No, But We Have a Word For That, Pt 2

by Belle Waring on May 31, 2016

Right, so, The NYT has an article on how DNA analysis is helping African-Americans learn about their family history. The author’s grasp on the English language seems to slip away from them at one point (originally two), though. Exhibit A:

Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves.

MmmmmmOK. This one was changed in an update! Because it sucked before:

The researchers observed that the X chromosome of African-Americans has a greater African ancestry than other chromosomes. Dr. Gravel and his colleagues believe this variation is explained by European men and African women producing children — in other words, slave owners raping the women they held captive.

Thanks for explaining what happens when a rape victim and her rapist “produce children”! Because rape is totally the exact actual word we should use when someone coerces someone else into having sex with him against her will. That might be mebbe by, like, standing right over the person with an axe handle, or else could be something more like keeping your own children enslaved in America so that she couldn’t escape you in France (coughJeffersoncough).

Now, I do understand that people have a general unwillingness to say things like, “noted statesman and confirmed serial rapist Thomas Jefferson exercised extraordinary taste in designing his home.” It just…it just sounds real, real bad. But when talking about slaveowners generally, what is with the “fathered children” thing? Or, let’s grant that people are reluctant even to say that about such a huge number of white citizens often thought to be morally adequate in some vague way as a class (I’m not really seeing it, but, eh.). Nonetheless, even when it comes to the most universally loathed men in the world, like Josef Fritzl, I have noticed a strong inclination for writers to say that someone “fathered children with” their rape victim. At the time of the case, particularly, I found it disturbing to read these words so many times: “fathered children.”

John’s hypothesis was that, to some degree, the rapine part of slavery is baked into the enslavement, with the result that further rape doesn’t seem like the most salient thing? (He was not looking for weird justifications for this abuse of language, just speculating.) About abductors…mmm…same, sort of? Like, the kidnapping is the part where volition goes out the window, and then all further activities are assumed to be unwilling and there’s therefore no need to specifically say raped many times afterward? But I don’t hear it that way. Quite the opposite. Rather, it seems as if people think you can only be raped so many times before…something other than rape is taking place? Or, perhaps, the “was she kicking and screaming” element that is meant to pick out rape rape infects the way people discuss rapes that don’t involve physical violence every single time?

I can easily imagine a lived complexity in which Sally Hemings had some power in her relationship with Thomas Jefferson, emotional power or even sexual power of a kind. But this is something for a novelist to talk about—a journalist or historian needs to say “raped” again even for the 200th instance of forced sexual relations. And “fathered” is just weird and messed-up sounding, redolent of horse-breeding. I do feel things have improved in the last five years. I notice it particularly in reading sites like the (nominally?) feminist Jezebel—commenters will always correct quoted articles of this kind to include the word rape, and I do feel people notice.

“Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.” Is that even any harder to say, or is it just more unpleasant to read? Thoughts?

{ 144 comments }

1

Belle Waring 05.31.16 at 7:07 am

I should note that the wikipedia article about Fritzl is right-on in this regard, and I just didn’t have the energy to search up lots of unsatisfactory treatments of the subject of repeated rapes while in captivity, because I’m unwell; also, fuck that research. Please address the actual issue kthxbai.

2

Just An Australian 05.31.16 at 7:35 am

Seems to me we need a different word; what happened to the slaves was horrible in a different way to the stranger-rape of modern times, and – having experienced that close hand (not first hand) – it’s soul destroying in a different way: shock, surprise, acute horror, followed by an opportunity for healing that sometimes helps but leaves you oh so lonely.

Where as what those slaves experienced was no surprise, and not shock, and no acute horror, nor – mostly, so far as the stories report, lonely. Instead, a horror drawn out over a life time, rubbed in with it’s inevitability and generational horror, it’s irresistability. It needs a new word that marks it different to ‘rape’ in the first sense

Then we could use that word for domestic violence too, where it belongs.

3

Stephenson-quoter kun 05.31.16 at 8:51 am

I’m struggling to think of better phrases than “fathered children”. Obviously “raped” is a better description of the sexual act, but it doesn’t imply any resulting children. We could have a phrase like “rape-fathered” or something to describe this, but we don’t and maybe should.

The lack of precision also means that “fathering” is a morally complex concept. To me, the phrase “he fathered a child” is one of those odd phrases that one would only use with a sense of mild disapproval, when there’s really nothing good to say about the person so we just report the bare fact that he has, apparently, procreated. Maybe this is a hangover from Victorian morality, when moralists would disapprove of those who go around “fathering children” rather than being husbands? To the extent that we worry about dignifying procreation-by-rape by calling it “fathering children”, I don’t think we’re dignifying it by very much. In the vernacular, “fathering children” is already a somewhat suspect activity, and the “with their female slaves” completes the job of telling us that this isn’t the good kind. (This might vary wildly with culture though and I’d be interested to know if other people see these words in the same way).

“Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.” Is that even any harder to say, or is it just more unpleasant to read? Thoughts?

I personally don’t think I needed that in order to understand exactly what was going on, but I suppose the previous description did leave open the possibility of some kind of innocent master-slave romance resulting in children, and this explicitly rules out that mis-reading. On the other hand, this version doesn’t actually mention the children, just the pregnancies, which doesn’t quite read properly to me – it has that same property of narrative incompleteness that you get in Buzzfeed headlines (“what happened next will shock you…”).

John’s hypothesis seems reasonable to me, in the sense that describing the fathering of children with slaves as rape is redundant. Any sexual acts with a slave, or a kidnap victim, or whatever, is automatically rape anyway. This is very much just word games at this point, but if I were to describe “kidnapping someone and taking their money” it would be unnecessary to change “taking” to “stealing”, because nobody would misunderstand that the circumstances determine whether the taking is legitimate or not. However, if even a single person were to misunderstand that phrase then maybe the more explicit version is required, and we should aim for optimal clarity even if it means some redundancy.

4

Z 05.31.16 at 9:11 am

I agree with Just An Australian (and with what you hint at when you mention the kicking and screaming criteria): there is a spectrum of experience, all horrendous but not all alike, and employing a single word to describe it can somehow obscure the reality which we want to convey.

In the case under discussion, the definition of rape you recall obviously applies to sexual relations with slaves as well as someone raping a random woman at knifepoint but also equally well to (at least a good proportion of) ordinary sexual relations at the time. Likewise, 99% of all child rearing in the Western world between 1500 and 1900 fits the current legal and usual definition of child abuse, and yet there is certainly a non-neutral rhetorical effect in recalling it systematically (as in “Thomas Jefferson, a victim of child abuse, went on to…” though an expert can correct me if Jefferson’s childhood turned out to have been in the remaining 1%).

All that doesn’t change the fact that, even correcting for the foreign language, the choice of the word “fathered” sounds pretty creepy to me.

5

Belle Waring 05.31.16 at 9:33 am

“…no acute horror, nor – mostly, so far as the stories report, lonely.”
[citation needed]

6

Jim Buck 05.31.16 at 9:43 am

“Commanded children from her” ?

7

JPL 05.31.16 at 9:53 am

Just An Australian @2:

The word ‘violate’ was an older expression used for what is now called rape (in English), which has the advantage of being etymologically related to the word ‘violence’. (‘rape’ has a legalistic tinge to it, ISTM, whereas ‘violate’ focuses the act of intentionally using extreme physical force to cause injury and suffering to another human being.) I could be wrong, but it would be difficult to find a single existing word that would be able to encapsulate all that we need here. And a new word would not have the necessary historical resonance, and could not evoke the long human experience of this still unsolved problem of male wickedness. What would be useful is a clear statement of the ethical principle being violated here (yes, that’s the same word, and we should reflect on that too), and just what it is that makes the case of rape-in-slavery more dreadful than other cases, all horrible violations, nevertheless. We need more than adjectives to convey the dreadfulness, however; we need explicit expressions of the reasons for the dreadful wrongness, expressions that have an emotional and spiritual resonance that could be felt by even the most cold-hearted male of an ancient and still persisting conventional consciousness. It is a task for the poets. Intentional and repeated violation of a woman’s most basic human dignity and innocence, akin to torture, because of the intentional infliction of grievous harm and suffering on a person he has the moral duty to protect, over an extended period, by a man unthinkingly abusing his position of greater strength and power: I’m not satisfied with that account, but it will have to do for now. Why does a man ever think it is OK to do something like that? Why did the early settlers and their European source cultures think it was OK to ignore the basic human urge to recognize the dignity of another person and violate that dignity by treating their fellow as property, refusing to recognize the existence and validity of their desire to freely run their own lives? Why did they do that and think that? Do we have a full answer to this question?

The fact that journalists, in their typical unreflective fashion, can still use dishonest expressions such as “fathered children” in relation to the case of rape-in-slavery indicates that the society as a community has not yet carried out the necessary processes of compensation and reconciliation with regard to the inhuman historical violence inflicted on the people subjected to slavery and their descendants. This is the most important problem in American political life, more important than income inequality, yes, because the solution to the latter depends on a solution to the former.

8

bob mcmanus 05.31.16 at 10:40 am

John’s hypothesis was that, to some degree, the rapine part of slavery is baked into the enslavement, with the result that further rape doesn’t seem like the most salient thing?

Social Death

Lisa Marie Cacho

No Selves to Abolish

“The slave relation, [Orlando] Patterson argued, is rather defined by a threefold condition: a) general dishonourment (or social death), b) natal alienation (i.e. the systematic rupture of familial and genealogical continuities), c) gratuitous or limitless violence. This threefold combination gives rise to a being experientially and socially devoid of relationality: the slave relation is a type of social relation whose product is a relationless object”

And of course, Geoffrey de Ste Croix.

9

Just An Australian 05.31.16 at 11:15 am

@JPL: the word violate may be the right one, yes. Like many words, it’s weakened by mis-use but it still has it’s power. As to why: it’s simple. Humans are creatures of definition. And those that you define as ‘other’… why not ask why everyone is silent about the senseless slaughter in the middle east in the name of ‘peace’? That makes no less or more sense

@Belle – citations? on the internet? how about: Some book I read in New Orleans once – slaves in their own words. Just googled it no avail. How’s that for a high quality citation?

10

ZM 05.31.16 at 11:55 am

I disagree with Just An Australian and Z, women fought for a long time to get marital rape recognised in law as rape. And also people have fought for a long time to get rape which is from non-physical coercement to also be called rape. The word rape is a strong word, and people who are raped in marriage, or raped through non-physical coercement should be able to use that word, and not be questioned about the use of the term.

