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
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
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?
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.
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