Commodification of the Black Body, Sexual Objectification and Social Hierarchies during Slavery

Posted in Articles, Economics, History, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Religion, Slavery, United States, Women on 2016-07-19 20:35Z by Steven

Commodification of the Black Body, Sexual Objectification and Social Hierarchies during Slavery

The Earlham Historical Journal: An Undergraduate Journal of Historical Inquiry
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana
Volume VII: Issue II (Spring 2015)
pages 21-43

Iman Cooper

The horror of the institution of slavery during the late eighteenth century was not that it displaced millions of African people from their homes to the US, but rather that it laid the foundation for the commodification and dehumanization of the black body that was culturally, socially, and politically maintained for hundreds of years to come. This essay will first explore the commodification of African captives as the foundation of my analysis, in order to later examine the social and political ramifications of the sexual objectification that was rampant during the slavery era, through the analysis of Harriet Jacob‘s slave narrative. Slavery had long-reaching effects on the conceptualization of the black body, which is later depicted by the emergence of the mulatto class. White slave owners executed their perceived right under the creation of commoditized black bodies to sexually abuse their slaves, producing mixed race (mulatto) children. Social, religious, economic, and political factors allowed the sustained commodification of black bodies to occur. As a result of commodification, black bodies were rendered disciplined subjects; beholden to the will of white men. Simultaneously, white planters‘ wives were socially conditioned to remain publicly silent in the face of their husband‘s betrayal and abuse; hence they often executed their anger on the black slave, further rendering the black body an object to be claimed by others to enact their will upon. Commodification of the black body at the start of the era allowed for the objectification of the black female body to continue throughout slavery, as portrayed by the simultaneous abuse of the masters and the subsequent retribution of the master‘s wives, which were enacted on the black female body…

Fetishization of the Black Female Slave and Mulatto Children

Black women were both fetishized and regarded as impure, when seen in contrast to the modesty of white women; therefore at the height of slavery, relationships with slave women were decidedly culturally unacceptable. However, just because these relationships were frowned upon does not mean that men resisted crossing the line of this social taboo; they did. The violation of this boundary by slave-owners was sometimes shamelessly explicit, while other times they attempted to keep their affairs secretive, for fear of both the societal backlash and the anger of their wives. As a result, the mulatto class grew extensively during the slavery era, becoming a visible marker of the extensiveness of this issue in the society. The skin color of these children served as a visible reminder for the wives and the community of their husband‘s infidelity. Masters sometimes took care of their mulatto children and eventually freed them, but more often than not, children either worked on the plantation, or (at their wives‘ insistence) were put up for auction and sold into slavery. As the mistress of the plantation, wives held a degree of power that could either improve the lives of slaves on her plantation, or create further harm and devastating destruction…

Read the entire article here.

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The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Posted in Books, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Monographs, United States on 2015-12-22 04:26Z by Steven

The Cry of Black Rage in African American Literature from Frederick Douglass to Richard Wright

Edwin Mellen Press
2013
176 pages
ISBN10: 0-7734-4077-1; ISBN13: 978-0-7734-4077-7

Steven Troy Moore, Assistant Professor of Language and Literature
Abilene Christian University, Abilene Texas

This book examines the contrasting experiences of black rage that is exhibited in the writings of male and female African American authors. It boldly captures the compelling theme of the white silence and the black rage that battled each other from the early days of slavery up to the pre-Civil Rights Movement. It exposes the birth of black rage and the African American experience through such writers as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs. Next, it gives a painful glimpse into the complicated experience of the biracial in the post-Reconstruction era through the eyes of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen. Finally, this study concludes with an astounding view of the modern state of black rage through the controversial writings of Richard Wright and Ann Petry. Currently, many studies present a one-dimensional analysis of black rage; however, this book provides a comprehensive examination of this phenomenon. From the viewpoint of African American authors, it traces the gender differences of black rage that span one hundred years and includes valuable insights from such brilliant scholars as bell hooks, Cornel West, Barbara Christian, Martha J. Cutter, Deborah E. McDowell, and James Baldwin.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword by Maureen Honey
  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • “Get Over It”
  • Chapter 1: Examining a Century of Silence and Rage in African American Literature, 1865-1946
    • Introduction
    • Literature Review
    • The Duality of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Ann Jacobs
    • The Biracial Worlds of Charles Chesnutt and Nella Larsen
    • Richard Wright’s Explosive Rage
  • Chapter 2: Silent Trees: Personal Reflections on Silence and Rage
    • The Silence
    • Silence and Rage
    • Mark
    • Blackness: Silence and Identity
    • Words from bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X
  • Chapter 3: Witnessing the Birth of Black Rage in Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave (1845) and Harriet Ann Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (1861)
    • The Enduring Pain of Slavery
    • The Autobiographical Rage of Frederick Douglass
    • Impotent Rage
    • Black Female Rage in Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl
    • The Slave Girl and the Sexual Predator
    • The Female Slave’s Alternative Retribution
    • Lasting Blow: The Lingering Influences of Slavery
  • Chapter 4: The Phenomenon of Biracial Rage in Charles Chesnutt’s The House Behind the Cedars (1900) and Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929)
    • The Biracial Identity
    • The White Mask in The House Behind Cedars Chesnutt’s Biracial Female
    • Black Female Rage in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand A Place to Belong: Location and Helga’s Biracial Identity
    • The Biracial Female in Passing Differed Rage
  • Chapter 5: Exploring the Explosive Urban Rage in Richard Wright’s Native Son (1940) and Ann Petry’s The Street (1946)
    • Brutal Clarity
    • “Like a Red-Hot Iron”: Bigger Thomas’s Burning Rage
    • The White Cat and the Black Rat
    • Native Son’s Perpetuating Rage
    • The Furious Hell of Ann Petry’s The Street
    • The White Heaven: Petry’s Contrasting Spaces
    • The White Ideal and the Black Other
    • Blackness and Claustrophobic Spaces
    • Explosive Black Female Rage
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

