Longing to Tell Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy

Tricia Rose




Trade Paperback

432 Pages



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In a culture driven by sexual and racial imagery, very few honest conversations about race, gender, and sexuality ever take place. In their absence, commonly held perceptions of black women as teenage mothers, welfare recipients, mammies, or exotic sexual playthings remain unchanged. For fear that telling their stories will fulfill society’s implicit expectations about their sexuality, most black women have retreated into silence.

In this groundbreaking book, Tricia Rose breaks the silence by presenting, for the first time, the in-depth sexual testimonies of black women. Spanning a broad range of ages, levels of education, and socioeconomic backgrounds, nineteen women, in their own words, talk with startling honesty about sex, love, family, relationships, body image, and intimacy. Their moving stories provide revealing insights into the many ways black women navigate the complex terrain of sexuality.


Praise for Longing to Tell

"Tricia Rose's Longing to Tell is a powerful and pioneering work. For the first time we hear the painful and poignant voices of black women in all their humanity and complexity. Do not miss this pathblazing book."—Cornel West, Princeton University, author of Race Matters

"Tricia Rose, a professor of American Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, reminds us of the transformative power of conversation in her terrific collection of oral histories: Longing to Tell. And, like great conversation, the book is provocative and inspiring. Rose interviewed more than 50 women, 20 of whom are represented in individually named chapters . . . Rose let the women lead, and she followed, unearthing the layers of meaning in what they said and didn't say . . . Rose's skills as an interviewer and editor are evident. Turns of phrase, tenor, and tone convey character as much as the women's opinions and biographical information. Rose deftly crafts narratives that hold together not only detail by detail, but also by what is left unresolved."—Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, Newsweek

"A back-to-basics reminder of [feminist] issues . . . Rose advances the tradition of black feminist thought at the same time that she suggests, via her refusal to present the subject matter in any way other than its (nearly) raw form, that this tradition is in need of extensive renovation. [Her] bibliography name-checks most of the fundamental books of the movement, but [perhaps] its brevity suggests that before we read anything, we must read our own lives."—Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts, The Women's Review of Books

"There are gems of stories here, rich details amid tales of heartbreaking loss."—Teresa Wiltz, The Washington Post

"A truly eye-opening opus."—Kam Williams, s24Black Issues Book Review

"If Freud called woman 'the dark continent of man,' then the sexuality of black women has truly been the dark continent of the African-American tradition. To read so very much of African-American literature before 1970 is to presume that black women did not experience sexual intimacy, or even discuss it. This pioneering collection by Tricia Rose is as significant to the African-American autobiographical tradition as the depiction of Janie's evolving sexuality in Their Eyes Were Watching God was to African-American literature."—Henry Louis Gates, Jr., W. E. B. Du Bois Professor of Humanities and Chair of Afro-American Studies, Harvard University

"In Longing to Tell, Tricia Rose shares something all too rare: a good conversation with trusted women friends. The emotional power and raw poetry of these candid accounts compels our attention while gently nudging us to contemplate the larger narrative of race, class, color, sexuality and gender within which each intimate story unfolds."—Lani Guinier, Bennett Boskey Professor of Law, Harvard Law School

"In Longing to Tell, Tricia Rose enables us to listen as black women from diverse backgrounds candidly discuss in narratives that range from humorous, to shocking and heartbreaking, the affects of racism and sexism on their intimate lives. This valuable book breaks a silence we can no longer afford to ignore."—Derrick Bell, author of Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism

"Tricia Rose has bravely opened the door to honest discussion among Black women about who we love and what we desire in the deepest places in our lives. Longing to Tell is a treasure."—Barbara Smith, author of The Truth That Never Hurts: Writings on Race, Gender, and Freedom

