Why I Believe Institutional Rape of Black Women in Slavery & Jim Crow Still Matters

This is a somewhat negative post, so be forewarned:

 

Black women were raped with impunity from slavery, throughout the Reconstruction and up throughout Jim Crow. This sexual abuse has left a stain on the image of Black women. Why should this matter today? Because, when I look at my family and I see a range of colors…from light yellow to people who are brown to people who are nearly white I KNOW that institutionalized rape of Black women by white men was not uncommon. This happened to our grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-aunts, and sometimes our mothers. The colorism…the maligning of Black women (particularly dark-skinned black women) in popculture…it all started there.

This sexual abuse of Black women has branded us with labels like being whores, Jezebel, ugly, nappy-headed hos, worthless. The bodies of black women were used for the convenience, pleasure, economic prosperity and entertainment of others. Black women have never been able to own our bodies. Many of us don’t have to look beyond our own families to know the horrible legacy that this abuse of black women’s bodies has left on our culture. When we know of Sara Baartman, Celia Newsome, Harriet Jacobs, Joan Little and countless others, it hurts because it reminds me that although much has changed since that time, much has not.

I still see people who devalue, degrade and dominate Black women in our very culture daily. When a white man can call us “nappy-headed hoes,” when our first lady can be referred to as a “baby mama,” when we have online magazines telling the world we’re objectively the least attractive (then apologizes to everyone, but black women), when we have magazines writing about how a Black maid who claims to have been sexually assaulted by a white man  “isn’t glamorous” (as if they’re implying that she’s not “attractive enough” to be raped, forget that rape is about power/humiliation) and when we have billboards in SOHO that tell the world that our womb is inherently dangerous…I know that the legacy of Black women’s abuse has not ended. We are still fair game.

What’s worse is that people deny that these atrocities, which have LITERALLY defined our existence ever, took place. We’ve got white men who deny to this day that Black women were raped during slavery. We’ve got people to this day who still claim that Black women are inherently more promiscuous, unattractive and undesirable than other women. We’ve even got people pretending that “biracial children” (Read non-black women &black men’s children) are a new sign of post-racial progress. In reality Black women have been birthing biracial children, before there was even such a thing as biracial to begin with. But, our foremothers never had the right to claim the white fathers of their biracial children. So, today we live the lie that biracial is “something new,” that  is largely done by white women and Black men…so, in effect, we are denying this systematic sexual exploitation of Black women that produced countless mixed race children who were denied the right to claim their white fathers. Then today, when a Black woman is married to a white man (rare in comparison to other couplings) we have to deal with people telling other mixed people that “black mothers are ugliest” or wondering why a Black woman has such a light-skinned baby…she must be the maid right…?

Black women continue to be degraded to this day. Just look at  the rising numbers of Black women who are thrown in prison and who are sometimes ,  physically and sexually assaulted by male guards. Mind you, most of the women in prison are in for non-violent offenses…and we know how biased our criminal justice system is…need I say more? Look at the images we see on BET and in the movie theater and you know we are degraded.

It  angers me that people deny this constantly and above all, it pains me that stories of women like Ruby McCollum , Celia Newsome and countless other Black women are not included in the narrative of American history. I guess the historical and institutionalized sexual abuse of Black women’s bodies, while state and federal government turned a blind eye, doesn’t fit in with the image they want for this country.

We’ve got a pop singer telling the world that his d*ck is a white supremacist and I guess he would never put it anywhere near a Black woman (so sad, NOT!)…well I’ve got news for everyone…UNFORTUNATELY, white supremacists may have been racist, but for many, their d*ck was anything but discriminatory (see Strom Thurmond)…

some people must think Black women don’t have vaginas

…well we do have vaginas…you know that thing that racist white men would force their p*nis into…yeah…that was our vagina. It’s been used for centuries and centuries by other people to make them feel better, to provide labor, pleasure and entertainment to people.

Every day, Black women have to wear the label that was forced upon our foremothers…

We are too ugly, undesirable and attitudinal to be marriage material, but okay to have monster sex with…and today there are some Black men who have joined the ranks of the “good enough to sex, but not marry,” troop, it used to be a white man thing…not anymore. It seems men of all races disrespect Black women and feel entitled to our bodies. We can’t even be the sexually-liberated sex goddess without being labeled a ho. I really don’t know that there is an equivalent to Sex in the City for Black women… No we are just the lowest…too low even to be raped…to ugly to be rapeable…yet we continue to be raped and abused daily

According to Lifetime movie Human Trafficking we don’t get trafficked. This is how I feel and this is what I SEE every day as a Black woman in 2011…nearly 2012! This mentality that STARTED with the rape and abuse of our foremothers during slavery continues to be perpetuated in the present day… The disrespect, the humiliation, the apathy…We’re not even good enough to be paid decent money when we’re stripping for goodness sakes!

The stories of our foremothers who were raped and sexually abused are silenced, they’re not told about in American history books…we’ll hear about lynching on occasion (and well we should) but the rape of Black women has been silenced for so long…no one wants to hear about it.