I remember around ’97 watching on TV something about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, and the black descendants of them today.

At the time I was reading a book of USA constitutional and revolutionary texts, I may have had one or two maps from Revolutionary America on my walls (okay, I did).

I didn’t want to imagine the Thomas Jefferson who I was reading about in my (outdated secondhand) history books, I talked about it with a friend, and tried to say how it must have been a great forbidden romance between them and Sally Hemmings loved Thomas Jefferson. This was based on no evidence, and based only on my not wanting to read constitutional texts and look at old revolutionary maps of America thinking about Thomas Jefferson inheriting Sally Hemmings as a slave and most likely raping her/coercing her to have sex with him multiple times over years.

I wanted Thomas Jefferson to be a better person than that, I wanted to go back to reading my book of constitutional texts and looking at my map reproductions without being disturbed by inconvenient facts about Thomas Jefferson’s life.

In terms of whether you should say Thomas Jefferson was the father of children Sally Hemmings bore, despite the likelihood of rape and definite coercion in the relationship, I think that not saying Thomas Jefferson was the father is problematic because that was exactly what happened all those years, the descendants had to wait until DNA evidence proved that they were Thomas Jefferson’s descendants…

11

chris y 05.31.16 at 11:58 am

“white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves” s/b “white slave owners routinely raped women held as slaves, often leaving them pregnant”?

I’m unsure about “violate”. I imagine that sexual relations between masters and slaves might well over time have assumed a superficial veneer of consensuality or at last connivance, arising from despair, making the best of a bad job, or Stockholm syndrome. It would still be rape to my mind.

Et praeterea, ut censeo, fuck Mick Jagger.

12

kidneystones 05.31.16 at 12:08 pm

The tricky part for many men, including myself, is imagining how as a slave-owner, I wouldn’t be wandering down to the slave quarters after brandy, cards, and cigars night, after night, after night. Let’s see, how would that work exactly

‘You boys go ahead. I’ll just set a spell here longer sippin.” ? Not likely.

And the habit, once started might be even trickier to break. Lest we forget, however, this sort of abuse/rape is a direct consequence of taking absolute power over someone, and is not restricted to any particular place, or time. I’m thinking parts of India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia. Once people end up as property, just about anything can and will happen.

What was that saying about absolute power? For my part, I do introduce Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and Elizabeth I as popular and highly respected slave owners. Have to say many students are shocked.

Count me out? I’d like to think so. But if I’m owing slaves, I figure I’m more likely to go full Jefferson. Best people don’t. Own other people, that is, in any sense.

13

ZM 05.31.16 at 12:09 pm

“white slave owners routinely raped women held as slaves, often leaving them pregnant” ?

white slave owners routinely raped women held as slaves, often fathering bastard children?

14

ZM 05.31.16 at 12:16 pm

“In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about the sons of former slaves and slave owners “sitting down at the table of brotherhood.” One historic family has literally done that and much more to advance the work of racial harmony.

Members of the family insist they’re at least part descendants of one of America’s Founding Fathers.

“I’m the sixth great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson through his wife, Martha,” said David Works, a Jefferson descendant.

“I’m the fifth great-grandchild of Thomas Jefferson,” said descendant Julia Jefferson Westerinen.

“And I’m the sixth great-granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings,” said Shay Banks-Young, another descendant.

Westerinen’s father discovered that his great-grandfather, Eston Jefferson, was black, but passed as a white man.

“It was a secret in our family,” Westerinen said. “My father and his two brothers decided that the secret would die with them.”

Others had a hard time accepting what some historians have alleged for years — that Jefferson, after the death of his wife Martha, developed a relationship with a slave on his plantation with whom he fathered several children.

It’s something the Jefferson family had challenged for years.

“It was my great-great-great-grandmother and her brother that came up with the story about the Carrs — that they were the fathers of Sally Hemings’ children,” Works said.

Yet in 1998, DNA testing provided answers that were hard to refute.

“They found my brother was a straight male descendant,” Westerinen said. “And they took the samples to England and all nineteen markers tested positive with my brother.”

Westerinen’s brother’s DNA proved that the Hemings and Jeffersons were related. Also, she learned the truth about her black ancestry.

“As I told the press, it made me more interesting than I thought I was,” Westerinen said.

Some worried about what the Hemings would do with the new information.

“It was clear to me that the Hemings were going to push their way into our vaunted graveyard and that we had to stop that,” Works said.

For Banks-Young, it wasn’t about a plot of land at Monticello.

“My grandfather came out of there as a free man, moved to Ohio, and lived his life,” she said. Why would I want to go back to where he was enslaved to be buried?”

It’s a legacy she can leave with her children. A journey she can trace back not only to Sally Hemings, but to Hemings’ grandmother, a young African woman who came to America on a slave ship.

“And when I think about the fact that an African girl survived the Middle Passage and then all the things that they endured through enslavement. The fact that we’re here today and alive is a miracle to me,” Banks-Young said. “So, I celebrate who they are and I feel like I owe them much. It’s an honor to me to represent them.”

Last fall, the three were honored for their work bridging the family divide and trying to heal the legacy of slavery. Their breakthrough came when the Hemings family hosted a reunion and invited the Jeffersons to attend.

“Twelve of us came, and we had a very good time,” Works described. “I had a blast, actually.”

The reunion got them talking, and they formed a group known today as the Monticello Community. It’s open to descendants from various families who lived and worked at Jefferson’s estate.”

http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/us/2011/february/jefferson-descendants-heal-family-division/?mobile=false

15

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 12:28 pm

The argument in the OP makes a lot of sense, and I’m having a hard time putting my finger on what bothers me about it. I think that through history many formal marriages have not really been entered into freely, and in some situations involved slavery with no exaggeration whatever. The history of culture is full of stories where women were taken by men against their will, or married off against their will, and came to love their husbands and even to be grateful for for the initial act of violence. Under those circumstances, a belief that sex is an evil arose (and not even a necessarily evil), one under which women suffered most directly.

Of course I agree that a system under which women are unfree is evil, whether or not part of their unfreedom is being required to have sex with someone they didn’t choose, I think I’m uncomfortable using our word “rape” to describe every act of heterosexual intercourse in it. I’m thinking of the case where a bride or concubine is literally purchased and has no rights but the women thinks this is normal. That veers close to “all marriage is rape” or to “all intercourse is rape,” and to an idea that only through virginity are women truly free.

I hope this isn’t too long.

16

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 12:54 pm

Incidentally, Bob’s Patterson quote is helpful, but I think says both too much and too little. We don’t normally consider social death and rupture of social ties, though they’re bad, to be as bad as slavery. And the third consideration suggests that if there’s a social (Some have suggested that Latin American slavery of Africans and Indians fit this description, but everyone agrees they were slave systems.)

17

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 12:55 pm

Sorry: . . if there’s a social meaning that’s accepted by the slaves themselves as justifying their lack of freedom . . .

18

Soullite 05.31.16 at 1:07 pm

Can feminists write anything without their obnoxious hatred for white men shining through? Can feminists write anything honest — written without the intent of creating click-bait outrage or the intention of sticking a thumb in someone’s eye, like little children seeking attention?

I’m really starting to doubt it.

If you want people to take you seriously, make serious arguments that don’t amount to calling everyone who isn’t you evil.

19

Soullite 05.31.16 at 1:14 pm

Also, the pathetic tendency of feminists to write something obnoxiously offensive, and then to refuse to actually stick around for discussion, instead clutching at pearls and feigning surprise that people you just dumped a load of shit on might fling some of it back at you.

If the wealthy elite didn’t use your movement to distract the great masses from the widespread theft of neoliberalism– and if you didn’t willingly allow yourselves to be used as the ‘progressive’ beards of the neoliberal establishment — your movement wouldn’t be anywhere. Maybe 18% of the public agrees with you, and most of them don’t even know anything about your actual beliefs, they just know that rich people say nice things about feminists in the media. Far more people oppose you than agree with you, but your use your privileged positions in the media and in universities to shovel this BS on the rest of us, and then you whine when there’s a backlash against your undemocratic behavior.

You people are scum. Upper-class twits with too much money and power trying to convince the rest of us that you’re histories greatest victims. You’re just the cause rich people point to when they get called out on ignoring the plight of the genuinely oppressed — the lower classes. You’re just the shield they hide behind, so that they can pretend to be protecting women as they expand the police state. You’re just tools, useful idiots for the people you pretend to be fighting against: the privileged, the hierarchies, the establishment. You are liars and you are false prophets here to make men and women hate each other while the upper class picks our pockets.

20

Bartleby the Commenter 05.31.16 at 1:21 pm

“Can feminists write anything without their obnoxious hatred for white men shining through? “

I could point out how messed up it is that you are taking that as the message of Belle’s post but I would prefer not to.

21

Bartleby the Commenter 05.31.16 at 1:23 pm

“If you want people to take you seriously, make serious arguments that don’t amount to calling everyone who isn’t you evil.”

I could point out that arguing against the evil of owning people and raping them is probably not very smart/moral but I would prefer not to.

22

JimV 05.31.16 at 1:24 pm

If I had been assigned to write that article, I would have struggled with the wording. I think I would have written:

“In the DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely mated with women held as slaves.”

(“Buried in the DNA, the researchers …” is rather terrible writing which even I know better than.)

Some people may associate “mating” with white-dress weddings, but (without looking it up) I think the scientific meaning is those actions which satisfy the procreative instinct.

I would go on to speculate that most of those matings were of the rape character, but as an objective journalist I would have to leave the option for an American of dark skin color to imagine that his European genes resulted from pairs of young mammals being attracted to each other.

Alternately, we could all imagine that most of our gene heritage resulted from rapes. That is also probably true, if we trace back far enough.

On further thought, I think I would refuse the assignment (to write the article).

23

Bartleby the Commenter 05.31.16 at 1:24 pm

“You’re just the cause rich people point to when they get called out on ignoring the plight of the genuinely oppressed — the lower classes.”

I could say that any argument that does not include slaves as members of the lower classes seems poorly thought out but, as ever, I would prefer not to.

24

JimV 05.31.16 at 1:28 pm

Erratum: “his European genes” should have been “his or her European genes”.

I would have caught that in editing – I hope.

