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The central question raised in the infamous debate between Henry Louis Gates Jr./Houston Baker Jr. and Joyce A. Joyce is, which critical methodology ensures a progressive black politics in contemporary America. What is striking about this debate is that first, black feminists, including Joyce, are vehemently attacked as “essentialists” and secondly, adherence to “essentialism” is assumed to be politically conservative, already having lost its political efficacy. In this paper, I argue that what is problematic about such a charge is that for black women who still must grapple with the project of constructing and affirming “black women’s identity” the essentialist approach still holds some political validity. The second part of this paper examines this thorny theoretical issue by reading “Gorilla, My Love” as a text which explores the way in which the shifting identities of Hazel are mediated in both black and white societies. The text reveals that the “dozens,” symbolic of “blackness,” have already been appropriated by whites, and instead, Hazel’s unique brand of feisty no-nonsense northern, urban language voicing her resistance, is presented as an alterna- tive. However, the text also shows that there are limitations to the subversive power of language. In this way, “Gorilla, My Love” sends a warning signal against black critics who believe that their cutting-edge critical methodologies promote progressive black politics.