Trading That “Good-Good”*: Placing Slave Rape On The Consent Continuum
PREAMBLE: I’m neither a fan nor a follower of Touré, the person whose online shenanigans inspired this post. I’ve said before that Twitter is gonna ruin quite a few public images and careers before it goes the way of the virtual boneyard known as MySpace; this certainly seems to be the case with him. In the span of about a year he’s gone from being a journalist I liked and respected once upon a time ago to an attention-hungry jerk a provocateur who agitates for agitation’s sake. If one wanted to make the argument that Touré goes out of his way to irritate Black people they’d have quite a bit of supporting evidence. Between referring indirectly to Michelle Obama as a “ghetto girl”, compiling a list of sex symbols for the “thinking man” that was oddly bereft of Latina and Black women (Touré’s schoolboy gushing over “stunning blonde” femme d’un certain age Governor Jennifer Granholm and omission of brilliant and sexy Shakira struck me as particularly odd - buuuuut alright), complaining on Twitter about alllll the criticism his interracial marriage (his wife is Lebanese) receives from Black folks, asking for tips on caring for his son’s “Black” hair because he and his wife just don’t have the foggiest about it, and most recently his statement that self-identified Black Latina Zoe Saldana plays “Black” (he later stated that he meant African-American), he’s drawn ire from a lot of people - including yours truly. Touré’s clumsy race dialogue tweets and half-assed, hyper-defensive apologies have become something of a running joke in my Twitter stream, inspiring everything from snarky hashtags to virtual halibut smackdowns. And there you have it, some background on “Not-Quddus.”
Here’s where things get interesting (and relevant to the title of this post): On March 1, Touré posted a series of eyebrow-raising tweets about sexual relations between enslaved Black women and White masters. These tweets were first attributed to his wacky, “Ph.D. candidate” cousin, who had somehow gotten a hold of his Blackberry and was causing a Twitter ruckus. Realizing that raising the spectre of slavery-era rape by invoking the trope of the Jezebel and juxtaposing this image with contemporary prejudice faced by Black male-White female relationships was inaccurate and offensive, Touré wisely deleted these tweets from his feed altogether and had his “cousin” apologize - but not before said tweets were screen-captured on several sites.
Watching the whole mess come to a rolling boil on Twitter, I noticed a disturbing theme emerging in the dialogue around the tweets. Rape, a sex crime typically defined by the absence of non-coercive adult consent, was redefined before my very eyes in 140 characters or less. A surprising (to me, anyway) number of people did not consider sexual congress that took place without the threat of immediate violence (brutal coercion) rape. Because visuals help me think, I hastily assembled a linear color spectrum to better understand this new information.
While my idea of consensual sex rests firmly in the purple-indigo area of the consent continuum above, other folks seemed to veer towards the yellow-green part of the spectrum (where I’d place things like absence of physical resistance or encouragement of advances, ability to solicit favors on behalf of self or other enslaved individuals, and so on.) I read comments that argued that the legal age of consent has long been a point of contention; that people didn’t live as long back then so it made sense to become sexually active earlier; that Black people mature faster sexually (yes, someone took it there); that slaves sometimes loved their masters and so it wasn’t RAPE rape, etc.
The re-imagining of master-slave sexual relationships is nothing new. It is part-and-parcel of the romanticism that accompanies certain forms of revisionism in the analysis of American history. Predictably, Sally Hemings was raised. Hemings’ relationship with Thomas Jefferson is often touted by revisionists as the quintessential slave-master love story. During the discussions, I was dismayed to discover that most people aren’t aware that Jefferson began engaging in sexual congress with Hemings when she was in her early teens, that their children were never officially freed while Jefferson was alive, and that she herself was NEVER freed by Jefferson – not even on his deathbed. In fact, records indicate that Hemings and at least one of her relatives were sold to a nearby plantation in order to settle Jefferson’s significant gambling debts. I argued that Jefferson – by having sex with Hemings when she was a child, by being her owner, and by never freeing her – was a rapist on multiple counts. I also argued that Hemings frequently visited Jefferson’s grave after his death, and that the Abermarle county census of 1833 listed her as a free woman (she died in 1835). I closed by stating that while it is extremely likely that Sally Hemings loved and was loved by her rapist Thomas Jefferson, her love for him did not absolve him of his crime, because whatver benefits Hemings or any enslaved women enjoyed by virtue of her relationship with her master were entirely relative to her status as human property.***
With all of that in mind, let’s compare this:”…[Some enslaved women] were cunning and brilliant enough to use their bodies to gain liberation thus fooling massa.”
A stereotype persists of African American women as immoral and therefore less deserving of protection from violence or sexual exploitation. In 1744, Edward Long, in an attempt to support slavery, published his conclusions about African women. He characterized them as “ignorant, crafty, treacherous, thievish, and mistrustful.”
And this: “Of course most were raped, we know that, but some were sharp enough to trade that g00d-good for status or liberation.”
Slave women were property; therefore, legally they could not be raped. Often slavers would offer gifts or promises of reduced labor if the slave women would consent to sexual relations, and there were instances where the slaver and slave shared sexual attraction; however, “the rape of a female slave was probably the most common form of interracial sex.” A slave woman explained, “When he make me follow him into de bush, what use me to tell him no? He have strength to make me.”
Without the aid of actual documentation, musings about the daily survival of our enslaved ancestors are pure speculation. My foremothers were absolutely survivors – I’m living proof. And while I don’t like to think about everything they had to endure, I absolutely believe that in order for this country’s race relations problem to be well and truly healed, we’re gonna have to acknowledge this and EVERY horror-filled aspect of our national legacy, square-on and courageously. This discussion and the others must take place, and they must be handled with the intelligence, nuance, sensitivity and historical perspective that they deserve.
*Good-good? Really? REALLY really?
** Yes. An Afro.
*** What tends to be forgotten in these discussions is that enslavement was not a natural, immutable condition. A slave’s owner had the power to grant a slave their freedom at any time they wished - if they desired to do so. Viriginia law did not allow freed slaves to remain in the state, and Hemings, as a free (if kept) woman would have to move to a neighboring state, away from Jefferson. I strongly believe that Jefferson’s decision to allow Hemings to remain enslaved – in spite of his own grave concerns about the fundamental immorality of the institituion of slavery – was tied to his desire for her company, excluding any other possible White suitors. Your woman could leave you; your slave could not.Explore posts in the same categories: Blogosphere, Celebrity News, Media, alternative, Media, mainstream, Racism, malicious, Racism, non-malicious, that's that BULLLLSHIT!
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