A slave who refused the sexual advances of her slaver risked being sold, beaten, raped, and having her "husband" or children sold. Sue Jewella contemporary sociologist, conceptualized the Jezebel as a tragic mulatto - "thin lips, long straight hair, slender nose, thin figure and fair complexion" p.
The jezebel stereotype
Although the Mammy caricature was the dominant popular cultural image of black women from slavery to the s, the depiction of black women as Jezebels was common in American material culture. White Europeans, locked into the racial ethnocentrism of the 17th century, saw African polygamy and tribal dances as proof of the African's uncontrolled sexual lust.
The pathetic other, like the Mammy caricature before her, is drawn to refute the claim that white men find black women sexually appealing. Young black girls were encouraged to have sex as "anticipatory socialization" for their later status as "breeders. Henry Bibb's master forced a young slave to be his son's concubine pp. From the end of the Civil War to the mids, no Southern white male was convicted of raping or attempting to rape a black woman; yet, the crime was common White,p.
During the first half of the twentieth century images of topless or completely nude African women were often placed in magazines and on souvenir items, planters, drinking glasses, figurines, ashtrays, and novelty items. Slave women were property; therefore, legally they could not be raped. The belief that blacks are sexually lewd predates the institution of slavery in America. The idea that black women were naturally and inevitably sexually promiscuous was reinforced by several features of the slavery institution.
The nut is placed under her skirt, in her crotch, and crushed. Slaves "married" when allowed, and adultery was frowned upon in most black "communities. She is a sexual being, but not one that white men would consider.
Many of the Jezebel objects caricature and mock African women. In practice, the stripping and touching of slaves had a sexually exploitative, 5 sometimes sadistic function. She was not satisfied with black men. This semi nudity was misinterpreted as lewdness.
White,p. It is true that the "tragic mulatto" and "Jezebel" share the reputation of being sexually seductive, and both are antithetical to the desexualized Mammy caricature; nevertheless, it is a mistake to assume that only, or even mainly, fair-complexioned black women were sexually objectified by the larger American society. Whites used racist and sexist ideologies to argue that they alone were civilized and rational, whereas blacks, and other people of color, were barbaric and deserved to be subjugated. Also, freeborn light-skinned black women sometimes became the willing concubines of wealthy white southerners.
A slave woman explained, "When he make me follow him into de bush, what use me to tell him no? There were several versions of this product but all show silhouettes of naked African women of various ages.
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This conceptualization is too narrow. Unfortunately for black women, Emancipation and Reconstruction did not stop their sexual victimization. The material objects which depict African and black women as exotic others do not portray them as physically unattractive, although they are sometimes portrayed as being socially and culturally deficient. Everyday items - such as ashtrays, postcards, sheet music, fishing lures, drinking glasses, and so forth - depicted naked or scantily dressed black women, lacking modesty and sexual restraint.
It must be emphasized that the items that depict African and African American women as one-dimensional sexual beings are often everyday items - found in the homes, garages, automobiles, and offices of "mainstream" Americans.
In part, this was accomplished by arguing that blacks were subhumans: intellectually inferior, culturally stunted, morally underdeveloped, and animal-like sexually. In theory, this was done to insure that they were healthy, able to reproduce, and, equally important, to look for whipping scars - the presence of which implied that the slave was rebellious. People make decisions based on the options they have and the options that they perceive.
Pathetic others include those depictions of African women as physically unattractive, unintelligent, and uncivilized. Some slavers, for example, offered a new pig for each child born to a slave family, a new dress to the slave woman for each surviving infant, or no work on Saturdays to black women who produced six children Rawick,p.
Europeans were fascinated by African sexuality.
What is the ificance of black-white differences in risky sexual behavior?
Slaves, of both sexes and all ages, often wore few clothes or clothes so ragged that their legs, thighs, and chests were exposed. Deborah Gray White, a modern historian, wrote:. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. European travelers to Africa found scantily clad natives. One version read: "Nifty at 15, spiffy at 20, sizzling at 25, perky at 30, declining at 35, droopy at Don't pity Lulu - you're not getting younger yourself The Jezebel images which defame African women may be viewed in two broad : pathetic others and exotic others.
