Genocide By Another Name: “Debasing” the Black Race through the Black Woman’s Vagina

The Black female experience during reconstruction was a unique one in the way that slavery was perpetuated through it. After emancipation, white people still sought control over the movement and freedom of Black bodies and did so through public expositions known as lynchings, but also through more subliminal methods which this reflection aims to discuss. Prisons and convict farms quickly become another space of confinement for Black people and even “reports of the prison officials [that show] large numbers killed in attempting to escape,” evoke a visual of the slave ship where escape is equivalent to death, and freedom can sometimes mean having control over how you die (Wells, 2). Yet, the White home becomes another space of confinement and the Black body itself becomes a prison for the women who inhabit it.

Specifically, the reaction to Black women insisting freedom was torturous and lethal, as Black women continue to receive the brunt of the white man’s hatred for emancipation. “Rape was a powerful weapon and tool of debasement,” often used by white men to exercise and reinforce their “right” to control Black female bodies (LeFlouria, 28). Debasement is a term used in relation to coins or commodities which involves the reduction in quality and value; to lower in rank, dignity or significance. White men during reconstruction sought to debase Black women, and Black bodies in general, as an expression of their belief that if Black bodies cannot be used to white benefit then they serve no purpose; thus, have no value. Rape, sexual mutilation, and “whippings were highly sexualized rituals that customarily involved forcibly stripping victims before or during a Klan attack,” as in the case of Mary Brown (LeFlouria, 29).

White people aimed to debase the entire Black population in America post-emancipation with the main purpose to “[reassert] their authority over former slaves,” (LeFlouria, 28). Post-slavery structures that mirror slavery and the actions that took place during, such as the slave-master relationship enforced between white men and Black women. Wells spoke about the young Black woman who received a six month sentence to a Mississippi convict farm for fighting, and expressed that “[this woman] and other women testified that they were forced to criminal intimacy with the guards and cook to get food to eat,” which we can connect to a slave-master dynamic that still existed for Black woman on convict farms (Wells, 2). This dynamic also existed at work for Black women because “more than 90% of female wage earners in Atlanta engaged in some form of household work,” (LeFlouria, 31). Remnants of slavery become evident during reconstruction and beyond, such as the idea that Black women belong in the house as a tool for the white family. “Domestic service placed African American women in close proximity to white families and perpetuated the antebellum master-slave relationship,” (LeFlouria, 32) while also maintaining those lingering elements of slavery that allow us to remain a commodity and central function in the white household.

Another remnant of slavery that still exists is the Black woman as the reproducer of slavery. The Black female body is abused because it is seen as the powerhouse of our race, and whether we are sterilized or forcibly bred, “the consistent factor was white control,” (Washington, 205). Margaret Sanger, the woman responsible for the development of birth control believed in preventing Black women from procreating because we are the root of a dysfunctional family. By proving the criminal nature of Black women one is allowed to make a conclusion of our whole race since, “the ‘Negro district’ itself, we are told, is ‘headquarters for the criminal element,’” (Washington, 196). If the Black woman is the site of reproducing slavery, criminal nature and inherent feebleness, then it is easy to convince the public that she should be sterilized. This is done in an effort to preserve the purity that is white society, just as Black men are typically lynched on accusations of rape, while Black women, who suffer silently and repeatedly from sexual terror, were most likely to be lynched for attacking a white person or “resisting rape – daring to testify against white male terrorists,” because she is the criminal (LeFlouria, 29).

The key to detoxifying a nation of its biggest pests is by criminalizing them, as they are, and using their nature as grounds for their expulsion. For example, since “eugenic scientists and their disciples constantly confused the concepts of biological hereditary fitness with those of class and race,” there would be cases, such as the complaint filed with the National Institutes of Health, in which Black women who’d gone to the hospital for prenatal care and advice, but instead were tested “for drugs without their consent, then reported [] to the police,” (Washington, 191) (Washington, 211). There is also the reality that forced sterilization is a form of punishment and a way to reprimand Black women who exercised their criminality – such as the fact that “black women who abuse drugs are ten times more likely than white women to be subjected to court-ordered long-term contraceptives or sterilization,” (Washington, 211).

Our bodies can be manipulated and reduced to the myths of Mammy or Jezebel to compartmentalize an identity that is still used by the white man and the white household; the presence of these myths are an attempt to justify a Black woman’s existence.The sexual revolution sought to divide sex from procreation; ideally the hypersexed and vile Jezebel could persist in her inherent sexual nature without polluting the American population or the white race. However, this division really means that the white race does not have to suffer pollution as a result of a white man’s lack of self-control in the presence of a Black woman.

After Sanger’s influence became more obvious, the idea arose that “federally financed birth-control clinics in their neighborhoods were attempts to discover the best way to limit or even to erase the Black presence in America,” (Washington, 198). This effort is rooted in the post-slavery idea that if Black bodies can no longer be federally recognized as commodities, then there is no need for them here. Our lives become disposable once they cease to be useful.

