American Sociological Association

Becoming Black Women: Intimate Stories and Intersectional Identities

In this article, I argue that intimate stories are an important resource for the achievement of intersectional identities. Drawing on in-depth interviews with black college students at two predominantly white universities, I examine the stories black college women tell about interracial relationships between black men and white women. I argue that interracial stories serve an array of social purposes that go well beyond black women’s intimate lives themselves. Interracial stories draw on public beliefs about gender, sexuality, and race to create a collective identity, imbue it with meaning, and socialize black women into common dispositions and practices. The transition to college makes race newly salient to black women; black women must coordinate raced gender identities with other black women across differences in backgrounds and dispositions. By learning and adopting interracial stories, black college women create alliances with other black women, draw boundaries against black men and white women, and craft black womanhood as strong and outspoken. Women’s identity work is constrained, however, by the contradictions within and among gender, race, and class meanings, which make it difficult for them to enact identities that are at once strong and respectable, pushing black women to tie interracial stories to sexual restraint. I conclude by examining the implications of interracial stories for understanding black women’s identities and the processes of intersectionality more broadly.


Amy C. Wilkins





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