“Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power…

People of mixed racial heritage, or “mulattoes,” symbolized the dependence of white men on black labor, both in the field and in the bed. Marked by their very skin color and other features as products of the white-black encounter in the South, mulatto women were obviously white and not-white, like “our white Caroline.” They were products of the long encounter between white exploiters of labor and black sources of labor, productive and reproductive. Their commodification reminded all that, in the South, every child of an enslaved mother was some form of slave laborer, an arrangement that enabled plantation slavery to function. Every enslaved man, woman, and child was a repository of reproductive capital and a source of production. The white political economy of the South would have collapsed without the legal and cultural fictions that assigned the “mulatto” and other children of African women to the created categories “black” and “enslaved.” Women like the “fair maid Martha,” and “the Yellow Girl Charlott” also, in their phenotypes, illustrated the long past of white sexual assault. “Mulatto” women thus embodied white dependency and white power, and offered men the chance to recapitulate and reexamine the past that had produced both white power and mixed-race individuals. Unwillingly, such women introduced a pornographic history, one obscene yet for that very reason more lusted-after, into the parlors, bedrooms, and above all, the markets of the elite white man’s world. They made flesh the years of white men desiring and depending on women (and men) who were supposedly less than civilized, Christian, or even human.

Edward E. Baptist, ““Cuffy,” “Fancy Maids,” and “One-Eyed Men”: Rape, Commodification, and the Domestic Slave Trade in the United States, 1876,” The American Historical Review, (December, 2001).

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