What role does the eroticization of race play in pop culture today?

According to theorist bell hooks, the eroticization of race is readily apparent in popular culture whether or not we are trained to perceive it. She opens her essay with an anecdote about seeing a pair of black chocolate breasts in the desert display at an eatery located in a provincial Midwestern town. Though her cohorts were either desensitized or unaffected by the image, bell hooks refers to them as vestiges of a time when “mammies” where the primary caretakers of white children. These chocolate breasts frame the rest of her essay, Selling Hot Pussy, in which she continues to explore the implications of the normative representations of black female sexuality in popular American culture. She argues that black female bodies are viewed as “passive” and “expendable” and since black bodies are viewed as conventionally unattractive and desirable because of their “otherness” many black pop idols have built their careers by branding themselves as promiscuous and available. bell hooks also asserts that white male/black female depictions of sexuality are an extension of the master/slave dichotomy. She illustrates the former point by exploring the career of Tina Turner, who has fashioned herself to be a figure synonymous with “wild animalistic lust”. Tina Turner’s blonde hair, according to hooks, simultaneously idealizes white beauty while furthering the primitive jungle image of black female bodies as lacking sexual agency. Extending bell hooks’s argument to the current decade, the career of pop idol Rihanna is a prime example of the eroticization of the black female body in pop culture. Her hit song “S&M”, which lyrically and visually explores sexually deviant behavior through the music video, seems to be an attempt to reclaim black female sexual agency a la “whips and chains excite me” but it pushes her as sexually deviant and available. Because of her race this is the only strategy through which she could receive popular success, as the Taylor-Swift-esque strategies would fail (Solange may be an exception to this only because she is riding off the fame of her older sister Beyonce). Rihanna’s song “S.O.S” as well as her troubled relationship with Chris Brown works to subvert “S&M”’s attempt to reclaim her sexual agency. LeRoi Jones argues in Blues People that the progression of blues music in American is specific to the black experience. Although the way idols like Tina Turner and Rhianna fashion themselves is directly related to the role of black women throughout human history, bell hooks argues that it is time to actively change this by making “new and different representations” of themselves as “sexual objects”.

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