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Cultivating Black Lesbian Shamelessness: Alice Walker's The Color Purple


This article reads Alice Walker's 1982 novel The Color Purple as a response to the politics of black pride that informed African American writing of the 1960s and 1970s. The Color Purple suggests that black women's open and vocal articulation of (same-sex) sexual experiences can cultivate a liberating sense of black lesbian shamelessness. This sensibility opposes the politics of pride that defined the Black Arts Movement, as well as the politics of silence that has muted black women's expressions and explorations of (queer) sexuality since at least the nineteenth century. The novel characterizes black lesbian shamelessness as an approach to racial, gender, and sexual identification that acknowledges the mutually constitutive, inter-subjective conditions of these categories, as well as the history of black violation in the United States. This article also considers The Color Purple's realist form, arguing that critical backlash in the 1980s against Walker's queering of black literary realism indicates that realism is critical terrain for the simultaneous negotiation of black community, queerness, and anti-racist politics.