When our bodies are manipulated, this manipulation determines the fate of Black presence in America, but white life also depends very much upon it. The voice and power of white men bury themselves in “the judge, juries and other officials of the courts [who] are white men who share these prejudices. They also make the laws,” and these laws govern the most private parts of our body (Wells, 1). Through insidious forms of policing our bodies, our sexual organs remain commodified by the system. Our vagina is the avenue through which Black life can be nourished or strangled. While punishment for Black men was lethal and emasculating, punishment for Black women was also defeminating and dehumanizing. As in, the very function that we’ve always been told determines our existence, that makes us female and human, can be controlled and regulated by white men.

References

LeFlouria, Talitha L. “The Gendered Anatomy of ‘Negro Crime.’” Chained in Silence: Black Women and Convict Labor in the New South. University of North Carolina Press, 2015. 21-60. Print.

Wells, Ida B. “The Convict Lease System.” The Reason Why The Colored American is not in the World’s Columbian Exposition: The Afro-American’s Contribution to Columbian Literature. Chicago, 1893. Print.

Washington, Harriet A. “The Black Stork.” Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Anchor Books, 2006. 189-215. Print.

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Natural

the tips of her hair coil

delicately as each strand twists bountifully from its root

head up –

with the most piercing 

naked eye

dividing the story 

from its origin

and trusting 

the wisdom behind

her eyes to represent 

the melanin

plunging down around her

full facial features 

kissings her plump lips just to dribble down her chin

and swirl around her

stately neck

from which collar

bones stem

provocatively

to reach the tips of her shoulders

round and stern

sitting parallel to the ground 

that she walked 

with each step her chest 

taps and her breasts freely

express their 

natural prowess

in their purest form

in front of the two eyes 

that are placed carefully

just about reaching 

the crux of her waistline

where the skin travels 

around, cascading a caffeinated  shade of brown 

atop of prominent muscles 

churning and sore 

from all of the strength that it takes to keep the life experience

that this woman may abhor

Starr Baker

April 15, 2015.

Women’s Rights… “Ugh, Are We There Yet?”

Last semester, a friend of mine was assigned a project in her Women and Gender Studies class that consisted of conducting written and oral interviews with a few people who would consider themselves a feminist, or in my case, a Black feminist. I recently felt moved to share a few of my responses, but also the question to encourage discussion or just to get someone thinking out there.

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Interviewer: Why do you think there is still a need for women’s right activism?

Starr: Because I think we’ve reached a point where it is taken serious to some degree, but some people also view the progress as “overreacting” or “idealistic.” My main goal is to completely shatter the idea that “if you hit a man, he’s going to hit you back,” or “dress the way you want to be addressed,” as a justification for domestic violence and sexual assault. I think the more you remind people that our current society is not perfect, the more they will feel obligated to implement change in their daily lives. We’re kind of relaxing because of the progress we’ve made, and although we have made profound progress, we are still climbing an uphill battle on the fundamental level

I: What does it mean, in your opinion, to be a woman? Or man?

S: I honestly think it is strong to be a human. I was writing down my ideas of what it meant to be a man, and what it meant to be a woman; the lists were basically the same. Both roles should give and receive. Both roles are emotional; both are logical. Both roles require strength, passion, and faith in order to get through their life path. Both roles should be nurturing, intelligent, brave, courageous, and loving. Both roles are capable of feeling, and experiencing. So, I guess that’s just all it means to be a human

I: What are the role of men in women’s rights?

S: Men actually play a huge roll in women’s rights, and I would say that it begins within their friend group. I have many male friends, and while they may truly understand my points against misogyny, they are reluctant to implement the necessary changes within their own sphere, because it is so unpopular right now.

I: How does the LGBTQ community affect/influence women’s rights?

S: I think the LGBTQ community has influenced the idea of multiple identities of a woman. This singular idea of womanhood has been shattered, by the effort of this community, and by that of others. We are seeing a redefinition of what it means to be a woman, and therefore we are also redefining the expectations we have of womanhood, for the better in my opinion. If nothing else, the accomplishments by the LBGTQ community has shown us all that change really can happen within a society, and that gives hope to anyone fighting for a cause

I: How are you combating institutionalized patriarchy?

S: I am combating institutionalized patriarchy by making it known within my sphere and outside of it that the hetero-patriarchal view can not be the dominant voice in society anymore. I think we are progressing toward creating a more inclusive voice to represent our society. But I’ve also stopped blaming domestic violence victims for their positions, because I think that is a very patriarchal view. To say that “she was dumb for staying with him,” or even “she must have done something for him to get that mad.”

I: How did the ones before you influence you?

S: Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Harriett Tubman, and Maya Angelou are my greatest inspirations through my fight for justice. They remind me that even their vision was too great for the generation that heard it, and yet, they still continued the fight. Now we are able to speak out and keep pushing toward equality for all people. The saying goes, “what one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”

A Creature of Love

Since love to me is unconditional acceptance I understand myself deeply

and I accept all the flaws that this body holds

They are the beauty in me

My beauty is in my expression

and also in what I hold internally.