25

milx 05.31.16 at 1:29 pm

“If the wealthy elite didn’t use your movement to distract the great masses from the widespread theft of neoliberalism– and if you didn’t willingly allow yourselves to be used as the ‘progressive’ beards of the neoliberal establishment — your movement wouldn’t be anywhere.”

Sorry Bernie lost, bro.

26

armando 05.31.16 at 1:31 pm

Please ban Soullite.

I’m very interested in bianca steele’s point….but that sort of distinction is incredibly hard to navigate without – at least seeming to – condone some pretty awful systems of oppression. Isn’t it?

27

JimV 05.31.16 at 1:37 pm

“In the DNA, researchers …” is still bad. I resign my faux-journalist career.

28

Quite Likely 05.31.16 at 2:20 pm

Is “fathered children” inherently problematic? It seems like some of this is just economical use of language. What’s the appropriate substitute? “Thomas Jefferson raped children into his slaves?” It just doesn’t scan as well. You can of course add an explanatory sentence emphasizing the rape aspect like in the article referenced, but I don’ t know if it’s really some attempt at whitewashing to not do so, even if we might be better off if that was done more often.

29

RNB 05.31.16 at 2:25 pm

For much of antebellum Southern history, the genealogy of enslaved Africans was understood not in biological or naturalistic terms but Biblical ones. As Benjamin Braude has noted: ”In 18th- and 19th-century Euro-America, Genesis 9:18-27 became the curse of Ham, a foundation myth for collective degradation, conventionally trotted out as God’s reason for condemning generations of dark-skinned peoples from Africa to slavery…In prior centuries, Jews, Christians and Muslims had exploited this story for other purposes, often tangential to the later peculiar preoccupation.” From an old NYT piece:
“In the biblical account, Noah and his family are not described in racial terms. But as the story echoed through the centuries and around the world, variously interpreted by Islamic, Christian and Jewish scholars, Ham came to be widely portrayed as black; blackness, servitude and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked…By the 19th century, many historians agree, the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians.” George Frederickson has written at length about the genealogical myth of Ham as justification for the enslavement of Africans and how it eventually gave way to more naturalistic and biological conceptions of racial difference. American biology was in the forefront of the development of naturalistic racism. Think here of Morton and Agassiz.
_________

In his Ancestors and Relatives Eviatar Zerubavel uses the example of the one drop rule as well as the rules of patrilineality to show that “socially based genealogical reckoning outweighs the biological reality it supposedly reflects.” One question of course is whether DNA testing is misleading us into thinking that we have uncovered biological realities when for example it presents biological genealogy in terms only a fraction of biological ancestors.

He also notes that thinking genealogically is distinctive of human cognition; no other animal has capacity to thinking of great grandparents and cousins second removed. He refers to progonoplexia defined as deep obsession with ancestry, and notes that the genealogical distances between co-descendents are a function of of the ancestral depth of their relationship as measured in terms of the number of generations separating them from their most recent common ancestor

30

RNB 05.31.16 at 2:33 pm

Oops above reply probably should have been to Part I, which I read last night. Did not notice Part II had also been posted.

31

Lynne 05.31.16 at 2:37 pm

“You people are scum. Upper-class twits with too much money and power trying to convince the rest of us that you’re histories greatest victim”

Feel better now?

32

RNB 05.31.16 at 2:43 pm

The rape of lower-class women has not been restricted to enslaved Africans; lords have forced themselves on peasant women throughout history. Even men with roughly the same status of women they have violated have been able to force them to marry by raping them and creating the possibility of having impregnated them.

33

Patrick 05.31.16 at 2:51 pm

Step one is realizing that the idea of consensual sex within a master/slave relationship is impossible.

Step two is realizing that this steak from power disparity.

Step three is realizing that slavery isn’t the only power disparity out there.

Step four is realizing that power disparities that drive our sexual behavior are everywhere, up to and including “I can’t leave my partner because they’re supporting me and/or my kids.”

Step five is considering that maybe this isn’t rape because the people involved don’t see it that way, but then realizing that that might have been true of Sally Hemmings, and you just decided that didn’t matter.

Step six is realizing that you’ve recreated “all sex is rape.”

Step seven is… existential despair, I think? If someone else has a better step seven please let me know.

34

Patrick 05.31.16 at 2:51 pm

Steak -> stems, auto correct is a cruel mistress

35

Lynne 05.31.16 at 2:54 pm

“Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women held as slaves.”

““Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.” Is that even any harder to say, or is it just more unpleasant to read? Thoughts?”

I think you are making an important distinction. We can quibble about a perfect formulation (I don’t have one) but it would convey that enslaved women were both raped and forced to bear their rapists’ children, which seem to be worth noting.

36

RNB 05.31.16 at 2:58 pm

The oppression of African slaves was similar to and different from the oppression of other oppressed agricultural workers. There was few to no customary protections against violence and rape and limitless exploitation. The control over culture and family (outright selling of children and break up of families for profit) was much greater; the possibilities for mobility were much more restricted.

37

Sam Dodsworth 05.31.16 at 2:59 pm

Patrick@32 Step seven is… existential despair, I think? If someone else has a better step seven please let me know.

Tentatively… recognising that consent is complicated but that consent within a master/slave relationship isn’t exactly an edge case? (Or if you’re really committed to a Jefferson/Hemmings ship, at least that it’s sensible to assume rape as the norm in the absence of other evidence.)

38

Belle Waring 05.31.16 at 3:05 pm

kidneystones–ummmmmmmmmm. I guess I sort of….ok. No, though.

Soullite: fuck you and you’re banned. Because I can’t handle the truth!

Stephenson-Quoter-kun: you have a point about the children, but I think you are quite wrong about the effect of the language: it is normalizing. “This is very much just word games at this point, but if I were to describe “kidnapping someone and taking their money” it would be unnecessary to change “taking” to “stealing”, because nobody would misunderstand that the circumstances determine whether the taking is legitimate or not. However, if even a single person were to misunderstand that phrase then maybe the more explicit version is required, and we should aim for optimal clarity even if it means some redundancy.” I believe more than a few people require this redundancy in the area of sexual consent, much moreso than in the area of cash money.

bianca steele: this is a reasonable point, and I agree that we can imagine a huge spectrum of encounters, each resulting in pregnancies/the birth of children/or not, and each involving more or less or no suffering nor entertainment for the passive party. Consider 1) captivity/sale into slavery results in routine violent rape by multiple men 2) sale into slavery results in routine not-particularly-violent all the time rape by one or a very few men 3) ditto but one man and he’s not a terrible person setting aside the slaveowning rapist part (serious there about his possibly being, relative to other contemporaries, a kind person all things considered) 4) sale into concubinage results in a few instances of rape and lots of situational queer sex/musical instrument practice/well-motivated stabbings of babies with hairpins 5) sale into concubinage results in some instances of rape which, if pleasing to the non-you person involved, result in promotion to head concubine and your own bomb-ass, moon-gated area of the Summer Palace, plus babies who live and maybe become politically powerful, but you’re still never seeing your family again, sorry 5) arranged marriage results in violent rape and you can’t do shit about it 6) arranged marriage results in something we can perhaps meaningfully call rape in retrospect but not violent and more or less just what you expected in life 7) modern love marriage results in some consensual encounters but some violent rapes, something no one really thought was even conceptually possible until recently, and finally 8) modern love marriage results in consensual sex, but maybe some of the blowjobs are desultory. You can’t win them all.

On the one hand, it does make sense to say, “the past is a different country; it’s compressing lots of useful information into a single bit if we say ‘almost every sexual encounter which took place before date x was rape.'” On the other hand, it’s stupid to say, “well, back then everyone tanned their aurochs’-hide with the brains of their enemies’ children–that was just part of who they were!” If some peeps on the river Don were doing that during the end of the mini Ice Age, then they were baby-killing assholes.

I guess historians, too, and not just novelists, should explore the mental space of situations with no apparent consent but meaningful human relations inside them. Journalism seems like it should probably stick to the basics in this regard.

39

Belle Waring 05.31.16 at 3:07 pm

RNB: worse, though. Way worse.

40

Yankee 05.31.16 at 3:09 pm

When there are children involved it adds a different dimension to the act of rape, because having children involved adds a different dimension to everything. Having fathered children, were they thrown out with the chamberpot? It adds more counts to indictments such as TJ’s.

Maybe “fathered children” dog whistles as “say what you will, at least the Man was virile! Yuuuge paws!”

Get better soon.

41

RNB 05.31.16 at 3:15 pm

@38 Especially when the possibility of replenishing the workforce through fresh slave imports made it profitable to work slaves to death (see Claude Meillasoux; on why and how enslaved Africans were treated worse than Russian serfs, see Peter Kolchin). The possible improvement the end of the slave trade could have made was negated by the horrific creation of breeder states in the US.

42

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 3:17 pm

Belle,

Thanks, and I did have in mind the Gawker Media obsession with pointing out the ubiquity of rape, and also somewhat this sentence: “Rather, it seems as if people think you can only be raped so many times before…something other than rape is taking place?”. Because I do think some people do think this, to some extent (like whether a person is under compulsion depends on whether they think they are, therefore, for those people, they can change the way they think and then they’ll be happier). And you do occasionally see the claim that women in forced marriages are raped throughout their lives. Something about the conjunction of this question with the history of actual American enslavement of people from Africa bothers me.

And taking your examples a different way, a woman who’s been brainwashed or beaten down to the point where she believes it’s okay that if any of a bunch of men have sex with her whenever they feel like it, and that she would be wrong to refuse: at what point do we say, or not say, it’s rape, in what cases? Do we really understand this as rape, and should we?

43

CJColucci 05.31.16 at 3:19 pm

The article was about genetics, and to put it bluntly, the egg doesn’t know or care, and genetic analysis cannot tell us, whether the sperm got there with or without the consent of the mother. The point of the article was about what genetic analysis has newly revealed, not what history has already told us. Since anyone knowledgeable enough to profit from reading the article would already know that, generally, the sperm got there non-consensually, by means of rape, as Belle rightly points out, an author can reasonably decide that it is not to the purpose to point that out.

44

milx 05.31.16 at 3:24 pm

There is some recent science about the impact of trauma on the genetic level which means the egg kinda does know: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/daily_videos/can-trauma-be-passed-to-next-generation-through-dna/

45

Trader Joe 05.31.16 at 3:24 pm

I’d say two things:

First, if you can’t agree that 100% of all sexual intercourse between masters and slaves is rape then there really is no such thing as rape. That’s why the words are masters and slaves – consensusal slavery is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Second, while agreeing with Belle’s point, the purpose of this article is primarily to talk about science and how it is being used, not to launch a charged political discussion about slavery, racism, rape and all the rest. If science is the message, softening the tone through ‘fathering of children’ and the like increases the chance that science remains the focus of the article. A different article can and should cover the points made in the OP.