The portrayal of black women as Jezebel whores began in slavery, extended through the Jim Crow period, and continues today. The Jezebel was depicted as a black woman with an insatiable appetite for sex. Jewell's conceptualization is based on a kernel of historical truth. The slavery-era Jezebel, it was claimed, desired sexual relations with white men; therefore, white men did not have to rape black women. Perhaps she remembers her great-great grandmother who wanted to protest but only rolled her eyes and willed herself not to scream when the white man mounted her from behind.
An example of the pathetic other is a banner circa s showing a drunken African woman with the caption, "Martini Anyone? The contrast between the clothing reinforced the beliefs that white women were civilized, modest, and sexually pure, whereas black women were uncivilized, immodest, and sexually aberrant. At the same time, black men convicted of raping white women were usually castrated, hanged, or both Winthrop,p.
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James Redpathan abolitionist no less, wrote that slave women were "gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons" p. The English colonists accepted the Elizabethan image of "the lusty Moor," and used this and similar stereotypes to justify enslaving blacks. The white men often met the black women at "Quadroon Balls," a genteel sex market. The Jezebel stereotype is contradicted by several historical facts. The African woman's features are distorted - her lips are exaggerated, her breasts sag, she is often inebriated.
Black women, especially in the South or border states, had little legal recourse when raped by white men, and many black women were reluctant to report their sexual victimization by black men for fear that the black men would be lynched p.
Slaves rarely chose spouses from among their blood relatives. The fact that something so personal and private became a matter of public discussion prompted one ex-slave to declare that "women wasn't nothing but cattle. Slaves, whether on the auction block or offered privately for sale, were often stripped naked and physically examined.
Historically, white women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty - even sexual purity, but black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. Nakedness, especially among women in the 18th and 19th centuries, implied lack of civility, morality, and sexual restraint even when the nakedness was forced. Douglass's is consistent with the s of other former slaves. From the early s to the present, black American women of all African american and caucasian hookers have been portrayed as hypersexual "bad-black-girls.
Slavers often encouraged, and sometimes mandated, sexual promiscuity among their slaves; nevertheless, most slaves sought long-term, monogamous relationships. By every method imaginable, slave women were "encouraged" to reproduce.
This view is contradicted by Frederick Douglassthe abolitionist and former slave, who claimed that the "slave woman is at the mercy of the fathers, sons or brothers of her master" p. Yet, this depiction of the African woman has an obvious sexual component: she is often placed in a sexual setting, naked or near naked, inebriated or holding a drink, her eyes suggesting a sexual longing.
This depiction of black women is ified by the name Jezebel. The Jezebel stereotype was used during slavery as a rationalization for sexual relations between white men and black women, especially sexual unions involving slavers and slaves. Black slave women were also frequently pregnant. Major periodicals carried articles detailing optimal conditions under which bonded women were known to reproduce, and the merits of a particular "breeder" were often the topic of parlor or dinner table conversations.
These images suggest that African women in particular and black women in general possess aberrant physical, social, and cultural traits. The institution of slavery depended on black women to supply future slaves.
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Conversely, whites, especially women, wore clothing over most of their bodies. For example, a metal nutcracker circa s depicts a topless Black woman. Many of the slavery-era blacks sold into prostitution were mulattoes. He have strength to make me" p. The genesis of anti-black sexual archetypes emerged from the writings of these and other Europeans: the black male as brute and potential rapist; the black woman, as Jezebel whore.
The objective realities of slavery and the slaves' subjective interpretations of the institution both led female slaves to engage "voluntarily" in sexual unions with whites, especially slavers, their sons, and their overseers.
Many slave women conceded to sexual relations with whites, thereby reinforcing the belief that black women were lustful and available. William Bosman described the black women on the coast of Guinea as "fiery" and "warm" and "so much hotter than the men.
The portrayal of black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype.