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These artists have changed the face of pop culture by presenting images that commodify black female sexual identity, ironically giving in to the jezebel stereotype in order to gain sexual autonomy. But the road to self-empowerment remains elusive for many black women because of ingrained cultural notions of sexual decency that African Americans adopted as political strategy in order to integrate with white America during the fight for civil rights.

Daunted by the seemingly inevitable fact that they’ll be pegged as either oversexed jezebels or asexual mammies, many young black women struggle to express their own sexuality without the benefits of the second skin afforded by performance art. In the era of Sasha Fierce and the Harajuku Barbie, black girls dress, speak and act in ways that imitate these pop projections of black sexual power created by grown women playing dress-up. Our community must shatter the good girl-bad girl moral dichotomy that so firmly binds expressions of black female sexuality — otherwise the agency of young black girls and women is put at risk through the shaming of their sexual maturation.

A public example of this type of shaming is the now-infamous “wardrobe malfunction” incident of the 2004 Super Bowl Halftime Show, during which Janet Jackson’s breast was exposed, igniting a witch hunt driven by censors, sponsors and the American public. Although Jackson did apologize, the FCC, media and public responses to the incident all raise questions about the subjugation of black female sexuality — particularly since the co-performer who removed her top, Justin Timberlake, was largely left out of the fray. Jackson has never formed an alter ego as a part of her own sexual evolution as an artist; in fact, she has been open about it, wearing her sexuality unapologetically and brazenly. But in the wake of the fallout, Jackson, who is known for her erotic performances on tour, has been far more subdued in public.

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