Bordering on: The black penis

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Looking at the ways in which racial violence against black men has been documented historically through photographs, this essay examines the contiguity of this imaging with certain ritualized forms of looking which take the black penis - either castrated and/or unveiled - as their main focus. Drawing on the psychoanalytic work of Frantz Fanon and Otto Fenichel, it is argued that the intense imbrication of racial scopophilia and racial fetishism in the phobic imaging of the black penis, allows a comparison between the photographs of black men taken by Robert Mapplethorpe and those taken at the lynching scene. Such connections may be recognized with regard to both the violent occasions and contexts of the wider symbolic disciplining and monitoring of black male sexuality in the public sphere and the specular promotion of mutilated black bodies. This essay concludes with the argument that the scopic identification of black men in these photographs cannot be dissociated from the symptomatic unveiling of the black penis in white racial fantasies; an unveiling whose historical and fantasmatic precedent invokes, in order to annihilate, this penis, and thereby preserve both the phobic figuration of black men and the incorporative identities of whiteness intact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-28
Number of pages20
JournalTextual Practice
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1996

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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