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  • A Critique of Protectionist Petulance
  • Shayne Lee (bio)

Dear Professor Lee,

Congratulations on your splendid new book. It is a much appreciated contribution to Black women studies and to African American Studies. The writing is clear and engaging and your analysis is strong and thought provoking and well grounded in earlier theoretical constructs. I will share the book with students and colleagues and look forward to meeting you in person.

Darlene Clark Hine

The above sentiment is a handwritten letter from noted historian Darlene Clark Hine, demonstrating that at least one prominent black feminist scholar does not perceive Erotic Revolutionaries as a colossal threat against black women. Prominent black feminist scholars aside, I now turn your attention to an assessment of a different ilk as regards the above-mentioned book in what can scarcely be deemed a "review"—and yes, I use the term loosely.

What, then, is the rhetorical objective of the prototypical review? A first-rate review, it seems, should aim to summarize a book's central arguments, clarifying when and where it carves new terrain or lack thereof. The review in question is negligent in both regards, with reviewer refusing to assess my book's innovative use of scripting theory, refusing to elucidate each chapter's central arguments, and refusing to recognize the book's dexterous weaving of sociology of sexuality, black sexual politics, and third-wave feminism as a rarely accomplished feat. Perhaps the reviewer lacks the analytical wherewithal to deduce the transformative elements of my book or the imagination to assess whether or not my celebrity subjects have anything worthwhile to teach black women. Her arrogant tone, rehashing of old gripes, ad hominem attacks, [End Page 170] and trifling insertion of a private text message, frame the review as personal, unprofessional, and petty.

The reviewer began her essay alluding to our prior entanglement over her public response to my first book. In such response, reviewer insisted on typecasting the popular preacher Bishop T. D. Jakes through the narrow prism of utter female disempowerment, giving no attention to nuance, while disregarding millions of women who draw strength from Jakes's ministry. Our confab reached a boil when, believe it or not, reviewer actually admitted she had not even listened to Jakes's sermons nor read any of his books prior to assessing my analysis of the Jakes pantheon. Given that yours truly had listened to hundreds of Jakes's sermons and read all twenty-eight of Jakes's books (in order to glean the intimate peculiarities of his message to women), I rather graciously chalked up reviewer's carelessly uninformed dismissal of Jakes to the freshman mistake of a fumbling grad student seeking to find her way. A critical misstep, yet one which nonetheless offered learning points going forward.

Or so I thought.

Could it be that reviewer's early penchant for taking conclusory shortcuts with Jakes informs her current misrepresentation of Erotic Revolutionaries? How else, then, could she incorrectly position the text as an elongated attack against black feminist scholarship when in fact the text is more concerned with celebrating the erotic theatricality of black women in pop culture as opposed to engaging in pissing contests with specific black feminists? Yet oddly enough, reviewer never disputes my central criticism against black feminist scholarship, namely, that it too often locates black women in popular culture and female sexuality from a protectionist vantage point.

For context, I must situate this criticism within the women's movement's enduring debate between "protectionists" and "expansionists" concerning research agendas for feminist sexual politics. Protectionists expose the ways female bodies are objectified, exploited and hypersexualized, attempting to preserve women's dignity, while expansionists fight for erotic agency and sexual autonomy, creating new spaces for female sexual power. To reiterate, my book's central criticism against black feminists in the academy is that most approach black women in pop culture from a protectionist vantage point. Instead of disputing that criticism, reviewer hits me with an endless list of black protectionist scholars to read, thus inadvertently (and quite unwittingly) proving my point.

To dispute my criticism, a shrewd reviewer would have attempted to cite a black-expansionist legacy in the academy that...


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