Double Tragedy on African American Slave Woman
DOUBLE TRAGEDY ON AFRICAN AMERICAN SLAVE WOMAN The effect of slavery during the ‘slavery Era’ in the South Antebellum plantations was felt differently by different people. Of course, most negative effects were felt by the slaves and not the masters. The majority of the slaves in the South were those taken from Africa and therefore were black people. They were sold and employed in all areas where hard labour was required. Throughout America they were used as labourers in cities, towns in homes and farms, industry and transport.
In the South they were mostly employed in plantations and in their master’s homesteads with a plantation having at least 50 slaves. The south was well known for growing cash crops such as cotton corn tobacco and sugarcane. Black men were involved in plantation work such as digging, weeding, planting, harvesting and transportation. (Antebellum slavery 2002). The worst treatment they received from their masters and their supervisors was not only because they were slaves but also due to their race; their skin colour, that they were black people.
They were seen as property and not people with their masters having all the authorities over them as properties. They were viewed as objects because of their skin colour. Harsh treatment including hard work, threats and violence was used to enforce their state of unworthiness and as a property of their masters. In addition to this kind of treatment due their race, female slaves underwent a second discrimination, abuse and neglect just because they were women.
Sexism and racism are the two terms that can well describe the treatment as female slaves in the South. White notes that “The powerlessness and exploitation of black women was an extreme form of what all women experienced, because racism, although just as pervasive as sexism, was more virulent. Slave women suffered from the malevolence that flowed from both racism and sexism’ (White 1987, 1) Mary G White is the most prominent in addressing and trying to expose the abuse, insult and harm that the black American female slaves underwent. Relative to white men, all women were powerless and exploited,” (White 1987, 2). Despite the harsh treatment on women, they were denied their state of womanhood all ranging from labour to denial of their sexual rights. White in her book joins the complaints of the most women during the Era and asks ‘aren’t I a woman? ’ Women were seen as worthless property as compared to men. They were bought at a lower price than that of men. Perhaps this was due to the fact that they could not perform more and hard work as their male counterparts.
Male domination did not start from a recent past; women during this Era were the victims of this gender based discrimination that did not only affect the slave women, but also the white women in the plantations. Black women were seen as a liability and not an asset. The normal woman features of a woman such as the monthly menstrual period and pregnancy were treated as a great disadvantage as it reduced their performance in their capacity as plantation workers.
If a woman is denied what makes and defines her as a woman she will always feel worthless and not part of the society (Fox 1988, 122-127) The other cry of the black woman was seen in their labour. In case a woman was employed in the farm, no special consideration was paid to her as a woman. She had to do the same type of work and magnitude as the men. They worked for long hours in the plantations and even longer during harvesting time. Jones in Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow writes: “Together with their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons, black women spent up to fourteen hours a day toiling out of doors, often under a blazing sun…… hey plowed fields; dropped seed; and hoed, picked, ginned, sorted, and moted cotton. ’(Jones 1985, 198). Working at night with a candle light was common, making them work for more than sixteen hours a day for seven days a week. Despite their role as mothers to their children, they were forced to cook, and take care of their masters’ children as well as washing and doing the other entire domestic work for their masters. No one gave her any sympathy for her being a woman; no one helped her in her hard work. Punishment did select her either.
She was punished with the same magnitude as a man (Sanders 2001) The black American woman was denied her right as a mother and a husband. First, in some parts of the south, they were not allowed to mingle with other black men lest they form marriages. In some plantations, there were more men than women and the few who had gotten married did not have any right of marriage. They were both a property of the masters and the master had all rights of ownership of the two. The master could sale the wife and husband was not allowed to complain. An African marriage was not in way protected by law.
Pregnancy was not an excuse for not working in the plantation. Secondly the black American woman had no right over her children. She was allowed to have more children as she could but still they were the property of the master. One slave woman cried out ‘“i have born 13 children and seen em mos all sold off into slavery, and when i cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard…. ” (White 1987, 175). Woman welfare during pregnancy was not considered during this period. Child mortality rate was so high in the plantation camps and no proper delivery services was given to the black women.
In fact, most deaths occurred during delivery due to too much work on women. In her book killing the black body’, Roberts reports that in the 1970s ‘It was a common belief among Blacks in the South,’ Roberts writes, ‘that Black women were routinely sterilized without their informed consent and for no valid medical reason. …… This sort of abuse was so widespread in the South that these operations came to be known as ‘Mississippi appendectomies. ‘(Roberts 1997, 85-66) One of the worst treatments on a woman today is sexual abuse.
The black American woman slave was not exempted in this kind of gender abuse. The black women, who were seen as ‘jezebels, were not allowed to interact with the white males. They were blamed for misleading the white males and attracting them sexually. The African- American slave woman was seen as baby machine. They were sexually abused by their masters and even their white supervisors. White notes that many black mothers had children whose father the children knew not. “I used to go over to Massa Daniels’ plantation. They tell me all ’bout it.