I don’t need the sports section to say girlfriend choker Chapman strikes out 3 in Yanks Win every time he pitches – I just want to know the score of the game.

46

milx 05.31.16 at 3:28 pm

I feel like such a contrarian atm but consensual slavery is definitely a thing: http://biblehub.com/exodus/21-5.htm

47

Displaced Person 05.31.16 at 3:29 pm

The discussion is mostly right on but fairly theoretical. What you need to know is that how white men treated African American women is still the great lie of the South. They won’t talk about it. See, e.g., Strom Thurmond’s African American mistress a couple of decades ago. It was not a scandal in the South because it was so well understood. I am reading a biography of George Wallace, the true father of the Republican Party, which quotes an early rival of Wallace as mocking Wallace’s hard racial line by saying something like: you (Wallace supporters) may want separate but equal but “there is plenty of integrating going on at night.”

48

RNB 05.31.16 at 3:33 pm

In the NYT piece I found Alondra Nelson’s criticism compelling. It’s also surprising that none of the controversy over racial medicine is even mentioned. For example, thinking of sickle cell in racial terms makes little sense as many of those susceptible to it would not be considered black or African and not all Africans are susceptible to it. This is rather well-known. There was the whole controversy over that drug which had failed FDA testing but was then marketed perhaps cynically as effective for those with a “black” genotype. Reporter should have talked to Nelson more.

49

chris y 05.31.16 at 3:34 pm

milx- Damned dodgy definition of consensual there. “Would you prefer to remain a slave and be mutilated to prove it, or never see your wife and children again?” Err… None of the above? No pressure there, is there?

50

RNB 05.31.16 at 3:35 pm

Also Africans in the US did not come only from West Africa as Zimmer says but would have to check about %’s estimated to have come from present day Congo through present day Angola.

51

milx 05.31.16 at 3:36 pm

Fine but we’re all pressured by all kinds of conditions. I would prefer not to work but I like my house and I want to feed my wife and children. Seems like a safer bet to say that once entered into slavery is not a consensual condition but that there are cases where entering into slavery can be consensual – certain kinds of indentured servitude might be appropriate here as well (where you didn’t even have to get on that boat going to the Americas).

52

Lynne 05.31.16 at 3:56 pm

bianca steele @ 14 I think to use one word to cover all the known cases of forced sex such as the cases you and Belle mention—well, it doesn’t work, I agree, because that word conveys different things in different contexts. Without specific context, it can become almost meaningless. Which isn’t to say that rape isn’t the right word for each context, but it needs to be exegeted carefully, one context at a time, to remain meaningful.

Sometimes it isn’t the most helpful word, either, even if it is accurate. To veer into personal anecdote: When I was in my twenties I worked at a menial job with two Pakistani sisters, also in their twenties, whose parents were arranging marriages for them with men from Pakistan. The younger sister cried all the time over this. Then the mother died, throwing the family into turmoil. The father was too wracked with grief to function so the oldest brother became acting head of the family. The younger sister came to work with bruises from his beatings.

Then she got married, and not another word was said against her husband. The entire situation was so foreign to me, and so wrong, that to pick out different aspects as “domestic violence” and “rape” (She didn’t want to get married; she certainly didn’t want to have sex with this man she had never met) seem utterly inadequate. I lost touch with the sister when we all stopped working at the same place. Never heard the ending to that story.

53

Lynne 05.31.16 at 4:00 pm

Just to add to tie my story to bianca’s point, I expect fully that both sisters, once married, tried to be happy in their marriages and to make them work, and I am sure they would not have considered their sexual relations to be rape.

54

bob mcmanus 05.31.16 at 4:06 pm

14, 37, 41, 44:First, if you can’t agree that 100% of all sexual intercourse between masters and slaves is rape then there really is no such thing as rape. That’s why the words are masters and slaves – consensusal slavery is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Yeah, after posting 7 I did give some thought to de Ste Croizx and ancient slavery. The classic story is of the Roman slave who could accumulate personal wealth and purchase his freedom, with the caveat of course that his master could kill him and take the money at any time. There is also GdsC story of the Roman Empire by an expansion of clientalism and a diminution of social status moving both freemen and slaves into serfs who did have some social status as tied to the land. The point in slavery was that interpersonal relationships were socially, politically, and legally irrelevant.

In any case what I wondered about in considerations of the complexity of social death was whether we are wildly overrating the value and meaning of interpersonal relationships and personal choices anymore. There is movement back to a more social position that the individual of any age or status cannot define the terms and meaning of sexual consent (or workplace etc; campus guidelines etc) which has echoes to more reactionary positions but doesn’t need to be a move backwards.

No answers, but I have long been skeptical toward definitions of personal consent in racist, patriarchal, and capitalistic societies.

PS: de Ste Croix does share with the MUTE piece about Afro-pessimism the opinion that freedom, the very categories of consent and rape, is totally and absolutely generated from and dependent on a category of beings (also citizens:aliens) toward which those concepts are unthinkable and can never apply. Romans had laws because they had slaves.

55

bob mcmanus 05.31.16 at 4:21 pm

And social death has been taken far from the ideas in Patterson in Afro-pessimism to the point where it is not too mild but totally radical.

Afro-pessimist, although I obviously can’t speak for them, believe that the concepts of political or human rights have no meaning or value for Afro-Americans, since as the permanent social Other in America, those rights will always be provisional.

56

Fiddlin Bill 05.31.16 at 4:53 pm

The “new word” suggested is perhaps the very first step on the road to denial of the historically unpleasant. In fact, “rape” is a better word, because it’s honest. It didn’t take very long at all, less than 100 years, for an America that suffered the Civil War to produce historical fantasies such as Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. It took Republicans only minutes after the passage of the Civil Rights laws to generate the “Southern Strategy.” Our “natural” psychology of self-deception needs to be countered by honesty where ever possible, in the interests of our future and the futures of our children.

57

armando 05.31.16 at 4:56 pm

Possibly threadrot, but consensual slavery really is a thing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master/slave_(BDSM)

The point being that consent can be a funny thing.

It is very appealing to say that a woman in an oppressive society has her ability to consent eroded, but I don’t know how to then interpret her claims to acceptance of her situation. Certainly such things occur, and we can talk about Stockholm Syndrome and such, but it pretty much robs her of any agency whatsoever.

58

MPAVictoria 05.31.16 at 5:08 pm

“Possibly threadrot, but consensual slavery really is a thing.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Master/slave_(BDSM)

Man… so not the same thing,

59

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 5:09 pm

Lynne,

It’s true that context matters. I tend to think that, say, “fathering,” is a neutral word describing a physical process. So I think if you have one sentence that says a situation was slavery, followed by a second sentence that says a child was fathered in that situation, the two together indicate that the word “rape” could have been used (keeping in mind the other considerations). But some people may understand “fathering” to be explicitly or deliberately excluding social or emotional or psychological considerations, and giving tacit approval to the act. And some people may be more committed than me to the idea that there’s one right word for everything, which would mean context didn’t matter as much.

60

js. 05.31.16 at 5:20 pm

Wow, the consensual slavery thing is a weird tangent — I would’ve thought the more point is that consensual sex is in principle possible within a non-consensual master/slave relation, even if the chances of such a thing actually happening are vanishingly small.

Anyway, I like ZM’s rewording @12, and agree with JimV that the “buried” thing needs to go.

61

Lynne 05.31.16 at 5:23 pm

js: “I would’ve thought the more point is that consensual sex is in principle possible within a non-consensual master/slave relation, even if the chances of such a thing actually happening are vanishingly small.”

It is possible for there to be consent where it is possible for there to be refusal.

62

bianca steele 05.31.16 at 5:32 pm

It also occurs to me that we used to say “fathered children on her”, and maybe it’s the replacement by “with” that makes it sound more consensual than it should. I’m not sure, actually, that “fathered with” is even idiomatic.

63

js. 05.31.16 at 5:35 pm

Yeah, I was thinking it would be possible to refuse, in some sense. But I can see how that might seem impossible. Anyway, this is probably a bit tangential.

64

engels 05.31.16 at 5:43 pm

I think the normal view would be that slaves can consent or withhold consent to what is done to them but are deprived all legal and practical means of giving force to their wishes. Jefferson’s slaves were raped because they didn’t consent to sex with him, not because they couldn’t.

65

Kiwanda 05.31.16 at 5:45 pm

@Belle Waring 37: “I agree that we can imagine a huge spectrum of encounters, each resulting in pregnancies/the birth of children/or not, and each involving more or less or no suffering nor entertainment for the passive party. Consider 1)….9)”

To put that spectrum on a more contemporary basis, I wonder where to put “Two American college kids have sex, without Affirmative Consent, after two beers each”, or “Man in prison is sold for cigarettes on a daily basis for years”, or “Afghan boy is pampered in some ways, brutalized in others”, or “Financially struggling woman sometimes has sex with the landlord in lieu of rent” or “Woman flirts with cop, doesn’t get a ticket” or “Two people in arranged marriage, strangers to each other, make a go of it, because they believe they should respect their parents’ judgement”, or “Two American college kids have sex, with Affirmative Consent, four beers each”.

66

Trader Joe 05.31.16 at 5:49 pm

@ various
How about I grant that in some theoretical sense there might be a very particular case where one time, possibly, the slave in question sorta, if you look at it just right, on a not too sunny day, maybe there was something resembling consent and we move on from the notion of whether there is 100% no such thing as consensual slavery.

Clearly the point is such instances are, as js suggests @59 ‘vanishingly small.’ Belle’s point (I believe) is to not to excuse the tens of thousands of cases of absolute rape, some of which were quite likely brutal by standards of any time or place, in favor of a few absolutely not-documented-in-history instances that may in the minds of people who can only see gray, have occurred.

67

armando 05.31.16 at 5:51 pm

I think we can agree that an actual slave (point taken, MPAVictoria, although I think it is a vaguely interesting aside) is definitely raped, although there may be differing degrees of that. More thorny cases – such as Kiwanda touches upon – are situations such as sex workers find themselves in. I’ve heard it argued that it is impossible for a sex worker to consent to sex with a client, for instance.

