Trapped in the [epistemological] closet: Black sexuality and the popular imagination

C. Riley Snorton, University of Pennsylvania


Trapped in the [Epistemological] Closet: Black Sexuality and the Popular Imagination," examines representations of the "down low," a term that typically refers to black men who have sex with men and women and do not identify as gay, bisexual or queer, in news and popular culture. I offer two terms—the "biopolitics of representation" and the "glass closet"—to analyze the mediated construction of the down low. The first term, biopolitics of representation, addresses why certain representational modes occur and what they signify about contemporary arrangements of power. While a "traditional" politics of representation views images and other forms of representations as manifestations of ideology, the biopolitics of representation explains how representations emerge as a matter of governance, that is by focusing on both the significatory and regulatory power embedded within mediated culture. The "glass closet," a paradoxical space of hypervisibility and opacity, is a metaphor and analytic I develop to understand black sexuality as that which is already understood as deviant, while simultaneously read as mysterious and untenable in mediated space. An analytic, like the biopolitics of representation, renders the dimensions of the glass closet visible. I suggest that the glass closet plays a critical part in the emergence of down low narratives, while it also demonstrates how the "down low" signifies a frequent relation between representations of blackness and queerness.^

Subject Area

African American Studies|Black Studies|Speech Communication|Gender Studies

Recommended Citation

Snorton, C. Riley, "Trapped in the [epistemological] closet: Black sexuality and the popular imagination" (2010). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3447151.