tagReviews & EssaysThe State of Black Erotica

The State of Black Erotica


Perhaps one day someone will convene a panel of scholars and academics that discusses Black sexuality and that addresses the subject of Black erotica. From the rhythmic tales of the sagacious griot, weaving tales of slaves whose love endured the horrors of chattel slavery, to the Harlem Renaissance with its unapologetic look at that mysterious element which made our natures rise, to the soul-stirring harmonies of R&B that have been the soundtrack to our seductions for decades, Black people have always had a long tradition of erotic expression. In 1992, an editor by the name of Miriam Decosta-Willis, published an anthology of erotica called Erotique Noire that was not only groundbreaking, it truly was a celebration of Black sensuality and set the stage for a new genre of expression. Today, if you venture into the African American section of any bookstore, it’s filled with shelf after shelf of degrading, crude, and offensive books that don’t even deserve to be called erotica. We’ve come a long way baby, but it certainly hasn’t been an erotic evolution.

One can’t have a discussion of the topic of Black erotica today without discussing Zane; she and Black erotica are virtually synonymous. For those of you who haven’t been in the African-American section of a bookstore in the last five years, Zane is the number one selling Black author who writes Black erotica. She says she is empowering Black women with her in-your-face brand of sexual writing. She certainly has done well for herself, selling over 2.5 million tittles and plans to launch television shows, plays, movies and a whole host of other branding opportunities from her tales of dark lust.

Zane’s story is one of triumph. She started out with rejection letter after rejection letter from publishers who told her that her brand of writing was too vulgar, that people wouldn’t buy such hard-core material. Self-publishing her books and selling them out of the trunk of her car, soon publishers were beating a line to her door to offer her a deal. Now she has her own imprint and is publishing upwards of 30 authors herself. She certainly deserves kudos for her good old-fashioned ingenuity and determination. She’s single handedly reshaped the face of Black erotica an opened the door for anyone, ANYONE who writes about sex to get a publishing deal, regardless of talent, or in most instances, the lack thereof. Sentence structure, spelling, grammar, and editing be damned. Publishers have taken the Zane story and capitalized off of it to the detriment of the genre and to the absolute degradation of any sort of example of healthy Black sexuality.

Writing Black erotica is a lot like rapping. Anybody who can come up with three words that rhyme can call himself or herself a rapper; anyone who uses the words dick, pussy, and fuck in a sentence can call themselves an erotic writer. Black erotic today consists of the same storyline told over and over again: super-beautiful women with abnormal libidos and superficial standards seduce their super-rich, lovers who always have super-sized genitalia complete with matching, heightened sexual appetites, and a non-existent commitment to being in a relationship. Throw in several dozen references to capitalist trinkets and you essentially have every erotic story on the shelves today. Black erotica has made being ghetto equivalent to being Black. We have a unique culture and experience that can come across on the page in our reflections, our words, and our perceptions. That, however, doesn’t have to include baby mamas, visiting day at prisons, spelling the words boys with a z, or eroticizing the N word. Instead of writing about our beauty, our pain, our history, we write about our dysfunction, throw in a few sexual escapades, and call it erotica. Yes, our stories need to be told, but glorifying behaviors that are unhealthy isn’t art. There certainly is more to Black life than what we are being force-fed.

The publishing industry has all but shut out writers with integrity to the craft who want to tell our stories in a way that don’t degrade but that celebrate Black and interracial sexuality beyond clichés and stereotypes. So terrified are the Black middle class of being associated with the freaks and nymphos depicted in Black erotica, so distanced are we from a healthy example of our sexuality, we sit in silence, never demanding more, never complaining about the proliferation of erotic literature that reduce our sexuality to nothing more than a sweaty, recreational activity.

When our literary diets consist only of poorly written, grammatically incorrect, inane tales of ghetto sex, it's not feeding our souls, it's poisoning our minds. It's reinforcing that the institutionalized, substandard education that we have been fed is acceptable. It's crippling us, as Black people, academically so that we will never be able to read and appreciate a well-written novel in our lives, let alone be able to construct a sentence that would be considered well-written. We MUST raise the bar when it comes to what we are feeding ourselves, what literary sustenance with which we nourish ourselves.

Even with the proliferation banal Black erotica and the horrendous mediocrity of it all, there are still those who value the melodies and harmonies of jazz, who feel the angst of Morrison’s Beloved, who treasure the beauty of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, and who appreciate the artistry of true erotica. Long gone are the days when we dog-eared the pages of Erotique Noire and quoted passages to our lovers in steamy late-night phone calls. Truly empowering erotica lifts us up, paints a picture of our lives and our sexuality that have nothing to do with exchanging sex for money or adultery but that allows us sensual release and to mentally travel to a place of sights, sounds, sensations, and tastes that arouse all of our senses.

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