I guess I’m saying that I think Belle’s point is pretty much correct, but there may be more difficult cases elsewhere.

68

The Temporary Name 05.31.16 at 5:56 pm

Maybe “forcing children upon them” would do.

69

The Temporary Name 05.31.16 at 5:57 pm

Or “forcing pregnancy” maybe.

70

Lynne 05.31.16 at 6:01 pm

js, I took your comment as trying to honour the woman’s agency. That within a situation she didn’t consent to, there might still be ways she could make the best of it.

I think Belle’s point is correct, and maybe one way to rephrase would be something like “enslaved women bore their masters’ babies”.

Bianca, “fathered” is a strange word, in a way, especially as a verb contrasted with “to mother.” I think Belle’s right that rape gets normalized by being glossed over.

Sort of related, I once read a discussion about the scientific knowledge gained from Nazi experiments, where the issue was whether or how, when alluding to the results of the experiments, some of which were medically groundbreaking, to reference the fact that this knowledge came from Nazi experiments. The conclusion was that it should be referenced, every time.

In the case of enslaved women having babies against their will, I’d go for it being referenced every time.

71

Lynne 05.31.16 at 6:03 pm

re “fathered” I meant to say that nowadays to be a father often connotes a very loving parental relationship so that as a verb meaning “to start a baby”, it doesn’t seem to work as well any more. IMO, naturally.

72

Lynne 05.31.16 at 6:04 pm

By the way, Belle, it is lovely to have you back. I’m sorry you are unwell, and hope you feel better soon, and also that your daughter is better. I was thinking of her just the other day.

73

rea 05.31.16 at 6:07 pm

The extent to which, for a slaveholder in the southern US, “My slaves” were just another way of saying, “my family” is rather shocking. They enslaved their own children.

Jefferson, after the death of his wife Martha, developed a relationship with a slave on his plantation with whom he fathered several children

And a big part of the attraction for Jefferson was that his slave was his dead wife’s look-alike half sister.

74

rea 05.31.16 at 6:07 pm

The extent to which, for a slaveholder in the southern US, “My slaves” were just another way of saying, “my family” is rather shocking. They enslaved their own children.

Jefferson, after the death of his wife Martha, developed a relationship with a slave on his plantation with whom he fathered several children

And a big part of the attraction for Jefferson was that his slave was his dead wife’s look-alike half sister.

75

PGD 05.31.16 at 6:42 pm

Modern rape seems like at best an analogy, and a possibly misleading one, to automatically slap on unequal sexual encounters in societies marked by extreme coercive hierarchies. E.g. would it be the case that all children in highly patriarchal societies with arranged marriages are the product of rape? Were all children of Russian serfs parented by nobility the product of rape? Parented by free males who weren’t their landowner? What about other forms of feudal dependency? Indentured servants? What about people in situations of extreme poverty partnering with those who had more resources or money?

In the case of American blacks in particular, it should also be remembered that something over 10% of blacks were free prior to the Civil War, and the study found 16.7% of genetic material in African-Americans was European.

76

RNB 05.31.16 at 7:14 pm

I think that 16.7% number is pretty low compared to what others have estimated.

77

Cervantes 05.31.16 at 7:31 pm

I think the only real issue here is semantic. In our present context, in present company (not all UnitedStatesians) we call sex which is coerced by whatever means rape. Some people are willing to discuss degrees of coercion, but clearly the power imbalance between a slave and owner is just too great inherently for us not to call the degree of coercion rape. Perhaps we can imagine highly exceptional circumstances, but highly exceptional circumstances aren’t what the article is discussing, it’s discussing widespread occurrences.

But as many commenters have noted, we’re at a time and place that’s different from most of the history we know about. Arranged and maybe or maybe not forced marriages, droit de seigneur, wives as sexual property, economic desperation, various forms of slavery which were quite different from the institution in the antebellum south including concubinage . . . .

Many different kinds of events occurred in these contexts, some of which could not occur here and now because the relevant context simply does not exist; others of which do occur but are deviant and illegal (although Warren Jeffs e.g. got away with it for along time); others of which might kind of fit the label but would be at least somewhat different. Given our perspective, we would call them all rape, but that is also taking them out of context. Yes, we think they are all bad, but they aren’t the same as rapes that happen in the here and now; they could be experienced differently by the people involved, as well as judged differently by the society. So I would say that calling them all rape is probably appropriate as an assertion of our own values, but it stops well short of understanding them.

78

Lowhim 05.31.16 at 8:14 pm

I’m on boat with this kind of thinking. The more one white-washes (no pun) history to make it seem filled with great men of perfect moral character the more idiocy one faces in today’s world (ie blame people for their economic situation etc). I for one am all for saying
“noted statesman and confirmed serial rapist Thomas Jefferson exercised extraordinary taste in designing his home.”

79

Jeff R. 05.31.16 at 9:31 pm

Has the case that it the rapist/father in question was actually Thomas rather than one of his brothers or other close relatives gotten significantly stronger in the past few decades? I mean, that’s obviously the more interesting/useful/ironic version of events, but as I recall the genetic evidence did not support actual certitude there.

80

krippendorf 05.31.16 at 10:50 pm

“Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.”

“The researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that white masters raped and impregnated enslaved women.”

Speaking of language, and whitewashing of the horrible things whites did to blacks: today is the 95th anniversary of the Tulsa race riots (according to some) or the Tulsa massacre (according to others). An episode that, as I understand it, was excised from local history textbooks & school curricula until relatively recently.

81

Val 05.31.16 at 11:02 pm

Buried in DNA, the researchers found the marks of slavery’s cruelties, including further evidence that white slave owners routinely fathered children with women

“Buried in DNA, the researchers found concrete evidence of slavery’s cruelties, including the fact that enslaved women often became pregnant as the result of being repeatedly raped by their white masters.” Is that even any harder to say, or is it just more unpleasant to read? Thoughts?

One of the problems with writing about oppression is that those oppressed can be made to sound like passive victims – lacking any agency, objects rather than subjects in their own right (I think this may be one reason why some women resist acknowledging patriarchy). This is another reason why Belle’s statement is so much better than the first one, because it puts the women’s experience at the centre.

I think you could also say ‘ … enslaved women often had children as a result of repeated rape by their white masters … ‘

I would put it that way partly for technical reasons, that the DNA would only be transmitted through children who survived to adulthood, but also because it makes the terrible ambiguity of the women’s situation clearer: on the one hand they were raped and treated as objects, on the other they were responsible for caring for the children and ensuring they survived. I think it’s a profound moral dilemma that has happened very often in history, but like so many issues affecting women, little serious attention seems to have been paid to it.

82

Matt McKeon 05.31.16 at 11:11 pm

To understand sex between master and slave in the antebellum South there are two accounts a worth looking at:
Harriet Jacobs’ “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl” Jacobs was subjected to campaign of harassment that included everything, but force(although there was a constant stream of threats). The master, who Jacobs calls “Dr. Flint” is something out of the DSM. Harriet eventually defends herself by becoming the mistress of another white man, who can act as her protector, and then escaping slavery altogether.
In “Celia, A Slave” a 19 year old fights back against her master, and kills him, then is tried for murder. A slave woman had no legal right of self defense against being sexually assaulted. The master’s exploitation of Celia(which started when she was fifteen) was known by his family and simply ignored, as were Celia’s attempts to recruit the white women of the household to persuade the master to stop.

83

Witt 05.31.16 at 11:32 pm

I haven’t read the thread yet, but I could have sworn that when I originally read this NYT op-ed (linked from Twitter) it said that the racially mixed children were the result of “coerced sex” from enslaved people. I remember it because I thought it was a stupid attempt to avoid saying “rape,” but either my memory is faulty or they did THREE versions of that line, not two.

Now off to read the thread….

84

Witt 05.31.16 at 11:50 pm

Stephenson: I suppose the previous description did leave open the possibility of some kind of innocent master-slave romance resulting in children

Yeah. I think the issue here is that at at time where we have white male novelists writing stories from Sally Heming’s POV about how it wasn’t all that bad,* and more people buying that book, we should use the most blunt, clear vocabulary we have. No room for gauzy romanticized notions of what it could have been like.

* Revulsion warning for that book review link. The reviewer breathlessly uses the terms “concubine” “lover” “passion” and “beguiled”, while giving a vague nod in the direction of “consent.”

And no, I don’t think a new word will do. New words can’t hope to have the emotional punch and visceral recoil of old ones — it takes time to acquire that. I don’t like the idea that we can divide up different types of rape, anyway — it gets way too close to the problem we already have, where only some kinds of rape are viewed as “real” rape.

11: as popular and highly respected slave owners

Popular with whom? Respected by whom? I can’t imagine it was by the people they owned, unless the enslaved people’s “respect” was just “in relation to an even more horrific slave owner, you’re not quite as bad”. And how would we have documentary evidence of that anyway? There are few memoirs of enslaved people who were later freed, and approximately zero of enslaved people who were freed and were writing in a time and place free of economic and social coercion/pressure.

85

Witt 05.31.16 at 11:51 pm

86

Dean C. Rowan 06.01.16 at 12:00 am

First, what in the fuck does this have to do with feminists? Geez, some people.

Do I understand correctly that “father” as a verb, perhaps also as a noun, connotes meanings too positive to tolerate in this context? Either because generally we think positively of fathers or because the act of fathering at its best entails loving and nurturing–you know, Father Knows Best–behaviors utterly antithetical to rape? OED is a bit circular about the matter. The first entry for the verb reads, “To be or become the father of; to beget.” And the first entry for the noun reads, “The male parent of a human being; a man in relation to his child or children. Also occasionally: a male animal in relation to its offspring. (The male counterpart of mother n.1 1a.)”

Maybe the shock of catachresis is a good thing.

87

ZM 06.01.16 at 12:01 am

Seconding Lynne @70 — it’s good to read you posting again Belle, and I hope your health is on the mend :-)

88

Witt 06.01.16 at 12:05 am

If science is the message, softening the tone through ‘fathering of children’ and the like increases the chance that science remains the focus of the article. A different article can and should cover the points made in the OP.

I couldn’t disagree more. This isn’t like glossing over the domestic violence of a sports star in a sports article. It’s a fundamental concern of the article. There is no discussing African-Americans’ white heritage, in the US of the 21st century, without an open and explicit acknowledgement of where that heritage likely originated.

Agree completely with Lynne’s 68.

