What this Pussy Talk: Blackness, Being, and the Body Through Black Female Rap
Sylvia Wynter writes: “Schemas, whether in their religious or in their now secular forms, can be recognized as the “artificial” behavior motivating “narratives” whose “vernacular languages of belief and desire” structure our culture-specific orders of consciousness, modes of mind, and thereby of being.”1 The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, privileged language as the ultimate mode of knowing the Self, a bridge between the conscious and unconscious processes of the mind that constitutes a portal to the soul. Language organized into literature during the nineteenth century now firmly stood as a measure of Culture, the degree to which a particular group understood the metaphysical composition of the Self and the World. Word presentations that took the form of narratives — travel narratives, scientific journals, captains’ logs— through the imperial conquest of the world by the West constructed an understanding of the body in the world as Human. Wynter writes: “Man as a new…conception of the human had in fact been invented by a specific culture, that of western Europe,” as the ordering of bodies moved from within the terms of the True Christian vs. Untrue Christian to Man vs. his Other.2 The Enlightenment with its seat firmly in Cartesian dualism— the belief of the mutually exclusive, dichotomous ordering of things— constructed an understanding of bodies as either human/nonhuman, human/animal, person/object. However, the establishment of Man as the Ideal form of being is inextricably intertwined with the anxiety surrounding the permeability of the supposed boundaries between man, animal, and thing.
The Black body, positioned as the ultimate Other, becomes the stabilizing principle of Man— “a mode of the human so irrational that it constituted the missing link between rational human species and the animal species. And as such, it had to be governed and mastered for its own good.”3 The articulation of the human hinged on the beastilization and thingification of blackness through a history of violence, and the persistent climate of antiblackness left in its wake. Zakiyyah Iman Jackson writes: “[A]ntiblack formulations of gender and sexuality are actually essential rather than subsidiary to the metaphysical figuration of matter, objects, and animals…”4 Thereby, even more fundamentally, the Black female body is plasticized as the boundary marker of man, animal, and thing, simultaneously the harbinger and vessel of the taboos that threaten the Human. The Black female body produced through this fluidication presents a site of nonnormative excesses— excess flesh, sexuality, feeling— essential to the normative construction of the “human.” This body is mined by the hegemonic order that weaves her out of a “thousand details, anecdotes, stories.”5 Hortense Spillers writes: “I describe a locus of confounded identities, a meeting ground of investments and privatations in the national treasury of rhetorical wealth. My country needs me, and if I were not here, I would have to be invented.”6 This project aims to extend Hortense Spillers’ analysis of the rhetorical investment of the Black female body by asking: What if I invented myself?
“Let’s face it. I am a marked woman, but not everybody knows my name. “Peaches” and “Brown Sugar,” “Sapphire” and “Earth Mother,” “Aunty,” “Granny,” God’s “Holy Fool,” a “Miss Ebony First,” or “Black Woman at the Podium”…”7 Megan Thee Stallion, Junglepussy, BbyMutha, Noname, CupcakKe, Kash Doll, Rico Nasty, City Girls. These are some of the names of Black female rap artists whose lyrics and performances have depicted the Black female body in ways that move beyond rescuing her from her position on the outer margins of dominant social constructions of acceptable embodiment. Through my research, I will posit these Black female rap artists’ lyrics and performances as a mode to interrogate the world-making capacities of Black female rap music. My study seeks to engage Black feminism and Black sexuality studies along with queer and performance studies in examining Black female rap as a locus for the exploration of alternative Black female embodiment, one that figures outside the task of rescuing the damaged flesh of the Black female body. This project explores how Black female rap lyrics/performance of the Black female body (re)construct the corporeal boundaries of the “human” body. By examining the Black pussy and its alter egos as critical idioms of embodiment through the vehicle of rap music, this project takes on Anne Cheng’s charge to move past the privileging of the flesh and towards synthetic embodiments that recognize excess as inextricable from human ontology.
The mission of revealing the corporeal injury upon the Black female body has exhausted the black flesh— the black pussy demands an alternative mode of theorizing. My study aims to contribute to recent scholarships that contend with Black feminst and Black sexuality studies conceptualization of the black pussy and its powers and potentialities. I will be interrogating Black female rap artists, their lyrical presentations, and their performances of the Black female body. In my research, I locate Black female rap as a site of deliberately produced excess ripe for the exploration of alternative modes of embodiment that move beyond the task of securing nominal freedoms.
If we understand grammar as a mechanism of self-making, what alternative modes of being does Black female rap unlock for the Black female body? What does the foreclosure of rap music at the outskirts of respectability reveal about its dangerous potentialities for creating a body beyond the hegemonic construction of the Human? How does positioning Black female rap as an icon of
Black female sexuality reveal a Black female physiognomy that explodes normative biological conceptions of the body?
On the construction of the Black female body, I ask: Have you seen the black pussy? Can you grasp the black pussy? What form does the black pussy take? If we turn our gaze from the task of securing nominal freedoms, what potential does the plasticity of the Black female body hold for foraging new embodiments? What would these new embodiments look like? How do Black female rap lyrics and performance(s) of the black pussy situate our conception of this alternative mode of being?