It’s true in many ways, we have progressed so much. 146 years ago, I would have been a slave and I don’t have to go through A LOT of things that my Black foremothers had to go through, like being sold on the auction block, being whipped or shot at with fire hoses…but let’s not forget we have a long way to go and in some ways… unfortunately we’ve gone backwards. I count my blessings everyday, but I cannot allow the image of my foremothers or my sisters to be maligned this way any longer…

It matters to me…it matters to me because not only do I see the residual effects of that sexual abuse when I look at my green and blue-eyed aunts, great-uncles and my near-white relatives and cousins…but I FEEL the effects everyday…ABOVE ALL, I FEEL them…

Why I Believe Institutional Rape of Black Women in Slavery & Jim Crow Still Matters

15 thoughts on “Why I Believe Institutional Rape of Black Women in Slavery & Jim Crow Still Matters

  1. lovingmyhair says:

    poignant. And everything the white man learned about devaluing Black women during slavery, they learned from Arab slave masters who sold our ancestors to the colonies. Heck, rape and slavery still occurs in Arab dominated countries. When we talk about our slave ancestors, we can’t let them off the hook either. And our Black media needs to start addressing those issues highlighted in your article. The colorism, sexual images or heavily perpetrated by Black media.

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    1. Elle est noire says:

      “And our Black media needs to start addressing those issues highlighted in your article. The colorism, sexual images or heavily perpetrated by Black media
      .

      THANK YOU my sista for saying this. The complicity of Black media in disrespecting the image of the Black woman & girl HAS to be asknowledged and taken to task!

      Like

    1. good point you’re right about the Arab slave trade. the billboard was pulled after it sparked outrage. but unfortunately they have since posted other similar billboards in other states: http://thatsabortion.com/in_the_media/missouri-right-to-life-pac/

      you should read this book by dorothy roberts : http://www.amazon.com/Killing-Black-Body-Reproduction-Meaning/dp/0679758690/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1325229744&sr=8-2

      it’s interesting, it talks about abortion and black women a lot

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  2. Joanne says:

    African-American have to stop supporting these lies. We have to find a way to confirm to the world that we are not of the things they LIE about. I do feel for you sisters as where I come from in the Caribbean we do not have these things to live with although there is covert racism in our islands and “light skin and pretty hair” is also revered. It pains me to read these things and know what African women are going through in the world’s greatest “Hypocrisy” (democracy). Women, you need to stand firm and strong and show the world we are the mothers who birthed whole nations, it is from our wombs that the world began, but we must be careful how that imaged is portrayed. Black American women can start be ceasing to believe that they are the only Black women on earth, reach out to your sisters in the Caribbean, Brazil, Latin America,Europe and the African continent, organize visits to these places, to see for yourselves, where it all began. Learn your history about where you come from and where you now stand and have always stood in the world and attempt to regain your queenly status.
    You need to stop trying to ‘be white’ and live your blackness with pride, carrying yourselves as the queens that we are and always will be.
    Black women from the Caribbean are viewed differently because we were not born with this sense of entitlement as African-Americans are and the societies in which we live in do not bombard us every day with symbols that we are “ugly and nappy-headed” but to the contrary. Kill the negative stereotypes by refusing to support the “Basketball wives” etc., that show Black women in a negative light. Tell Nene Leakes to take it down a bit as she can still get her point across without being loud and aggressive all the time.
    Most of all stop looking to America to give you confidence, organize yourselves and ‘take back’ what they are taking from you by teaching your young girls to love and honour themselves, Look back to look ahead.
    It is possible sisters to not let others define who you are !

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    1. Saartje says:

      Thank you for your response to this article sister. However, I would like to respond to a few comments you made.

      1. “Black women from the Caribbean are viewed differently because we were not born with this sense of entitlement as African-Americans…”

      – There is no “sense of entitlement” for Black women in the states. In fact, its quite the opposite. We struggle daily with overt and covert racism we experience here. Nene Leakes is not representative of all Black American women. And just as you rightfully pointed out, Black women (and also Black men) in the US should visit our brothers and sisters in the motherland and throughout the diaspora. However, our brothers and sisters should also come and visit us… talk to us, learn about us to help debunk the myths portrayed in film and media.

      African Americans are indoctrinated to hate ourselves and where we come from. Our brothers and sisters in the motherland and throughout the diaspora have been indoctrinated in believing the lies and myths about Blacks in America. All of us aren’t lazy, loud-mouthed, rude, or “entitled,” nor do we feel that way.

      So, sister I agree with you to an extent but there is room for all of us to learn about each other and to get rid of the stereotypes and lies we’ve been told about each other.

      Also, I noticed throughout your article you say the word “you” alot, as if the struggle in America does not effect other Africans throughout the diaspora. The truth is that ALL OF US have work to do. And we all have to work together to get it done. We all have to learn our history and we all have to embrace pan-Africanism. Knowledge is a powerful tool in beginning to combat the racism we all still experience.