77: Has the case that it the rapist/father in question was actually Thomas rather than one of his brothers or other close relatives gotten significantly stronger in the past few decades? I mean, that’s obviously the more interesting/useful/ironic version of events, but as I recall the genetic evidence did not support actual certitude there.

I’m not picking on you specifically, but this is a perfect example of the dehumanization and figurative un-personing that continues to be done to enslaved people’s histories. We had hundreds of years of oral history from Hemings’s descendants, long before anyone knew of such a thing as DNA. We still have that history.

And while as a general principle memory is fallible and human beings’ recountings are imperfect, when the energy of “B-b-b-but it could have been a male cousin instead of Jefferson!!” is being driven by mostly white Jefferson descendants and slavery apologists, while they continue to dismiss black Jefferson/Hemings descendants’ stories…it’s time to step back and ask who benefits from a power dynamic that fixates on “science” as the sole* arbiter of truth.

*I love science and am happy to include it as a powerful and important tool, but it’s not the only way to get at truth. Especially since “science” is carried out by those pesky, fallible human beings.

89

Val 06.01.16 at 1:33 am

Dean C Rowan @ 84

First, what in the fuck does this have to do with feminists? Geez, some people.

Is that a serious question or is it meant to be a joke?

90

Dean C. Rowan 06.01.16 at 1:55 am

Val @87: Not a joke in the “ha ha!” sense at all. I meant it as a roundabout way, a rhetorical question, of asking how “the tendency” of feminists–all of them at once, all of the man haters, because of course all feminists hate men–has any bearing on a query about the aptness of a loaded word–“father”–to stand for “beget.” The query is serious. The response is bullshit.

91

Val 06.01.16 at 2:27 am

@ 88
I’m having trouble making sense of what you’re saying (and I don’t mean ‘sorry it’s my fault’, I mean I don’t think what you’re saying really makes sense).

Anyway I’m sure Belle could explain it (although if you haven’t got it by now, maybe Belle wouldn’t waste her time), but I think pretty obviously ‘fathering’ in that context was a euphemism for rape.

92

Dean C. Rowan 06.01.16 at 2:37 am

Val @89: Needless complexity here. I was p.o.’d that somebody would respond to this post with comments about “the tendency of feminists,” which is 1) meaningless, and, anyway, 2) totally beside the point.

As for “fathering” as euphemism for “rape,” yes, I get that, except it doesn’t fully compute. Rape doesn’t always result in “fathering.” The use of the term, as I read it, is to signify a subset of rapes out of which a child emerges. I think Belle is (rightly) lamenting the cozy quality of the verb, but that quality is a product of the baggage with which we burden it. There’s tension between a more or less literal sense of the term and the way the word operates (as in the NYT story) to avoid being quite explicit about violence and force.

93

Belle Waring 06.01.16 at 3:08 am

Hi Val, Dean is responding to soullite’s outburst upthread.

94

Belle Waring 06.01.16 at 3:20 am

77: the possibility lies open before you, vast and inviting, to not be “hat guy.” But you’re being “that guy.” Jefferson took Hemings to France with him where he bought her nice clothes and took her to actual parties with white people. French people at the time were like, “daaamn, Jefferson’s slave ladyfriend is hot.” There was other American contemporaneous gossip about the pair. Additionally, Heming’s descendants were steadfast in their conviction that Sally had told her children the truth in saying Thomas Jefferson was their biological father. She was his beloved now-dead wife’s half-sister and, though like 20 years younger, bore a noted and striking resemblance to her. Black people had been saying this since forever and then we got DNA confirmation. What in the Sam heck motivates people to say, “it’s logically possible another male Jefferson raped Hemings too/instead!” I ain’t saying, but I’m just saying.

95

Kaleberg 06.01.16 at 3:59 am

Why “fathering”, why not “siring”? That’s the animal breeding term.

I’m with Lowhim. We should say things like “noted statesman and confirmed serial rapist Thomas Jefferson exercised extraordinary taste in designing his home.” People often do many things that seem incongruous or contradictory, and sometimes only god gets to truly judge them. Look at Fritz Haber, the convicted German war criminal. There are three billion people alive today thanks to his other chemical work. Dante’s vision of hell was too simple.

Sometimes the power relationship wasn’t exactly rape, but awfully close. In New Orleans a lot of wealthy white men had white wives and free black mistresses. Sometimes this got pretty nauseating. There was a famous ball every year in two adjacent buildings, one for the wives and one for the mistresses. Creepy!

96

engels 06.01.16 at 11:12 am

We should say things like “noted statesman and confirmed serial rapist Thomas Jefferson exercised extraordinary taste in designing his home.”

I’m sceptical that this policy would help in making rape less culturally tolerated. It’s perhaps comparable to images of violence in news or prevalence of graphic descriptions of crimes in sections of press – do they help to make the world less violent or reduce crime? It seems at least arguable they don’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the wrong thing to do – it might be necessary for accuracy or respect to the victims – just that one can reasonably disagree imo about whether the cultural consequences of such a shift would be positive.

97

Adam Hammond 06.01.16 at 12:51 pm

Why do we insist on describing the conception as an act of the man? Why is “european men” the subject?

Belle doesn’t like “fathered” for clear reasons that I have to agree with, but the point of the article in question is about heredity not the horrors of slavery, per se. There were many rapes that didn’t lead to children, the rape is not the event under discussion. Couldn’t we make the subject of the sentence, “enslaved women of African descent?” That opens up more verb options anyway.

I hope I have not been redundant, I did not get through all of the above comments, yet.

98

Frances 06.01.16 at 1:55 pm

Always been really disturbed by concept of men getting children via any level of rape etc that they were content to deliver into a life of horror through slavery. On the whole humans do love their children …

99

steven johnson 06.01.16 at 2:49 pm

Yes, well, if you want to use “rape” for all non-consensual sex, who can disagree?
I’m not sure that the pressures of society (all societies in every era,) and the physical disparity in the capacity for violence between men and women don’t leave the concept of consent void for every woman, but still, sure, call it rape and call them rapists.

But a term for men who exercise illegal violence and threats to maim and kill would be useful. What shall it be? Also, unsavory as it is, there is sexual battery against women that don’t involve penetration.. There’s not really a suitable term for this, since “rape” appears to be exclusively reserved to penetration, but it seems there should be. What would be suitable?

100

James Wimberley 06.01.16 at 4:37 pm

Isn’t the right word for Tulsa “pogrom”?

101

Stan 06.01.16 at 4:47 pm

“Westerinen’s father discovered that his great-grandfather, Eston Jefferson, was black, but passed as a white man.”

Eston Jefferson was a son of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. Labeling him as “black” – well –

His mother Sally Hemmings had three ‘white’ grandparents; her remaining grandmother was from Africa.

Eston Hemmings thus had 7 ‘white’ great-grandparents, one ‘black’ grandparent….

Even under Virginia law at the time of his birth he could be counted as ‘white’ (the one drop thinking came later).

Yet another f-ed up aspect of slavery.

102

Suzanne 06.01.16 at 4:52 pm

“We had hundreds of years of oral history from Hemings’s descendants, long before anyone knew of such a thing as DNA. We still have that history.”

@ 86: It’s not “dehumanizing” to ask for evidence. Family legends can be wrong, or dubious, as Elizabeth Warren can attest. The Woodson family had/have a similar oral tradition related to Jefferson. DNA testing did not back it up.

If you were saying, “We shouldn’t rely exclusively on DNA evidence” then I would agree with you. There was significant circumstantial evidence pointing to Jefferson as the father of Sally’s children that was downplayed or ignored for decades. Jeff R. is right to remind us that the DNA evidence is not definitive. It does, however, support other things we already know.

Agree generally with what Cervantes said at #75 – although some of the acts committed Warren Jeffs and his confreres are accused would constitute rape under most definitions.

Jefferson promised his dying wife that he would not marry again. Martha had had disagreeable stepmother experiences and feared the same for her daughters. John Wayles, Jefferson’s father-in-law, formed a long-term liaison with one Betty Hemings after the death of his third wife. One of their children was Sally and as rea notes she bore a close resemblance to Martha Jefferson. (Wayles died in debt, like Jefferson, and none of his children by Betty were freed. All of Sally’s children were eventually freed one way or another.)

@ 11: Not all slaveowners partook, despite brandy, cigars, and peer pressure. Also, you are giving those who did rather too much credit by attributing their behavior to simple human weakness. A lighter-skinned slave was a more valuable slave. Jefferson was far from the worst.

103

Stan 06.01.16 at 5:02 pm

“Has the case that it the rapist/father in question was actually Thomas rather than one of his brothers or other close relatives gotten significantly stronger in the past few decades? I mean, that’s obviously the more interesting/useful/ironic version of events, but as I recall the genetic evidence did not support actual certitude there.”

The genetic evidence supports the theory that Thomas Jefferson or another closely-related jefferson male was the father of the Hemings children. The family history of the Hemings family already supported the Thomas Jefferson fatherhood theory. The travel records that are avaialble support the Hemings’ history for Thomas Jefferson but not other jefferson candidates.

The ‘white’ Jefferson descendants had a competing theory involving another man (whose name I am forgetting) but who was ruled out by DNA evidence.

Therefore, the combination of evidence from family history, travel, and DNA strongly supports the idea that Thomas jefferson fathered the children of the enslaved Sally Hemings. That is very widely accepted by historians.

Of course this entire discussion is a bit racist in that no one has ever proved, for example, that Martha Jefferson (Thomas’ white wife) wasn’t a dirty slut who slept with all the guys in town, or was raped, and thus we don’t really know who Thomas Jefferson’s white children were fathered by. No one ever asked them to prove it.

104

Ronan(rf) 06.01.16 at 6:16 pm

@49, you can check data here afaik. I don’t have time to look properly at the minute but have put in rough categories that should give an idea

http://www.slavevoyages.org/assessment/estimates

105

RNB 06.01.16 at 7:26 pm

It would of course depend on the social process of defining who counts as white, but what percentage of white’s people ancestry is “recently” non-European (of course we are all out of Africa) ? Are American “white” people really surprisingly white due to the effects of the one-drop rule pushing “mixed” whites into non-white groups and due to racist exclusionary immigration laws keeping non-Europeans out for much of US history. This of course may be changing with intermarriage rates rising, but they are still pretty low for blacks.