These questions contend with Black feminist scholarship that cite the dangers of reproducing damaging stereotypes of black sexual excess as a reason for foreclosing the exploration of the black pussy. By focusing the attention on the black pussy, a spotlight that eludes Black feminist and sexuality studies, these questions are aimed at exploring the sticky and dangerous contours of the black pussy. My study aims to forgo the liberal humanist mission of restoring the humanity of the Black female body through an adherence to respectability politics, a politic that permeates Black studies. This project recognizes the conditional restoration of the Black female body as an abject-human through the liberal-humanist project that works to (re)entrench the racialized hierarchization of bodies. I wish to forage for a means of reimagining the black pussy and its derived pleasures not just as means of survival but as a technology of reinvention outside the normative conceptions of the Human.
My tentative chapter outline follows an exploration of recurring themes within Black female rap music: the barbie doll, alter egos, and sons.
The Barbie Doll: The figure of the barbie doll, or dolls in general, is a recurring theme in Black female rap both at the lyrical and visual register. I will be reading the Barbie doll as an alter ego of the black pussy, a way to understand the black pussy not as female genitalia or flesh, but as an
object and a paradigm shifting tool. How does the Barbie doll reveal the collapse of the subject/object divide for the Black female body? What are the object potentialities of the black pussy? As a synthetic embodiment, what freedoms does the Barbie doll afford the Black female body? And, how does the Black female body thrive by appropriating the plastic vessel of the Barbie doll?
Alter Egos: In this chapter I will be reading alter egos as the different personas that Black female rap artists take up in their performances. For example, I am thinking of Nicki Minaji’s alter egos: Roman Zolanski, Barbie (its multiple forms), Martha, and her other alter egos that make their appearances known throughout her discography. What are the psychic cleavages that occur in the performances of these alter egos and how do they gesture to an embodiment outside
the confines of hegemonic episteme? I wish to explore the changes in speech patterns that accompany the appropriation of different alter egos within Black female rap music and what they may reveal about the alternative psychic spaces that the Black female body occupies.
Sons: I will be looking at the reproductive potentialities of the black pussy produced through Black female rap music as their sons: the illegitimate offsprings of Black female rap artists. If the Black female body is positioned as the sexuating principle that delineates normative sex/gender and reproduction but is at the same time foreclosed from the same categories it give shapes too, what does tracing the nonnormative reproductive capacities of the black pussy do to these catergories? How does Black female rap afford us a grammar of gender and sexuality beyond the terms it is foreclosed from?
I will be conducting an extensive textual analysis of scholars and theorists that explore theories of Black embodiment, specifically Black female embodiment. I will be following the footsteps of Shoniqua Roach who uses black pussy power as a conceptual framework, one that mobilizes the black pussy’s erotic and polymorphus potentialities of signifying beyond the narrow grammars of gender and sexuality afforded to it. I will be extending her analysis of Pam Grier’s erotic performances in the Blaxploitation films Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) to the erotic performances of Black female rap artists.8I will also be thinking in tandem with Carmel Ohman who posits Black female rap artists as ratchet pussy theorists “forging embodied pleasure praxes at the outer margins of respectability—one profane lyric, pose, pussy, at a time.”9
My research is motivated by Sylvia Wynter’s theory of sociogeny as a counter to prevailing biocentric thought that privileges a biological approach to the understanding of being while relegating culture to a secondary motion. Wynter writes: “My proposal is that we are bio-evolutionarily prepared by means of language to inscript and autoinstitute ourselves in this or that modality of the human…”10 My research will interrogate the constitutive power of language as culture at the register of the Human. As I continue to immerse myself in the fields of Black feminist studies, Black sexuality studies, queer studies, performance studies, and media studies, I will rely heavily on scholars including Zakiyya Iman Jackson, Anne Cheng, Frantz Fanon, Hortense Spillers, Judith Butler, Mary Douglass, Christina Sharpe, Uri McMillan, Tricia Rose, Audre Lorde, and Saidiya Hartman. This project is borne out of my engagement with the both the WGSS and Africana departments and my survival of the premed track. As a self proclaimed Barb (Nicki Minaj super fan) since my early youth, this research endeavor holds a special place in my heart and I hope I get the opportunity to see it through to the end.
1 Sylvia Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle: Fanon, Identity, the Puzzle of Conscious Experience, and What It Is Like to Be ‘Black. ‘” In National Identities and Sociopolitical Changes in Latin America, edited by Mercedes F., pg. 47
2 Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle,” pg.43
3 Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle,” pg.43
4 Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Becoming Human: Matter and Meaning in an Antiblack World, (New York: New York University Press, 2020), pg. 9
5 Wynter, “Towards the Sociogenic Principle,” pg.41
6 Spillers, Hortense J. “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics 17, no. 2 (1987), pg. 65
7 Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe,” pg. 65
8 Roach, Shoniqua, “Black Pussy Power: Performing Acts of Black Eroticism in Pam Grier’s Blaxploitation Films.” Feminist Theory 19, no. 1 (April 2018): 7–22. https://doi.org/10.1177/1464700117742866.9 Carmel Ohman, “Undisciplining the Black Pussy: Pleasure, Black Feminism, and Sexuality in Issa Rae’s insecure,” Journal of Black Studies and Research, 50:2, (April 2020), pg. 6 10 Jackson, Becoming Human, pg. 42Kaleidoscopes-Submission-Vina-Nweke-Vina-Nweke