The folks over there they used to say to me: ‘Who’s your pappy? Who’s your pappy? ‘ I just say: ‘Turkey buzzard lay me and the sun hatch me,’ and then go on ’bout my business. Course all the time they knows and I knows, too, that Massa Daniels was my pappy” (Botkin 1958, 34). Roberts argues that ‘While slave owners profited from encouraging slave women to bear many children… ’ Others found it a business to sell women as concubines to them that viewed a black woman as a object of sex (Sanders 2001). Rape was another vice that the black American slaves had no any judicial or societal protection against.
According to Fox ‘There were no safeguards to protect them from being sexually stalked, harassed, or raped, or to be used as long-term concubines by masters and overseers. ’ Despite the end of slavery in 1865, justice for a black woman was unheard off. No single case of sexual assault against a white male was presented in court and the few that reached the courts against a black suspect, it found no fair listening. (Fox 1988, 122-126) How did the black woman fight back? Any kind of oppression will always develop resistance of its own kind. This was not exceptional with the African American slavery.
One tool that they used is their ability to form a strong bond within themselves. They knew their defence lies in great numbers hence gave birth to many children and they increased in number. Strong communal gathering was formed within the plantation and all lived as one family (Conlin 1998, 318). This allowed them to form a buffer to the oppression they received from the white masters. They would meet in their quarters in the evenings sing together dance and even crack jokes on their master’s behaviour and way of life. They developed a peculiar culture with an African origin.
The naming of their children was another tool they used to enhance their African culture. No one can have a strong family ties as the African woman. The black American women also developed a stronger tie to their master’s children knowing that they were good mummies (Elizabeth Fox 1988, 120) The resistance to slavery was highly perpetuated by women. They became rude and non co-operative to their masters. They also ‘adults taught their children how to hide their feelings to escape punishment and to be sceptical of anything a white person said.
Many slave parents told their children that blacks were superior to white people, who were lazy and incapable of running things properly’ (Conlin 1988,318) Religion was the other thing that gave them consolation and a feeling of self worth. While most of them were prohibited to practice their ancestral religion, they still believed in them Christianity and Islam was evident in their quarters. Some of them used the Bible stories to encourage themselves and promise a life of freedom from ‘slavery in Egypt’. Religious meetings were done away from the eyes of their masters and the supervisors.
This African American religion ‘helped them resist the degredation of bondage’ they had created within themselves. ( Conditions of antebellum slavery 2011) Escape was one of the easier way of obtaining freedom there were so many cases of slaves running away from the plantations. The environment around the plantations (mountains, forests or swamps) provided them with a good home after the escape and proved in accessible to the white masters. In their hiding places they went on forming their African American communities. The North also provided a refuge from their master’s oppression.
Those incapable of escape ‘Others killed their masters outright — some by using weapons, others by putting poison in their food. Some slaves committed suicide or mutilated themselves to ruin their property value’ (Antebellum slavery 2002) Conclusion Despite abolition of slave trade by Abraham Lincoln, many women in the world today are still asking the same question, ‘aren’t I a woman? ’How many women today are faced with neglect, sexual abuse, domestic violence and injustice every day? The history of the black American woman slave can be used to address the origin of the gender disparities seen in the world today.
Slavery is not welcomed in the modern society. No one can agree that slavery is still going on today. However, oppression against women of the African origin in the American society is so evident and so pronounced today. Many are denied the freedom of work and decision making even concerning their own welfare. This, as we have seen from the discussion above, emanated from the oppression during the slavery period in the South. Fight for social justice and gender equity should be in the frontline in ensuring a just society. Sexual abuse against women based on race in the world and USA in particular should be made the thing of the past.
No woman should be denied the right to have children or be left out in the decision to the number of children a couple should have. Many others have joined Gray White in addressing the issues affecting black American womanhood. This should be the goal of everyone today in the world. References List Slavery in the civil war era: Antebellum slavery. 2002. http://www. civilwarhome. com/slavery. htm (accessed April 22, 2011) Sanders Tom. 2001. The Double oppression of black women in America. http://www. socialistaction. org/news/200103/double. html(accessed April 22, 2011)
Botkin B. A. ed. 1958. Lay my burden down. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Deborah Gray White. 1987. Ar’n’t I a Woman? New York :W. W. Norton & Co. Dorothy Roberts. 1997. Killing the black body? New York :W. W. Norton & Co. Joseph R. Conlin. 1988. The American past: a survey of American history. New York: Harcourt Brace. Jacqueline Jones. 1985. Labor of love, labor of sorrow. Ney York. Vintage Books Elizabeth Fox-Genovese. 1988. Within the plantation household: black and white women of the old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press,