fairly prevalent in this work, not solely in academia but in addition between academia and well-liked tradition.

If any Black feminist scholar is speaking about the physique, it’s as a result of they took a category with Kimberly Wallace-Sanders.

Completely. These programs actually gave me the language to say: Wait a minute, my physique isn’t the drawback. Black ladies aren’t the drawback. Black women will not be the drawback. The issue is with the gaze.

What I actually appreciated about your guide is the means that you simply have been capable of seamlessly weave each faith and fashionable tradition, and additionally historical past and educational discourse. I hadn’t actually thought of the precise archetype of Jezebel. We are likely to assume of it as a stereotype, however there’s an entire archetype. There’s an precise Biblical determine, Jezebel, and she’s the most vilified lady in the Bible, proper?

She is completely the most vilified individual in the Bible and completely the most vilified lady.

It’s fascinating that the most vilified lady in the Bible then will get mapped onto Black ladies’s our bodies from antebellum slavery on as much as the current. How did we go from archetype to stereotype?

We have already got this stereotype circulating in Europe earlier than even coming to America. The stereotype of vilified and/or demonized hypersexuality will get hooked up to African ladies. On the slave plantation you will have these ladies who’re additionally being sexualized in very comparable methods. I ought to say at the coronary heart of slavery can also be Christianity. You could have slave ladies who’re being raped, and they’re being trafficked. Slave house owners needed to be seen as Christian and good ethical individuals, and not simply good ethical individuals, however the authority on morality.

So, it was very straightforward to connect this narrative of Jezebel, who’s certainly the most hated lady in the Bible, to those slave ladies—to say no, we’re not raping them, we’re not dangerous, we’re ethical, we’re not the dangerous individuals, they’re, they’re forcing us into these relationships, they’re tempting us in these dangerous methods, we’re doing issues that we don’t need to do as a result of they’re Jezebels.

The factor that ties Jezebel to slave ladies who have been raped and trafficked and pressured to breed is the misreading of Jezebel.

How is that this biblical determine being misinterpret right here?

What’s fascinating about Jezebel is that the narrative of her so-called whoredom is completely unfaithful. Jezebel is dedicated to her gods—plural—she’s dedicated to her husband and she’s dedicated to her individuals. Individuals are typically referred to as “whores” in the Bible when they don’t select the God of Christianity, which is Yahweh in the Previous Testomony. It’s not essentially sexual. But Jezebel is known as a whore twice.

It has to do with two issues, I consider. She selected to proceed serving her personal gods and not Yahweh. Jezebel marries into this tradition. I’m not even positive if it was by selection. She’s married, regardless, to this [Hebrew] King Ahab. He has a god. His god is the Christian God. That’s not her god. She was by no means in relationship with that god. She introduced her personal gods together with her.

What’s fascinating about that’s there are numerous individuals in the Bible who produce other gods, and they could be referred to as whores, however they don’t seem to be killed and murdered and hated in the means that Jezebel is. You’ve the biblical writers actually working exhausting to not solely demonize Jezebel, however to demonize the energy dynamic of her marriage since her husband yields his energy to her.

What number of occasions have we seen that in tradition—the place an individual who wields rather a lot of energy is by some means sexualized and demonized? That’s what occurs to Jezebel. She then will get hooked up to slave ladies, who’re stated to be wielding sexual energy.

In your guide you look at the binary between being a “ho,” which of course is by-product of whore, and being a “lady,” and how that performs out not simply in the church, but in addition in common tradition. Might you say extra about this?

I feel the systemic pressure of the binary is highly effective. These are concepts which were round for hundreds of years, in phrases of being sexual as not an excellent factor, whereas being this woman is an effective factor. I don’t assume that dichotomy goes away, however it may be lessened. It may be turned inside out. I want to consider that, particularly since so many ladies agree with it.

You hear ladies say typically: “Yeah, you can’t turn a ho into a housewife.” When these narratives are preached in the sermonic second, ladies aren’t strolling out and saying, “Hell no.” They’re standing up and clapping and saying, “Yes, that’s right! Amen!”

There’s a fixed narrative that feminine sexuality is harmful. In fact, feminine sexuality is harmful as a result of our our bodies reproduce. There’s this steady wrestle to personal the lady’s physique, to personal her progeny. And in slavery, there was profiting to be made out of the free labor that enslaved ladies reproduced. As a result of of these socio-economic forces, it then turns into troublesome for ladies to regain management over their very own our bodies and to assume in another way about their sexuality.

An fascinating counter-example in well-liked tradition is Amber Rose. Even now I’ve male associates from school who hate her a lot. There’s this venom in the direction of her, like “how dare she have a Slut Walk!” Like: “Is this your feminist?”

Sure, I’ve heard that.

Why does she make them so indignant, and why do they name her a whore? She was in a relationship with [rapper] Kanye. She was married to [rapper] Wiz. However we don’t know of different companions.

I keep in mind when she did a satire round the “walk of shame.” I like it, as a result of individuals are like, “did you just have sex?” And she or he proudly responds: “I sure did!” It was fantastic. We’ve all heard of or skilled the stroll of disgrace, the morning after. She’s turning that on its head. Right here she is refusing to take part in this patriarchal narrative. We don’t know something past this about her sexual companions, but this ho language, this discourse, continues to be hooked up to her regardless.

I consider her slut stroll emerged after Kanye talked about having to take 30 showers after courting her earlier than he might be with [current wife] Kim Kardashian.

That “30 showers” comment was so racialized, as a result of it was “I have to take 30 showers in order to be with Kim.” He was undoubtedly creating this binary that was Black ladies versus white ladies, or Black ladies being situated in this whore, slutty narrative, and Kim being the spouse.

Completely. Subscribing to that dichotomy the place the Black lady is all the time on the “ho” aspect, whereas the white lady, even when she’s had intercourse tapes, is on the “lady” aspect, which exhibits how black males like Kanye have purchased into the racial hierarchy.

One of the issues I argue in Jezebel is that the binary traps us in so some ways acutely aware and unconscious. The narrative is all the time there. I really feel like faith intensifies the narrative. It’s the means that the narrative is advised, particularly when it’s preached. That’s a really harmful factor as a result of then it’s: “God said it’s true so it must be true.”

It’s fascinating that your e-book debuted in this specific second of #MeToo. How do you view Jezebel Unhinged inside this context?

I feel Jezebel presents us language to critique the discourse that so readily demonizes Black ladies, ladies in basic however Black ladies in specific, who get demonized for not solely their sexual decisions, but in addition once they get raped. Jezebel presents this very robust critique of patriarchy, and notably Black patriarchy in Black communities, and the intra-racial violence that we expertise. I don’t assume that MeToo has gotten to that but. I haven’t seen an specific critique of patriarchy, particularly its influence on younger women. My very own expertise started at 11, and in church, at that.

Proper now, the motion continues to be on the particular person degree. You must actually get into systemic oppression in order for us to have that dialog.

The person is critical. I feel that’s how we get to the discourse in the first place. However now it’s time to maneuver into the systemic, the institutional, the structural.

Janell Hobson is professor of ladies’s, gender and sexuality research at the College at Albany, State College of New York. She is the writer of Physique as Proof: Mediating Race, Globalizing Gender.

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