"Professor Tricia Rose's is a brave, honest, groundbreaking book on Black women's sexuality, from their own vantage points. If there is one book you must read on the subject, Longing to Tell is certainly the one. The intimate lives of African American women have been shrouded in secrecy or wrapped in myth. Tricia Rose's oral histories capture the complexity of an aspect of our lives about which there has been too much silence. We need more stories like these."—Beverly Guy-Sheftall, Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women's Studies, Spelman College, coauthor of Gender Talk: The Struggle for Women's Equality in African American Communities

"Longing to Tell is a landmark book in black letters and scholarship. In its pages, for the first time, we hear the loving, bracing, hurting, humorous, wise, angry, hopeful—and above all honest—voices of black women speaking about sexuality and intimacy. Rose's introduction and afterword brilliantly chart the challenging terrain that black women must navigate in embracing healthy and mature sexual selves. Longing to Tell is bound to be a classic of its kind: it dispels myths and stereotypes about black women while giving us the truth in all its glorious and grievous colors."—Michael Eric Dyson, author of Why I Love Black Women

"Brave, disturbing, cathartic. Longing to Tell adds to our knowledge of the enduring impact of slavery and reminds us that we have to be the shepherds of our own healing. Rose has given us an important work."—Lisa Jones, author of Bulletproof Diva

"By breaking a public silence, Professor Rose and her storytellers here have done us all a great service. This is one of the first brave steps in beginning to fill in the obliterated stories of black women's many sexualities."—Naomi Wolf, author of The Beauty Myth

"Rose, a professor of African American history, interviewed hundreds of black women in the course of her research for a scholarly book on black women's sexuality, then came to the realization that the women's voices deserved book-space of their own. The result is a collection of 20 first-person narratives from a cross-section of black women speaking frankly about a range of topics, such as coming of age, sexual abuse, drug addiction, marriage, divorce, AIDS, and interracial dating. Rose provides the broader context of social, racial, and gender issues, including concerns about perpetuating the stereotypes of black men and women as sexual animals and American standards of beauty that often exclude black women. The women themselves speak candidly in their powerful—sometimes painful, sometimes amusing—portraits . . . Readers interested in race and gender issues will appreciate this revealing book."—Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"This provocative book delves into the sexual lives of contemporary African American women . . . Rose places these sexual tales in the theoretical context of race and gender in American society. Chapters cover approximately 20 interviews with African American women of various ages from young adulthood to midlife, educational levels, and social classes. In a conversational tone, the narratives cover personal histories and views on topics including intimacy, sexism, sexual practices, interracial sex, menstruation, motherhood, and sexual violence and physical abuse. Their stories reveal the importance of race in shaping sexual identity as well as the diversity in black culture . . . Rose has provided a stimulating basis for dialog on sex and race in America as well as given voice to women who have felt forced into silence."—Library Journal

"Although American culture is heavy with sexual images and suggestion, honest dialogue about sex and its effects can be rare. According to Rose, an American studies professor at U.C.-Santa Cruz, this is especially true for black women, who are most often seen only in stereotypical roles (e.g., welfare mothers, voracious sexual playthings). Yet, she posits, sexuality and intimacy are an enormous part of black women's lives. Rather than use interview snippets to underscore her points, the author presents a collection of oral histories told by 20 women who describe their lives in rich, sometimes startling, detail. The format works well, and Rose steps in only occasionally, at section breaks, to point out the intersections and divergences readers might miss. The tales are heartbreaking, inspiring and brutally honest on topics like AIDS, domestic abuse, race, sexism and erotic adventures. Although the speakers' stories traverse a wide range of experiences, each one chronicles the pain and hard-won triumphs of trying to be a black woman in a society they often find cold and hostile. They speak out on their treatment by and attitudes toward black men in a way that is far removed from the popular fiction that they supposedly identify with. By letting the women speak for themselves and following the histories with a passionate afterword, Rose provides a collection that is as compelling as it is sorely needed."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Tricia Rose is a professor of American studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The author of Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, she lives in California.
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  • Tricia Rose

  • Tricia Rose is a professor of American studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz. She is the author of Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, which was awarded the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. Born in Harlem and raised in the Bronx, she lives in California.