Racialized Sexuality: From Colonial Product to Creative Practice
- Jillian HernándezJillian HernándezCenter for Gender, Sexualities, and Women's Studies Research, University of Florida
Racialized sexuality is a term that describes the linking of racial attributes to sexual comportment. Racialized sexualities have been produced through colonial conquest in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. European discourses framed colonized subjects as racial and thus sexual others—as different kinds of human beings with deviant erotic practices. The colonial and racist underpinnings of religion, law, and science have produced pervasive tropes of, for example, the sexual excess of Native and African peoples and the sexual submissiveness of Asian peoples. These stereotypes have had an enduring impact on the representations of racialized people’s sexual subjectivities in art and media, in addition to academic knowledge production. Representations of the insatiable lust and spitfire of Black and Latina women, the sexual submissiveness of Asian women, the lack of Asian men and the predatory sexualities of Black men, stem from centuries of discursive circulation in fields ranging from biology to anthropology, which in turned shaped how such tropes have been taken up and reproduced in cultural production.
With the understanding that racialized sexuality is a colonial product, scholars invested in anti-racism and queer politics have problematized the scientific racisms that have upheld dominant discourses of racialized sexualities by exposing their deficient methodologies, ethical violations, and often eugenicist agendas. Racialized sexualities have been lived by colonized subjects through a wide range of violences via chattel slavery, and in the early 21st century, through eroticized violence such as that inflicted on the Arab detainees of Abu Gharib prison by the United States military following 9/11. While acknowledging how racialized sexuality is intimately wedded to experiences of violation and injury, contemporary artists and scholars of sexuality have also worked to show how the very tropes that dehumanize people of color are also marked by ambivalence. These representations often present the possibilities of both pleasure and pain for racialized subjects and thus are in turns claimed, disavowed, and altered through art and scholarship in order to highlight the complexities of how racialized sexualities are experienced. Queer and trans artists of color are at the forefront of demonstrating the potential of transforming racialized sexualities from a colonial product to a creative practice.