Posted in Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, Slavery, United States, Women on 2015-10-01 01:54Z by Steven

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Written by Herself

Thayer and Eldridge
1861

Harriet Ann Jacobs (1813-1897)

Edited by Lydia Maria Child (1802-1880)

Read the entire book here or here.

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Keeping Pictures, Keeping House: Harriet and Louisa Jacobs, Fanny Fern, and the Unverifiable History of Seeing the Mulatta

Posted in Articles, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, United States on 2013-08-14 20:32Z by Steven

Keeping Pictures, Keeping House: Harriet and Louisa Jacobs, Fanny Fern, and the Unverifiable History of Seeing the Mulatta

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
Volume 59, Number 2, 2013 (No. 231 O.S.)
pages 262-290
DOI: 10.1353/esq.2013.0022

Michael A. Chaney, Associate Professor of English
Dartmouth College


Daguerreotype of Louise Jacobs. From the Fanny Fern and Ethel Parton Papers, 1805-1982, courtesy of the Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College.

Tucked away in Box Three, Folder Thirteen of the Fanny Fern papers held at Smith College is a daguerreotype of a subject officially designated as an unidentified woman. The represented figure does not stand out among the dozen or so other daguerreotypes in the collection. If, as Shawn Michelle Smith has argued, nineteenth-century “photography was used to locate individual bodies within a genealogy of familial hereditary traits and racial characteristics,” this image works post facto to produce a similar effect. Little distinguishes the faded propriety of this young woman seated in an anonymous interior from the other girls in Fern’s collection, such as her daughters Grace and Ellen Eldredge. What does distinguish the photograph, beyond its contents, is the oddity of its existence in the collection. The fact that there is a stray photo at all is curious in a collection so selectively devoted to so few subjects. Indeed, Grace Eldredge alone accounts for nearly half of the dozen subjects pictured, while her father Charles (Fern’s first husband) accounts for three.

A note in the finding aid identifies the sitter as Louisa Jacobs, Harriet Jacobs’s quadroon daughter. That the subject could be Louisa is supported by certain historical “facts” —Jacobs and her white-looking daughter spent time in Fern’s household. But on the other side of this notion of history as a set of verifiable facts is the regime of affect and feeling that surrounds the mulatta, a fascination that pervaded nineteenth-century American culture and the literature it produced. It is only with reluctance while scrutinizing the unidentifiable young woman that one dispels that urge so often discussed in nineteenth-century tragic mulatta narratives to discern traces of African heritage. Putting aside the possibilities that this is not a picture of Jacobs, we are still left to wonder what secret intimacy warrants the inclusion of this unidentified woman in such a closed gallery. As intertext, the image provides a different type of evidence—a suggestive form of evidence—for the rhetorical and psycho-social, if not historical, actualities that circumscribe Fern and Jacobs. These actualities cohere within a discourse of domesticity and the enclosed scenes that that discourse entails, which play out in gaps and silences behind history’s closed doors.

We need not confirm the identity of the photographed subject in order to use the association of sitter and image as an occasion to interrogate the bonds of affiliation that connect Harriet and Louisa Jacobs to Fanny Fern (a.k.a. Sara Willis). It is the burden of this essay to take up these speculations. The method behind such speculation requires a form of “creative hearing” that William L. Andrews advocates for reading slave narratives. To dwell in the seams, gaps, and cuts—those unspeakable or unknowable blind spots that frame the image—it is necessary that we employ a mode of creative seeing. As with Andrews’s formulation, what is seen is less a fiction invented by the critic than a textual provocation—a call to which we are solicited to respond. Accordingly, as we dwell in the fold where the material and the speculative collapse, possibilities emerge for rethinking sentimentalism and its attendant scripts of race, gender, authorship, and domestic labor.

Creative Seeing: An Analysis of the Unverifiable Photograph

The unidentified daguerreotype exists at the threshold of the speculative and the material. To explain, let us begin with the material dimension of the image, which is the same for any daguerreotype. The material daguerreotype is an artifact of a densely contextualized historical archive, in this case, one that subtends the life of Fanny Fern, her family and private life as well as her literary career as a connoisseur of affect. The speculative dimension of the image, which we shall employ in our creative seeing, derives from the conditions of possibility that enclose the subject. We can never know if this is indeed a photograph of Louisa Jacobs; nevertheless, clues in the archive invite speculation beyond the facts supported by conventional approaches to biographical evidence. Indeed…

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