106

Dipper 06.01.16 at 9:49 pm

Slavery seems to be an ever-present theme of much of human history, but the more recent form in the Americas seems to be on a different scale of inhumanity. In much slavery there seems to be two elements that were missing in American slavery – that there was a responsibility of the slave owner for the welfare of the slave, and that the slave had some hope of freedom. Perhaps American slavery needs a different term to distinguish it from historic slavery elsewhere.

Some historical bits I found interesting:
– mitochondrial DNA seems to show most Icelandic women have Irish ancestry but far fewer Icelandic men have Irish ancestry, evidence that the Vikings took captive Irish women to Iceland.
– some British (and Irish) were captured in the 17th century by North African slavers and sold (http://www.anti-slaverysociety.addr.com/haf-general.htm). There was a BBC program on this a while back. Helen Gloag was captured as a slave but eventually became an Empress in Morocco. One of the main pirate captains had an islamic name but was actually Dutch and had converted for reasons of convenience.
– Whilst Britain was implicated in the slave trade up to the mid 1800’s, in the later years it was very anti-slavery and justified imperial activities in Africa partly through fighting against Arab slavery – see .https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_George_Gordon. The fact that Arabs were prominent in much of African slavery seems to have been forgotten in much of the debate on slavery.

107

Philip 06.01.16 at 9:59 pm

@ Dipper, I’m not really sure about your last point. Two things I notice a lot when the slave trade in Africa is discussed is that Africans sold other Africans into slavery and Arabs were buying African slave before Europeans. I never understand why this is meant to be relevant.

108

Dipper 06.01.16 at 10:18 pm

@ Philip

I just found it interesting, that’s all. I’m not sure what it is relevant to.

“The Scramble For Africa” by Thomas Pakenham is a great book which I keep going back to. One of the features of it is the amount of discussion at the time and disagreement on the morality of various points. Nowhere is that seen more than in the David Livingstone / Henry Morton Stanley contrast. Worth an article in itself.

109

Ronan(rf) 06.01.16 at 10:19 pm

How is noting Africans sold other Africans into slavery not relevant in conversations about the african slave trade ?

110

Ronan(rf) 06.01.16 at 10:24 pm

I mean I can see how it might not be relevant in this conversation, but in general ? It’s pretty central

111

Kiwanda 06.02.16 at 12:18 am

Re enslavement of Africans in the Americas vs. other slavery in history, I’ve wondered: why not Indians?

“In 1517, Fray Bartolome de las Casas, feeling great pity for the Indians who grew worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines, proposed to Emperor Charles V that Negroes be brought to the isles of the Caribbean, so that they might grow worn and lean in the drudging infernos of the Antillean gold mines.”

That is, beyond “why slavery?”, there is “why African slaves, in particular?” The book 1493 offers one explanation, an interaction of disease and economics: European settlers died in the American tropics from diseases there (50% mortality per year(?)), and so European economic activity became (even more) exploitive and extractive in the tropics: small numbers of Europeans would enslave others to obtain American goods. But native Americans were vulnerable to non-American diseases, and in particular to the imported non-American tropical diseases. That left Africans, more resistant those diseases than either Europeans or native Americans, to be the ones exploited. Of course, it became its own system, but maybe that was the initial impetus. Was the justifying racial ideology built retroactively?

112

etv13 06.02.16 at 1:10 am

Dean C. Rowan @ 90: Given that the article expressly characterized this “fathering” as one of “slavery’s cruelties,” I’m not sure it’s really avoiding all that much.

113

Justicia 06.02.16 at 1:45 am

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned The American Slave Coast: A History of Slave Breeding by Ned and Constance Sublet. When salve importation was banned in 1808 during Jefferson’s presidency, slave owners in Maryland and Virginia began “breeding” slaves to sell to the cotton, rice and sugar cane planters further south. Enslaved women were kept pregnant and their children sold off as early as 6 or 7.

Rape barely begins to describe the evils of the peculiar institution that made America (and much of Europe) rich.

114

Julia Smith 06.02.16 at 2:30 am

Assertions about Jefferson and Hemings were not infrequently reported during their lifetimes: https://www.monticello.org/site/plantation-and-slavery/thomas-jefferson-and-sally-hemings-brief-account. So it’s not dependent on “family tradition.” And that family tradition was reported in writing by Sally Heming’s son, so it’s not as if it’s generations later.

115

Meredith 06.02.16 at 6:39 am

So good to hear from you, Belle! Not much to add here. The challenge is acknowledging the horrendous deprivation of dignity and liberty while not depriving those who suffered (in the sense: were forced into a position of abject passivity) of their courageous agency. Maybe what we need to rethink is rape — rapio, snatch away, carry off. Deracinate. OR TRY. The snatched away are not without resources of their own. Their resourcefulness does not absolve their rapists, but it does make of the raped something a good deal more than simpering victims.

As for Indians: they were regularly enslaved, too, certainly in early New England. Sometimes “at home” (see, for instance, the first buildings at Dartmouth, that Ivy League college in NH); more often, the uppity ones were sent off to the Caribbean. Escaping slaves often found refuge with Indians. Ever wonder why so many Eastern pow-wows feature “African-Americans”?

As for cigars and brandy, even among the more morally minded slave owners (or the class that rented slaves from them — could we please stop imagining that the only men to rape slave women were the very wealthiest landowners? Geo Washington, for instance, lamented the economic waste of having to rent out excess slaves), there were adolescent sons. I for one hesitate to imagine what a randy adolescent male did to the slave girl tasked with taking out his chamber pot.

I’ll stop. There is too much to imagine here. I am more impressed by the resilience of the oppressed than by the easy sway of the boring oppressor.

116

Philip 06.02.16 at 8:12 am

Ronan, yeah I didn’t explain that well. They are two tropes that are brought up and prefaced with something like ‘and what no one ever says is . . .’ but someone says it pretty much every time. It’s as though it is meant to be some kind of gotcha when discussing the slave trade to the Americas but I am never sure why.

117

kidneystones 06.02.16 at 10:40 am

One relevant fact connecting the trans-Atlantic slave trade to the slave trade in east Africa, and with the role Africans played in the slave trade inside Africa and outside Africa is that the trans-Atlantic slave trade depended very much on Africans willing to supply slaves to the ports in west Africa.

The (small) permanent military presence of the British in west Africa during the 18th century consisted principally of punishment battalions – soldiers offered a choice of serving on the African coast, or being severely punished. Mortality rates were extremely high, although 19th-century studies blamed bad food as much as disease for pushing the rates so high. The simple fact is that only Africans, or Arab traders, had immune systems robust enough to survive. Mungo Park is our best reliable eye-witness to the dynamics of involuntary and voluntary servitude in Africa at the end of the 18th-century.

My recollection is that that the first instance of European slavery in South Africa occurred when the Dutch imported a slave/slaves from Java? to labor in the Dutch trading fort there. The Dutch initially tried to kidnap locals, but this folks quickly escaped, much as the natives did in North America.

French slavers looking for cheap labour for their Indian Ocean colonies relied on Arab traders to provide introductions and expertise with African slave traders in Madagascar. Various interlocking systems operated in both East Africa and across the Atlantic. French, British, Dutch, and other slavers were officially banned/restricted from supplying slaves to competing colonies at different times, but the demand for slaves made friends of enemies in many cases.

Hawkins’ journal is instructive – he started enjoying real success once he partnered up with an African chief. Together, their men attacked and sacked a nearby village and divided the captives for sale.

As noted, slavery was the norm across much of the world until fairly recently. Europeans banned slavery only when it became feasible to enslave entire peoples, as they did in Africa and India during the 19th-century. Any form of slavery is probably better understood within this larger context.

118

Dipper 06.02.16 at 10:52 am

@ Philip – that’s why at the beginning of my comment I said “[the slavery] in the Americas seems to be on a different level of inhumanity.”

119

Philip 06.02.16 at 11:11 am

Dipper, I didn’t mean to imply you were bringing up the issue to argue in bad faith. It’s just in my experience the Arab involvement in African slavery isn’t forgotten in much of the debate on slavery.

120

kidneystones 06.02.16 at 11:23 am

112 Amelia Murray decided to leave England and visit North America in 1854. She was wrote repeatedly against slavery in her account, but compared the treatment of slaves in the Americas favorably to the treatment of ‘free’ people of color in European administered jurisdictions. She also took a page from Marx and Dickens and claimed that the quality of life for slaves in the American slave states was generally better than that of the poor in England. We cannot today easily imagine a world where the loss of liberty is preferable to the loss of life, or the loss of life of one’s children. Her book must be seen as an apologia for slavery. Yet, Murray draws a sharp contrast between slavery in the United States and slavery in Spanish possessions, such as Cuba.

For me the enslavement of another is the inhumanity – the subsequent abuses naturally follow. What are we to make of Jefferson, who wanted his slaves freed after they could no longer warm his bed? A family of slave-owners I study freed their slaves once they decamped back to Europe?Are we supposed to applaud this act of benevolence? Some folks actually do.

Or, how about the really generous slave owners who free their slaves after a certain period, and then offer the liberated slave a present, or some form of payment?

How do we construct any of the previous as acts of virtue? Tis an ugly system that has yet to be fully eradicated. I’d personally much prefer to see modern forms of slavery identified and prosecuted than safely attacking the powerless and the dead, no disrespect to Belle intended.

121

Collin Street 06.02.16 at 11:54 am

> How do we construct any of the previous as acts of virtue?

You’re in a boat. Should you sail north, or south?

122

root_e 06.02.16 at 12:49 pm

If you didn’t want me to comment here, you could have just said so instead of going to the trouble to organize this nauseating collection of comment postings.

123

Stan 06.02.16 at 1:44 pm

“How is noting Africans sold other Africans into slavery not relevant in conversations about the african slave trade ?”

It’s relevant but what does it mean? usually this fact is offered as a way to minimize or excuse what white americans did.

124

Stan 06.02.16 at 1:52 pm

“What are we to make of Jefferson, who wanted his slaves freed after they could no longer warm his bed?”

Huh?

Jefferson freed only those slaves who were his children or Sally Hemmings’ brothers. A grand total of six if I am not mistaken. He never freed Sally Hemmings herself. Jefferson’s daughter Martha de facto freed Sally Hemmings after Thomas Jefferson’s death. Recall that Sally was Martha’s aunt.

There were, IIRC, well over 100 other enslaved people owned by Jefferson who were never freed.

What do you make of that?

