Erotic Defiance: A Womanist Ethic of Moral and Political Agency
Bryant Prince, Courtney Alma
Black women’s bodies are experienced as a moral dilemma due to the markers of the race and sex that render them as demonized other. Such formulations sanction America’s social hierarchies, animate violence and neglect of black women’s flesh and dispossess them of their bodies. Consequently the experience of black female embodiment is fraught with antagonism, feelings of impotence and rejection, fomenting dysfunction between many black people and their embodiment. These complications, in turn, compromise healthy identity construction and limit their capacity for moral agency. Given the body’s critical role in the denigration of black women, this dissertation considers the relationship between embodiment and personhood for those marginalized by race and sex, and how the bodies of black women, specifically, can be used for their own liberation. Using phenomenological theories of Maurice Merleau Ponty and Robert Sokolowski, it focuses on the body’s role in identity construction, pleasure as epistemology and moral agency. Drawing generously from Black feminist Audre Lorde’s seminal essay, “Uses of the Erotic” it posits the erotic as a necessary intervention against the violence of corporeally driven hegemonic formulations of blackness and femaleness. Mining the literary tradition of black women, black Christian practices, black social protest and popular culture, it argues that the erotic is a divine resource that fuels moral agency and a key capacity of black flesh in the disruption of hegemony, the repossession of their physical being and the construction of alternative realities, free of the desecrating powers of racism and sexism.