My beauty is the feeling of appreciating myself.

From the stubbornness

to the generousness

and back again.

I love the way I react

I love the way I view the individual as a symbol of divine power and meaning in this life

I love the way music speaks to me and I retract a message to add to my journey
I am grateful to know.

I am grateful to be.

I am grateful to love.

All of this love that is given to me and received by me

Is that of purity.

Can it be defined?

Well, I do try

But the English language could never reveal the hidden valleys of my mind.

So, trust me now

To hold your heart

And treat it as I do my own

A precious intangible ray of gold. Gold that continues to stream and to shine…

That creates many allusions to my mind

I am blessed to be a creature of love.

My actions resonate the spirit of giving and receiving; from which I extract invaluable wealth.

I am endowed with a pure and loving power, more kindly, an influence, to all.

Including myself.

 

Starr Baker

November 25, 2014

Femininity? 

Why is it that there are only two groups of society who are pressured to adhere or to subside especially to those who make them uncomfortable? 
Why are women supposed to be nice, and why can’t we expect that of men?

What do femininity and masculinity really mean?

Have we distorted their meanings to justify societal illusions as fact. We explain masculinity and femininity as mutually exclusive elements, instead of explaining them as coexisting and depending elements with characteristics that blend, complement, and overlap. 
We can grow to explain feminism as a movement or state of being that empowers all people, because the state of femininity in a society, the way it is perceived, the way it is expressed, and the way it is repressed has an impact on all people within said society at one point of their growth. It is a movement that disproves the perceived duality between masculinity and femininity. If femininity is only applied to biological females, then why is it that biological males can express traits or even assume an identity that has characteristics of traditional femininity and vice versa? Feminism is a movement that affirms the overlap of the two elements and their interplay in our society. Masculinity craves distinctness between the two, assertiveness, a clear cut answer; while femininity is willing to spend time in the unknown. 

In Solidarity with Korryn Gaines

Yo…. This is straight up active resistance. This took not only knowledge but pure COURAGE. Even now knowing what a delegation of authority order is, I would never have the balls to challenge an officer from the driver’s seat in this situation. I myself simply wouldn’t have done this. 
Why? Because I’m afraid of being shot, or I just don’t want ANY problems, which I’m sure is the only reason why you wouldn’t resist if your tags had been illegally removed from your fully insured & inspected vehicle due to a pending case w/ the fed for which you were given an invalid/imaginary case number. Now this is revolutionary. I thought the same thing when the video started: “girl, shut UP! Give him your ID so you don’t freakin die out there!! You know they’d kill you for having all that attitude, FOR QUESTIONING HIM, he’s being beyond nice because he hasn’t killed you already!”
But wow can you believe we have been conditioned to think that way. In an altercation wherein you have not committed a crime, and the offense for which you have been pulled over seemed to have originated from the same source that is pulling you over ??
Knowing the background story really made me think: holy shit. She knows of a document that authorizes police officers to even OBTAIN her ID … & we’re telling her to just hand it over even though she knows she’s within her legal right to question his authority. Many of us don’t recognize this altercation as an expression of our legal rights but it really is. And in fact it sheds light on our complete ignorance to both our legal rights and the fact that we don’t even consider them in situations like this before just handing over our documents. 
Granted she could have done without the attitude but why should she? Other than to avoid a scene of a mad black woman or to avoid her death, which we are responsible for avoiding as young Black people in police encounters. She refused to be toyed with here – she rightfully asked for documentation that she was not ever presented (the cop DIDN’T EVEN KNOW WHAT IT WAS – what does that say about training?). In this encounter both PEOPLE involved (cop=civilian, not cop/civilian) have equal obligation to each other, but we have a subconscious habit of esteeming police with unquestionable authority just because of the badge they wear EVEN WHEN WE HAVE SEEN EVIDENCE of individual malice/fear/imperfection within the force. They took her keys only after she refused to comply.
Why do we comply? Because we are loyal to the law? Because we trust the officers who have been delegated to serve and protect? Because we believe the officer has our best interest at heart? Because we believe this system was built to protect us, and cops are our friends?
NO. Well I’ll speak for myself. I comply so that I don’t DIE, at this point. I tell Mekhi and Jayden to comply so that they don’t die. We are scared. We have a right to be! But It takes immense courage to be revolutionary and declare: I know my rights and I am not scared of you. This is just what happens when we are more dedicated to the revolution than our own lives. Not saying I am, but, damn. The more you LISTEN TO HER. It becomes very clear what is happening. We’re all scared but SOMEBODY HAS TO DO THIS WORK. To familiarize cops with the idea that they are humans just like us and we deserve presentation of their authorization to serve and protect the community. And that they can’t bully us into giving up our rights. 
We’ve come to the point where we could risk death or injury even if we are respectful and do comply – and your right to live is not contingent upon your willingness to obey a police officer. WTF. What’s wrong with us?
If people are really paying attention, shit is about to get LIT. 
Rest in Peace Korryn Gaines. #SayHerName

WE HEAR YOU. You’re a soldier.