University of St Martin - Fall, 2006 - PHIL232

Monday, Oct 30 - Sexual History of the USA

Midterm Essay
Monday, Sept. 4 - What is philosophy?
Wednesday, Sept. 6 - Aristotle (1)
Monday, Sept. 11 - Aristotle (2)
Wednesday, Sept. 13 - Aristotle (3)
Monday, Sept. 18 - Nietzsche (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 20 - Nietzsche (2)
Monday, Sept. 26 - Abortion (1)
Wednesday, Sept. 28 - Abortion (2)
Excursus 1: Historical overview
Excursus 2: Abortion in Judaism and Christianity
Excursus 3: Abortion in Islam
Excursus 4: Pro-choice argument
Monday, Oct. 2 - Suicide (1)
Wednesday, Oct 4 - Revision
Monday, Oct 16 - Suicide (2)
Wednesday, Oct 18 - Paradigm shifts
Monday, Oct 23 - Brave New World (1)
Wednesday, Oct 25 - Philosophical Anthropology (1)
Monday, Oct 30 - Sexual History of the USA
Wednesday, Nov 1 - Philosophical Anthropology (2)
Monday, Nov 6 - Race, death, tragedy, and bad faith
Wednesday, Nov 8 - Race, Biology, and Culture
Monday, Nov 13 - Racism and culture
Wednesday, Nov 15 - Existentialism
Monday, Nov 20 - Political Obligation, Moral Duty, and Punishment
Wednesday, Nov 22 - Kant and Moral Obligation
Monday, Nov 27 - War and Peace
Wednesday, Nov 29 - Non-Western Philosophies (1)
Monday, Dec 4 - Non-Western Philosophies (2)
Wednesday, Dec 6 - The End
Final Paper

Class presentation by:
Gumbs, M.
Hassell, T.
Medina, S.

Guiding questions for the reading:


When did the sexual history of the USA begin, according to the text? (p. 362)

“... at the historical moment when European men met African women in the ‘heart of darkness’ —Mother Africa.”



What was the original social structure to which African women were used to in Africa? (p. 362)

She “was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, nestled in tribal societies and protected by fathers, husbands, and brothers who upheld the sanctity and primacy of marriage and motherhood for women.”



What was the problem with the white slave master’s interpretation of (female) African sexuality? (p. 362)

“He did not attempt to understand how Africans defined their own behavior.”



Why and how were the African enslaved women forced to redefine themselves? (p. 363)

The previous definitions of womanhood which women had inherited from their tribal societies was suddenly shuttered. In the white man’s world, they had nobody to protect them, nor was their “virtue” defended by anyone. They were at the mercy of the master.



What was the attitude of the “founding fathers” of the USA towards sexual and racial demarcations? In which ways did indentured and enslaved laborers come closer to one another? (p. 364)

They “assumed the patriarchal right to regulate and define the sexual behavior of their servants and slaves according to a fusion of Protestantism, English Common Law, and personal whim.” They extended the concept of white and banned any recognition of actual mixing. Both indentured and enslaved laborers were puppets in the hands of their white masters. They also mingled sexually and in revolt.



What was “natural increase”? (p. 365)

That black women should have as many children as possible (so too white women, incidentally).



What is the difference between “racial oppression” and “sexual oppression”? And how far did the latter extend? (p. 366)

Racial oppression moved gradually from the outside into the inside. Sexual oppression went straight to the inside of women. It extended all the way into the sacred space of the female body.



How did white women feel about this situation in the antebellum period? (p. 368)

They hated their men’s double standards, who had “multiple homes” (white and black ones).



Were white and black women “equal” victims of patriarchy? (p. 368)

No. Black women had no protectors.



What happened after the way with the dynamics of racial relations between the white and black populations? (p. 371)

They changed, but not radically. It is not said in the article, but others have indicated that the slavery situation resulted in some black women in “hatred for men and their notion that they are all abusive, domineering, controlling, and, moreover, only useful for procreative purposes.”



What was the reaction of blacks after the Reconstruction? (p. 371ff.)

Keep away from whites.



In which way did black women in the USA evolve at the beginning of the 20th Century? (p. 373)

They “followed the role model of black female artists, singers, dancers, and actresses who expressed and reinforced the sensuality of African traditions…”



When did black women gain major sexual freedom? (p. 374)

In the 1960s.



How do you understand the following passage: “Sex between black women and black men, between black men and black men, between black women and black women, is meshed within complex cultural, political, and economic circumstances.” (p. 374)

The problem was one of intimacy: where and when would or could they connect in a world where they were denied the right to be persons?



“Therefore, the history of black women in America reflects the juncture where the private and public spheres and personal and political oppression meet.” (p. 375) 

In which way does this statement summarize the whole article?

The white master lived in a schizophrenic world which reflected his divided existence at war with its most sacred principles.

On the one hand, the USA white master lorded it over his white wife, who was not expected to be a sensual or sexual person, but simply a pure being with one mission: to spawn as many white children as possible.

On the other hand, he lorded it over his black enslaved labourers, especially black women, whom he expected to be sensuous for him and whose body he took at will and profaned.

However, his public life in the world of the whites and his private incursions in the world of black female sexuality remained as distant from one another as the day does from the night. The split social persona of the white master was the connecting point where patriarchal oppression was both racial and sexual. This is the soil into which USA sexuality was sown and in which it grew.


Nota bene:

The expression “heart of darkness” can be understood in different ways.

First, darkness can be seen as blackness, and therefore as something good. Thus, the article calls Africa “the heart of darkness” (the original heart of all blackness).

Second, this expression may also refer to the emotions and experiences of the black enslaved women in the USA. Their heart, burdened with the feelings of abuse and filled with the strength pulsating in it, became the heart of USA blackness.

Third, notwithstanding the above, as one of the students said, “darkness” could also be understood as trial, plight, and suffering, as in St. John of the Cross’ expression: “the dark night of the soul.” In this case, the white master would have been the core and heart of all the darkness (= trials) through which the black enslaved women of the USA were forced to go.



To think about       

"Any society that values creativity also needs to enable criticism. If we cannot question the way we are doing things and thinking about things at present, it will not occur to us that they could be thought of or done differently. (...) So philosophy is important partly because cultural criticism is so important."

CHRISTENSON, Tom (2001). Wonder and Critical Reflection. An invitation to Philosophy, p. 37. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall Inc.


This page was updated on Nov 21, 2006
at 10.00 PM St Martin Time (-4 UT)