When is Sex Too Much in Black Books

America is not America anymore.   Life is not life.   While trying to evolve into a people in the United States, Black Americans struggled with freedom on every front.   We were denied it in every way, and that made the struggle to obtain it on all fronts complex and at times crossing the line.  

For centuries we've had all types of books, and they've been in several different categories.   Unfortunately, today there's a new black book on the market.   It's called exotic fiction, but not considered rated R.   Black authors and the subject of sex is no more a "discuss at home" or a "taboo" issue.   Black folks, with our freedom and justice, have not drawn a line anywhere as far as our literature is concerned.   We have written children's books, poetry, history books, documentaries, romance, suspense . . . and now we're writing sex.

I will not say that we've gone too far.   I also will not say that sex does not sell.   We all know that it does, and I think that somewhere along the line Black writers have both tapped into the gold mine of marketing, while also tapping into the ink well of writing success and documenting a deeper aspect of the human experience.   We have evolved. We are smart, beautiful, talented, writing -- about whatever the hell we want -- and for once, no one can muzzle the ox.   It's as though a battered wife has been set free without realizing how far not to go, as far as pleasure is concerned, in the next relationship with a man.

I don't think that we, as a people, set out to put lower scaled pornography in our books, I think that we've simply caused sex to play a major role in our lives, how we feel and think from day to day. I don't think we can chalk it up to Black folks simply being sexual.   Everybody is sexual.   God made us that way.   What black writers have done is simply put their sexual experiences into words.  Black writers are writing about their promiscuity, sexual hang ups, abuse, homosexuality, addictions and sex with their spouses.  Black folks have lots to talk and write about because we've been there and done that.  If it can help someone through their struggle, why not write a book about it?  Why not educate our readers and let them learn from the experiences that drift through the minds of talented writers who have survived sexual struggles and had successful experiences  For the first time in our entire lives in America, Black people don't feel inhibited when it comes to expressing our minds.   There are no more physical chains, but often, in America, the chains are invisible, yet mental.  

There is, in the black individual's mind, the notion that we're still thought of as inferior to the majority of America.   It's a little known fact in some respects.   We've come this far by faith and God, but there is still work to do.   While America's waiting for a miracle in the racism department, Black writers are exploring every aspect of the soul, especially where sex is concerned.   There's a healing or a cleansing that comes from reading our own literature.  We come to finally have a spirit or a notion that we can relate to, a theme that's not so dressed up in language that we can't relate.  We see ourselves in the characters of Black books whether they're sexual or not, and we can learn to deal with life a little bit better.  Books help us make choices on how we will continue to live our lives.  They help us to come full circle, finding the selves we often can't find in everyday life.

Writers, both black and white and of other nationalities, have been writing about sex for centuries.   In fact, traditional poets did it best and in a most provocative way, but the language was so profound.   I think that's what's missing from the books discussing sexual themes of today.   It's not profound.   It's not provocative.   It's true and almost pedestrian.  We can read it the way guests on the Jenny Jones and Ricky Lake shows convey it, but we rarely speak of sex the way Oprah's guests maintain a little tact and dignity about the thing. We won't hear oral sex or sex referred to as "oral sex" in a shameful way.   It will be referred to in a more distasteful manner in many of our books.  We get the slang and the other lingo that some are most familiar with.  I'm not looking down on it because obviously it is needed.  Black books are selling, and I'm glad that Black writers are writing books that everyone can read and relate to.  All black writers don't take this route, but it's a good thing that God made us all different.  So, we live differently, speak differently and write differently. 

Black authors and the subject of sex . . . how much is too much?   That's the problem.   Black America doesn't want anybody else answering any questions for them.   Apparently, we as a people, need to answer this question ourselves.   We place no boundaries and limitations on what is art or what is creative.   Thus, we end up with books that should be Rated R and placed in a pornography section or not in the bookstore at all.

I love books that speak to the human condition, and I feel that no matter how bad something is, people can still learn a lesson from it -- if nothing but how "not" to do a thing or how to do it "right!"  So, as far as black authors and the subject of sex is concerned, I don't think I'll draw a line.   I think I'll just read it and make a decision as to whether I'll continue to read it, pass it on or promote it the next time.   There's so much at stake.   We have to be able to read and entertain ourselves while also thinking of where certain kinds of images in literature might take our children.   It's a small price to pay not to expose them to a path of sex in books, but it's also an expression -- a black expression -- of being diligent and successful at achieving one's goal.

Again, I won't or can't say how much is too much. I can only say where I will begin and end my reading, what I will and will not let my children read.   For me, it ends when writers' books fail to be a contribution to African American life in literature.   If it documents us in a true and positive manner, then the subject of sex is worthy from page to page; but when it's simple pornography on paper . . . that's where I am silenced never to read that book again.   Am I reading more Terry Macmillan, Zane and so many other contemporary writers who deal with sex in their books?   Of course I am . . . these sisters understand how sexuality fits into the lives of African American women.   They paint real pictures with their words.   They teach us lessons on life.

by Latorial Faison, Poet & Author

Faison is a native of Virginia living in Texas.  She is a college English & Writing Instructor and the author of two books, Secrets of My Soul and Immaculate Perceptions.  Faison has been published in various anthologies, magazines and literary journals.  Most recently, she was published in Tavis Smiley's latest anthology, Keeping the Faith.  She is the founding editor of and married with two sons.


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