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SURF Title: Standing Straight in a Crooked Room: Black Female Desire in Popular Media

Mentor: Dr. Conseula Francis, Department of English

Abstract: The central questions this study addressed are: what stories do popular texts tell us about black female desire, pleasure, and vulnerability? How does the “politics of respectability” frame and mask black female desire? What role does black female fantasy play in depictions of black female desire? This study ultimately argues that black popular romance and erotica-written by, for, and about black women-offers powerful counter narratives to popular depictions of black female desire. They animate black female fantasies of love, sex, and relationships, and offer alternatives to stories of black female pathology, deviance, and victimization.

Last summer, Dr. Francis and Brittany “mapped” the narratives that make contemporary American society a “crooked room” for black women. Their work consisted of locating, documenting, and coding narratives of recognition and nonrecognition in popular narratives of love and relationship aimed at and/or concerning black women. At their core, narrative of love and relationships are stories about what humans desire, about what we find pleasurable, and about what happens in the space we leave open when we allow ourselves to become vulnerable. As such, they are an excellent source for place to go when trying to find out what kinds of stories we tell about and for black women. 

Dr. Francis notes:

We found that, while some narratives aimed specifically at black women attempted to address the limits of the politics of respectability, ultimately what black women are allowed and encouraged to desire is incredibly limited.  This project was a small part of my larger project on contemporary African American romance and erotica, which I argue provides a counter narrative to these limiting narratives.