Theorizing Black Lesbians within Black Feminism: A Critique of Same-Race Street Harassment
Street harassment is a form of sexual terrorism that reminds women of their vulnerability to violent assault in public and semipublic spaces. Black women's experiences of street harassment are complicated by their race, and by the race of their harasser(s). Black feminists' political vocabulary of intersectional analysis offers a useful framework for portraying the indivisibility of race and gender in black women's lives, but the extension of intersectional criticism to capture black lesbians' political vulnerability within black politics and civic life has been neither automatic nor consistent in black feminist theory. This article invokes the 2003 street harassment and subsequent murder of a black lesbian teenager by a black male assailant in Newark, NJ, both to demonstrate black heterosexual women's interest convergence with black lesbians in black civic life, and to urge black feminists to be less equivocal in holding black men and women responsible for their participation in black patriarchy. This requires the retrieval and redefinition of the political language of culture and behavior from black conservatives who rightly flag the associational aspects of black politics, but who fail to question the gender and sexuality dynamics within these associations and fail to perceive the interplay between civic behavior and intersecting structural inequalities, such as racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and spatial poverty. a
a I wish to thank the editors and anonymous reviewers of Politics & Gender for their helpful critical feedback. Thanks also to the participants in the Philadelphia Political Theory Workshop, held at the University of Pennsylvania (September 2005), and to Temple University's Conference on Black Civil Society in American Life (September 2005) where I presented an earlier version of this article, as well as to Reuel Rogers and my research assistant Greg Graham.