Funk the Power, Funk the Erotic

“We have just witnessed a spectacular demonstration of the failures of a national, political imagination. Many of us feel devastated, afraid, and confused. There is no better time than this to accept L.H. Stallings’s Funk the Erotic’s invitation to inhabit Transworlds of funky freakery. For whatever we do now has got to be funky–to Funk the Power, which is a spiritual, corporeal, sexual, and imaginative anti-work kind of thing.” -C. Riley Snorton*

Cover for STALLINGS: Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures. Click for larger imageThe words of C. Riley Snorton spoke volumes at the National Women’s Studies Association, which took place just a day after the 2016 election results became official and Donald Trump was named President Elect. As 2000 feminists came together to talk about mobilization, activism, and resistance, eclectic panels took place throughout the conference. One such panel was a coveted author-meets-critic session that featured the book Funk the Erotic: Transaesthetics and Black Sexual Cultures by L.H Stallings, associate professor of women’s studies at the University of Maryland College Park. As a member of this panel, Dr. Snorton called upon us to take up the lessons of Funk the Erotic in order to Funk the Power.

But how does one Funk the Power? For an answer to this, we can look deeper into Stallings’s work, which captivates readers with expressive language and pictorial descriptions of black erotica, feminism, and funk. She presents women, not as delicate flowers, but as warriors pushing themselves onto the battlefield. Funk the Erotic changes your perception of sexual cultures and black feminism with every page. The momentous experience of a baby’s first sounds of its mother’s heartbeat and crooning can be found in some of Funk music’s most basic beats, and Stallings illustrates how funk has evolved and morphed over the generations to provide and shape black power.

With the beginning of one of the most momentous and powerful movements of the twenty-first century, Black Lives Matter, Stallings’s book has come at a crucial time. Like funk music and freakery, the Black Lives Matter movement has expanded beyond its original focus around policy brutality to include so much more. And this is precisely what Funk the Erotic invites us to do: to go beyond the original, to do work that is not always acknowledged as work, to express one’s self where you usually yield. This is how one Funks the Power.

Many have lauded the funkiness of Dr. Stallings’s work, and you need look no farther than its several awards to see just how broad of an impact Funk the Erotic has had. As the winner of the 2015 Emily Toth Award from the Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association, Funk the Erotic was acknowledged as the best single work by one or more authors in women’s studies by the association dedicated to the series studies of pop culture.

Not long after, Funk the Erotic, received the high distinction of being shortlisted for the 28th Annual Lambda Literary Awards in the LGBT Studies category. The Lambda Literary awards (the Lammys) are organized by the biggest LGBTQ literary community in the world! Happily, 2017 brought yet another award. The GL/Q Caucus of the Modern Language Association gave their annual book prize, the Alan Bray Memorial Award, to Funk the Erotic. From the Lammys to the MLA to the PCA, there is no shortage of accolades for L.H. Stallings’s funky contribution to several fields.

Funk the Erotic gets people excited to be involved in something more. As James Brown, one of the most recognizable funk musicians of the ‘60s, puts it in his song “Say It Loud – I’m Black And I’m Proud”: “Now we demand a chance to do things for our self, we’re tired of beatin’ our head against the wall, and workin’ for someone else. We’re people, we’re just like the birds and the bees, we’d rather die on our feet than be livin’ on our knees, say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud” (James Brown, 1968).

Watch yourself, because Funk the Erotic shocks your system as you dive into a world very different than the norm; this is a world that is non-judgmental and authentic against a society brimming with insecurities and hostility. Stallings will take you on a fierce ride through the essence of funk with her own invested emotional response to say it loud in the celebration of blackness. When you Funk the Erotic, you Funk the Power.

*Quoted from “Funk the Power,” a paper given at the 2016 National Women Studies Association in Toronto. Thank you to Dr. Snorton for his generous permission.


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