Patricia Hill Collins explores the way in which race, class, and gender organize our national social life via two related themes in the Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. On the one hand, she makes the case for a new strain of racism that is pervasive but harder to recognize than the old kind, which declared itself in slavery statutes and Jim Crow laws. Now that legalized racism is behind us, she argues, more subtle forms of racism remain as its legacy, both externally imposed upon and internally recreated by Black communities. She uses as evidence not only the statistical findings of social science (the high proportion of incarcerated young Black men, the dwindling resources of inner city schools) but also the ambiguous testimony of film and television, which reflects us back to ourselves while at the same time expressing ruling interests that distort the common good. On the other hand, she notes a tendency in Black political theory to abstract from issues of gender and sexuality, a striking example of which is the hostility of African American churches to homosexuality. The presences of Black LGBT people have been very hard to discern in public discussion and in the media, and gay Black men have been driven to lead double lives, a silence and omission implicated in the rise of HIV/AIDS among African Americans. A more inclusive political awareness that grants a place to varieties of eros and committed love, she argues, might be more effective.
In the first chapter, Collins asserts that "the new racism" is framed by new forms of global capitalism, which disenfranchise voters and drive politics by economic influence. The inability of national governments, organized labor, environmental activists, and various interest groups to negotiate with an increasingly unified international corporate structure has been well analyzed in Transnational Corporations: Fragmentation amidst Integration by Grazia Ietto-Gillies (2002), another recent book from Routledge and just out in paperback. Collins's findings specify those of Ietto-Gillies: poverty in the Black community [End Page 209] has intensified as urban Black neighborhoods have become more isolated from one another and their surroundings, and the unified purpose of the Civil Rights movement that brought together working-class and middle-class—and male and female—citizens has eroded. Collins argues further that the new racism deploys a sexual ideology that intensifies this fragmentation of community.
Chapters 2 and 3, which complete Section 1, offer a political archaeology that shows how past racial and racialized sexual formations create present-day patterns of oppression. Chattel slavery, she argues, entailed that White owners of female slaves assumed that they owned not only Black women's labor but also their "reproductive capacity." Whites rationalized this institutionalized rape with the image of the wanton Black woman. Likewise, the relentless labor Whites demanded of male slaves reduced them to strong but stupefied bodies, with an additional, threatening aspect of untamed violence, as if they were horses to be broken. Slaves whose good behavior made them suitable to serve and live in proximity to Whites produced asexual, subservient social types. Thus we inherit the taxonomy of the Jezebel and the Buck, Mammy and Uncle Tom. Racial segregation in the rural South, inaugurated by the Supreme Court decision Plessy v. Ferguson, condemned generations of African Americans to intergenerational poverty that was transmuted into urban poverty for many as they sought to escape it by heading north to Chicago, Cincinnati, and New York. Jim Crow legislation (separate but equal really means unequal) laid the groundwork for systematic lynching as well as widespread rape of domestic workers, forms of social control that depended respectively on the social myths of the hypersexual Buck and the morally loose Jezebel.
Throughout the twentieth century, Collins argues, middle-class urban Blacks dealt with these cultural icons simply by denying them and seeking a rather puritanical respectability, but working-class Blacks were more ambivalent. The traces of their refusal to give up autonomous sensuality and a more liberal attitude towards homosexuality and, generally, the anarchy of eros, can still...