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      1. joanne says:

        Hi Saartje,

        Thanks for your well written response. You provided much food for thought however I would like to just explain myself on a few things if you will allow me to. When I spoke about “entitlement” I meant that African-Americans are normally the people who look down on their unfortunate “cousins” in the diaspora because you have lived all your lives in the wealthiest nation in the world. Ask any Caribbean person or Native African and they will tell you a lot of the time it is African-Americans who are really unkind to them and I think this is wrong because you guys were the ones who have been taught to hate yourselves, grew up in institutionalized racism so why not reach to your brothers and sisters in the diaspora. Why not have your Black publications like Essence, Ebony and Jet etc., do real serious journalistic work and not fluff stories with respect to other African communities in the Caribbean, Latin American and the Motherland.
        Our whole lives have been lived learning about America and your history, in fact most Caribbean people may know quite a lot about famous African-Americans – Frederick Douglass,Sojourner Truth,Booker T Washington etc., Do African-Americans know or care anything about famous Africans from the Caribbean, Latin America or the Motherland ?
        True enough Nene Leakes may not represent all African-American women but she is what the world sees and believes is the behaviour of all of us. Everytime we watch anything coming out of America, we see African women behaving aggressively and pursuing a fight (verbal or otherwise). I say speak your truth but please speak it quietly. We need to tune out all women who behave like this not just Nene. Let them know that this is unacceptable and taints all of us.
        I agree with you that the problems you (African-Americans) face are the problems we all face, as I told you racism is practised in my country albeit covertly but I have taught myself to be proud of who and what I am and I do by reading and educating myself but I understand and feel for African-Americans and what you go through on a daily basis.
        One last thing – African women in the Caribbean wear wigs and weaves however we do not behave as though its our hair, we wear them to change our look and style but we are just as comfortable with locs, twists, braids, corn rows etc., We do not all photograph with hair flowing down past our butts, we are Black women and we embrace this, so you will not see this in the Caribbean at all. I am least glad that African-American have whole-heartedly started to embrace their natural styles.
        I will leave the men out of it for now they are a whole other topic.
        Peace to you.

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    2. Elle est noire says:

      Nene is not the problem, anti-Black female racism/sexism is. So she is a little animated, so what? Is she hurting anyone? Is she an ax murderer? Her personality does NOT give anti-Black female bigots license nor a reason to mistreat us.

      I can assure you that Black FEMALES in America have no entitlement complex. Black girls here are taught very early on that we deserve NOTHING good, and that we do NOT deserve to be given anything, so we learn how to WORK for what we want. You see an Afro-American sista with a nice car, nice house, fancy clothes, big bank account, etc, I can ASSURE you that there is a 99.9% chance that she WORKED her booty off for it!

      Finally, I have a Pan-African mindset when I talk about Black female civil rights, so I see ALL Black women on Earth as my sistas who I want the best for. It does not matter to me if she is from Senegal, Jamaica, France, the USA, etc. If she is BLACK, then she is MY SISTA, period!

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  3. Saartje says:

    Great post… As difficult as the topic maybe to discuss, we must still discuss it and include the men in this discussion as well. The degradation of the Black female image is nothing new, but I think what is so bothersome is the fact that some of our men (out of ignorance) have joined in with the noise and their approval (silence can also be considered approval) has allowed us to go backwards. (We must also remember that some sisters out of ignorance has also joined in helping to degrade the Black male image– so there are problems on both sides.)

    To be honest, I used to be bothered (extremely bothered) by what I heard and saw about Black women in the media and on the street. It was hurtful. After I started my consciousness journey and began to occupy myself with studying my history and being proud of it, I started not to be as bothered emotionally. Studying my history was the catalyst I needed to want to do more about the situation. More importantly, it gave me new found respect for myself and admiration for my brothers and sisters.

    We can not change a person views on how they see us, but we can change how we view ourselves. We need to stop trying to get the approval of others.Too many of our people have fallen into the trap of wanting the “riches” and “fame” and we have given up our self worth and dignity for a few crumbs. It has to stop… Kujichagulia (self determination) has to be the order of the day. No longer should we be dependent upon others to redeem us. Africans in the motherland and across the diaspora should rely on each other in doing business and really engaging in nation building.

    Those who control the history books control how his-story is written. At what point do we write our own history books?

    Those who control the educational system also controls the self esteem, the brain washing, etc… At what point do we relinquish wanting to appease others and start building our own Afro-centric schools and cultural centers?

    Until we deal with the issues in our community head-on, we will always revisit these topics. From Blacks in the motherland to Blacks in America and all throughout the diaspora, we’ve done a lot of talking but very little walking. We all have to make some changes and start moving.

    The degradation of the Black female image is only one form of racism, but we have to work as a collective and address the basics before we can truly change things. We simply have to deal with ourselves first.

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    1. Elle est noire says:

      The number of sistas who do what you claim are nowhere near as numerous nor vocal as the MANY Black men who happily degrade the Black female image all day long. We have to be honest about this. Real talk.

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    1. The problem seems to be that the women in the black race seems to take small issue and blame it on the majority of black men and then try to set up things in our race that only pertain to them and their needs everyone else is excluded how about including everyone’s needs and not separate the issues.

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