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Thompson Reconsiders the Black Lady

August 21, 2009

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UAlbany Associate Professor of English Lisa B. Thompson

Her new book, Beyond the Black Lady, grew out of UAlbany Associate Professor of English Lisa B. Thompson's interest in exploring the ways gender and sexuality shape contemporary depictions of the African American middle class. (Photo Ade Makinde) 

UAlbany's Lisa B. Thompson, who wrote the critically acclaimed off-Broadway play Single Black Female, has a new book out that makes readers think twice about former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class (University of Illinois Press) is a thought-provoking text that is written in clear accessible prose.

In the introduction, Thompson notes that Rice, with a string of pearls and regal posture, represents the dilemma of black middle-class women, who are sexualized by the press and society no matter what their achievements or status.

She relates the story of the Boondocks comic strip that was pulled from The Washington Post for a week after the characters Huey and Caesar decided that Rice needed a boyfriend so she would not destroy the world.

As different as she is from Rice politically, First Lady Michelle Obama receives the same type of scrutiny.

"Even now, I'm troubled by dominant depictions of middle-class black women's sexuality in popular culture," writes Thompson, an associate professor of English.

"Since entering the international stage, First Lady Michelle Obama has been subjected to unprecedented media coverage about her body; only time will tell how her presence in the White House will alter perceptions of black womanhood."

Book cover of Beyond the Black Lady

In Beyond the Black Lady, Associate Professor of English Lisa B. Thompson reconsiders the role of middle-class black women and the representation of sexuality in African American culture.

Both Single Black Female and Beyond the Black Lady came out of Thompson's interest in exploring the ways gender and sexuality shape contemporary depictions of the African American middle class.

"I remain disappointed by the persistent lack of diversity and complexity in the rendering of black lives in popular culture, and I hope my work challenges these flat depictions," she said.

In Beyond the Black Lady, Thompson traces ways in which black middle-class women present themselves as models of chastity, piety, and respectability in order to protect themselves and the broader black community from negative sexual stereotyping.

Through the exploration of texts written by black women authors, Thompson seeks to "prompt reconsideration of the proper role of middle-class black women and the representation of sexuality in African American culture."

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