with Regina N. Bradley, Timothy Anne Burnside, Bettina Judd, and Fredara M. Hadley
Conference Janet Jackson’s 1993 sultry remake of the song “That’s the Way Love Goes” opens with the line “Like a moth to a flame burned by the fire.” While Jackson is talking about the ups and downs of how love manifests itself, the imagery of the moth being burned by a flame also applies to how Black women attempt to view and position themselves in American society. Of particular interest is how Black women hold a peculiar space in popular culture: their bodies and cultural expressions are emulated, their style duplicated, but no room is made to recognize their agency. They are, in essence, burned by the very flame that they are attempting to master. The imposed expectations and biases placed upon black women about how to perform race, (hyper)sexuality, and class –in all senses of the word – also impact their autonomy. Black women’s search for space in memory, in culture, and in themselves is especially significant in popular music.