Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, Patricia Hill Collins deals with the complex problems of gender and sexual politics in the black community, within the context of a racist and heterosexist society, in which blacks have internalized many of the prejudices and stereotypes held by whites. Although there has been considerable progress in civil rights, women’s rights and gay rights in the U.S. since the 1950s and 1960s, blacks still face the highest levels of poverty, discrimination, poor housing, education and healthcare and HIV/AIDS compared to any other group. Young black males in segregated ghettos feel especially alienated and powerless, and are more likely to be in prison than in college, which is one reason why they inflict high levels of violence on themselves as well as women and gays. For Collins, then, any new type of progressive gender and sexual politics must deal with the social and economic problems faced by blacks in the U.S. and around the world, as well as the legacy of slavery, segregation and racial discrimination.
In Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism, Patricia Hill Collins discusses the special difficulties of sexuality and gender identity faced by black women in men in a society still dominated by white, heterosexual males, and her desires for a new, progressive form of black gender politics. She considers a wide variety of topics in her book, such as racism and heterosexism, HIV/AIDS in the black community, hip and gangsta culture, sexism among young black males, and sexual violence. Hill was sixteen years old in 1964, at the height of the civil rights movement, and recalls how the older generation of black parents struggled for equal citizenship rights and educational and economic opportunities for their children. At that time, she experienced the most blatant and callous forms of racism from whites, and how young black males were routinely brutalized (Hill, 2005, p. 3). At that time, it was very clear in the United States that very different penalties and privileges were accorded on the basis of race, class and gender, as they always had been. This was so obvious forty or fifty years ago, and the racism and sexism were so open that no one could have been in any doubt about it, and few whites even bothered to conceal their prejudices toward blacks. Today, in the wake of the civil rights, gay rights and feminist movements the situations is far more complex and the racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination are “far more hidden” (Hill, p. 4). Over 40% of black youth are still in poverty, but there is also a much larger black middle and upper class than could possibly have existed under the conditions of 1964. Hill is correct that there are also far more life opportunities for young middle and upper class blacks in the suburbs than there were for any blacks fifty years ago, or there are today for inner-city youth in segregated ghettos.
Hill rightfully points out that stereotypes about gender and sexuality exist for every minority community, and that no group in U.S. history has suffered more from these than blacks. Images of black ‘mammies’ and ‘dangerous’ or ‘hyper-sexualized’ young black males, for example, date back to the time of slavery. All men and women of every race, class and ethnicity also “encounter social norms about gender” and these vary widely across time and cultures (Hill, p. 6). Over time, many of these attitudes have also become ingrained and internalized within the black community, including attitudes about ‘domineering’ black women, ‘weak’ or absent black males, and strong fears and resentments of gay men and lesbians. Many young black women still believe if they straighten their hair, lighten their skin or make their lips smaller, they will have an easier time attacking and keeping men. Young, poor black males are violent toward women, gays and each other, as reflected in hip hop music and culture “in part because they do not feel powerful and fear the loss of an expected male entitlement” (Hill, p. 304). Blacks often fear ending up alone, invisible, unloved, disrespected and forgotten in a society where white masculinity and heterosexuality and “the center of all assessments of human worth” (Hill, p. 305). Black women may never find partners of the same age, color or social class because so many young black men are in prison or on parole, often far more than are ever in college, which has created a very large gender imbalance. Indeed, as Hill notes, prison has always been the most important “metaphor for black life”, going back to the days of plantation slavery (Hill, p. 306).
Trying to sum up the black experience over the last four decades, Hill presents a more optimistic vision to a progressive form of black sexual and gender politics that will also be based on social justice and global in scope. She regards this as imperative, in fact, not least because HIV/AIDS affects black communities disproportionately, both in the U.S. and around the world. This is not unusual given that blacks have lower life expectancies and higher levels of mobility and mortality from all diseases than whites, but in the case of AIDS “black survival” may well depend on a new form of gender politics (Hill, p. 306). It will have to deal with all the social and economic problems confronted by blacks around the world, including poor housing and healthcare, poverty, unemployment and lack of educational opportunities for black men and women, as well as gays and straights. Hill is realistic in this respect, since the politics of gender and sexuality have never existed in a vacuum but are always related to other social and economic issues. This is especially true for minority groups like blacks in the United States that have experienced extreme levels of violence, discrimination and stereotyping in the past.
Collins, P. H. (2005). Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Routledge.