125

Dipper 06.02.16 at 6:20 pm

Stan @ 124. Yes. Maybe there should be a specific word or term for the period of African slavery in the americas to distinguish it from the general level of background slavery, like the term Holocaust for the mass murder of jews in the second world war which was only coined during the 1970’s. Something like “The Mass African Enslavement” or similar.

126

Stephen 06.02.16 at 7:24 pm

Kaleberg@96: I realise this is a bit off topic, but when you write “Fritz Haber, the convicted German war criminal” could you please improve my education by letting me know what war crimes he was convicted of, and by which court?

127

Suzanne 06.02.16 at 8:04 pm

@121 & @125: Like his father-in-law (and many of the other Founding Fathers), Jefferson died insolvent. Most of his slaves were sold to help pay off his debts. On the other hand, you have George Washington, who made detailed provision for the immediate or eventual manumission of his slaves in his will and went beyond that to make sure that the means would be there to make their freedom possible – in fact, much of the text of Washington’s will is given over to this. Depriving human beings of their liberty is inherently inhumane, but it is possible to make distinctions within the constraints of that premise (and also to treat people who lived in another time with different assumptions as if they were, well, people living in a different time with different assumptions). To me, that speaks well for Washington and poorly for Jefferson – in this matter, at least.

128

Val 06.02.16 at 8:58 pm

@ 123
I understand what you mean. Some of the comments here have totally gob-smacked me. However it is an enormously difficult subject Belle has raised. One of the key points is the one I think she raised in the first section, kind of incidentally – that in a society where the ruling class habitually and publicly uses extreme and terrifying violence, such as hanging and flogging, as a means of control, life is very different to what we are used to.

129

kidneystones 06.02.16 at 8:58 pm

@ 125 I think you make my point. Thank you!

130

engels 06.02.16 at 10:04 pm

in a society where the ruling class habitually and publicly uses extreme and terrifying violence, such as hanging and flogging, as a means of control, life is very different to what we are used to

It’s perhaps worth noting in this connection that 1 in 9 black men aged 20-34 are in prison in US, that mainstream American culture appears to tolerate or expect the likelihood of prisoners being raped, and that the US prisons have routinely made use of the death penalty and torture.

131

Val 06.02.16 at 10:52 pm

@ 131
I take your point but I meant public hangings and floggings aren’t the norm any more. The particular point I meant was that you’d have to take that into account when thinking about why women might seem to consent to rape.

It is a matter of degree though I agree – there certainly are still cases in our society where Indigenous women supposedly ‘consent’ to rape and you’d have to see that in the context of a long, and ongoing, history of violence and contempt by white society, even if we no longer have public floggings or massacres.

132

Val 06.02.16 at 11:02 pm

I have to say though – going back to the point about gob-smacking comments – that comment about ‘siring’ being a better word than ‘fathering’, that was just a terrible comment. The commenter seemed well-intentioned, but it was just – words fail me. The one about how wrong it was for feminists to comment on rape was bad enough, but to be followed by that one – that’s the point at which I temporarily gave up.
What were people thinking?

133

Belle Waring 06.03.16 at 3:22 am

Plausibly nothing?

134

Dean C. Rowan 06.03.16 at 3:57 am

Val @133: I genuinely assume you are not intending my first comment, which you earlier questioned and which Belle and I independently tried to explain. But just in cae: when I wrote, “what in the fuck does this have to do with feminists?,” I was not for a nanosecond intimating that it is wrong for feminists to comment on rape. As Belle noted, I was expressing my dismay with soullite’s ad hominem posts about “the tendency of feminists” to behave in certain ways in certain kinds of disputes. Those comments gobsmacked me, too. In some ways and in some circumstances I believe only a feminist can reliably comment on rape. (See Christine Littleton’s “Reconstructing Equality” for a preliminary discussion of what being a feminist entails.) The matter of the lexicon of paternity, however, doesn’t seem to me to be so exclusive, although I recognize that we should credit feminism for giving it salience in the first place.

135

Val 06.03.16 at 7:55 am

@ 135
No sorry that wasn’t clear to me. I did read your second comment but it wasn’t clear either – I guess I’d missed the context. Will re-read and try to get it – apologies for misunderstanding.

136

Val 06.03.16 at 7:57 am

Yeah somehow I missed a whole sequence of comments including Belle’s.

137

kidneystones 06.03.16 at 1:34 pm

Mob of male anti-free speech protesters put the ‘little woman’ in her place – http://theamericanmirror.com/video-agitators-pelt-female-trump-supporter-eggs-bottles/

File under: we’ll tell you what to think and say. Had she been a Democrat and the protesters Trump supporters the image would be on every front page around the world.

According to the San Jose mayor she had it coming.

More violence from the Love Trumps Hate crowd here: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/live/2016/jun/02/donald-trump-san-jose-rally-protesters-clash-supporters?page=with:block-5750f770e4b03b568f2bfd29#block-5750f770e4b03b568f2bfd29

138

Suzanne 06.03.16 at 7:19 pm

@114: Prolapsed uteruses were common among female slaves, attributable to being sent back to work too soon after childbearing, among other things.

139

steven johnson 06.03.16 at 8:59 pm

If the children of white men and African mothers were not fathered, that makes them not just bastards, but unnatural creatures, perversions of nature.

140

Ragweed 06.04.16 at 1:02 am

“:On the other hand, you have George Washington, who made detailed provision for the immediate or eventual manumission of his slaves in his will and went beyond that to make sure that the means would be there to make their freedom possible – in fact, much of the text of Washington’s will is given over to this. Depriving human beings of their liberty is inherently inhumane, but it is possible to make distinctions within the constraints of that premise (and also to treat people who lived in another time with different assumptions as if they were, well, people living in a different time with different assumptions). To me, that speaks well for Washington and poorly for Jefferson – in this matter, at least.”

There is a wonderful new display at Independence Mall in Philadelphia where the exposed archeological dig of the foundations of Washington’s home when he was President are visible, including the slave quarters. There is also extensive commentary, including excerpts from the slaves own accounts (some were literate, others recorded by observers). Washington did indeed make provisions for the freedom of his slaves in his will. He also was careful to quickly sell off those he did not consider worthy of freedom. His criteria, iirc, was hard-working, thrifty, obedience, etc. and I believe he was quite harsh on his slaves that tried to escape. So like all slave owners, even such benevolence was closely tied to the power to exert benevolence or cruelty according to ones whims.

The display on Washington’s slaves is quite excellent and is by the entrance to the Liberty Bell pavilion, Across the street from the Constitution Museum and in plain sight of Independence Hall. One has to literally walk past it in order to see the Liberty Bell and on summer days the line snakes right through the display, giving visitors ample time to explore the contradiction.

141

kidneystones 06.04.16 at 1:33 am

@141 This is very interesting on Martha Washington’s slaves – http://www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/martha-washington/martha-washington-slavery/

I agree that we need to recognize the importance of manumission to those most directly affected – namely those enslaved. Any improvement – food, bedding, work conditions, education, religious freedom – in the conditions of the enslaved needs to be documented. But not to recast the actions of the slave owner as acts of virtue.

Slavery was a fact of life. A significant number of people in cities such as Liverpool, Bristol, Rouen, and Nantes benefited directly and indirectly from the traffic in slaves. Many large plantations in the Antilles were owned by corporations and individuals living in Europe. It’s easy and perhaps fun to single out a few important figures, but the practice was widespread and part and parcel of the misery of people living in societies where ordinary people had no rights. It’s also easy to forget the plight of hundreds of thousands treated as slaves by Cromwell, for example, and those who voluntarily surrendered their freedom for a period of indenture to escape Europe. Slaves occupied the lowest rank and suffered the worst abuses. Yet, as Murray (see above) observed – starving and dying of disease in Ireland or England in ‘freedom’ was a long way from ideal, and compared unfavorably in terms of life expectancy, if in no other respect, with the lot of the enslaved in the US. So, yes, elites in Europe treated their own animals better than they did the poor in their own countries.

The record of atrocities committed in India, Asia, and Africa under European administrations during the century of national colonialism – 1850 to 1950 – puts this disparity into even starker relief.

142

Val 06.04.16 at 12:08 pm

Dean C Rowan @ 135
I’ve re-read and tried to make sense of it all and I definitely owe you an apology. Your comments prior to 135 were a bit cryptic (especially as I didn’t see Belle’s and didn’t get the context) but they weren’t gob-smacking, just a bit hard to understand. I was careless in lumping them together with the comment about ‘siring’ as a suitable word.

That suggestion – and also I’d like to add the ones about ‘bastards’ – are really surprising to me, and make me wonder if people have thought at all about the weight of meaning those words carry, and how perverse it is to use them in this historical context.

Slaves and black people generally were stigmatised as more ‘animalistic’ than whites, and ‘bastards’ were children born to mothers who were shamed because the male parent of the child had not chosen to marry them. The child, likewise, carried that stigma.

It does really surprise me that people could, so apparently casually, use words that reference the very animalistic and shaming stigma that slaves and women were oppressed by. OK, I’m a historian by training, and I’ve researched and written about maternity and racism (in Australia) so I suppose I’m more aware of all that background, but I’m still a bit shocked. Maybe I’m not getting what people mean (again) but I don’t think so.

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Dean C. Rowan 06.04.16 at 3:09 pm

Val @143: That’s sweet of you to so patiently review this substantial thread and then apologize for what I take to be a reasonable misunderstanding. Yeah, my comments are sometimes cryptic. On top of that, the topic is highly charged.

I, too, did a double-take when I read the “bastards” comment by steven johnson @140. (I assume that’s the one to which you refer. ZM @13 also uses the term, but less pointedly.) After subsequent readings I think steven is helping to make your point by associating the word “bastards” with “unnatural…perversions.” The words do carry weight, he seems to be saying, and we should avoid invoking them. He’s also supporting my position, which is that the verb “to father” in this context has a particular denotation–to be a male human being responsible for begetting a child–that we should read free of euphemistic connotations. At least that’s how I read the comment.

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Suzanne 06.04.16 at 8:54 pm

@141 & 142: I didn’t mean to suggest that being a slave for George Washington was a picnic (and please note I didn’t say so). Henry Wiencek is very good on the complexities of Washington’s relationship to slavery and his own slaves. At the last, Washington behaved more responsibly than Jefferson with regard to them, and that speaks well for him. IMO only, of course.

George and Martha did have their differences on the subject and Martha’s own slaves were not freed. Washington’s will did have a sort of “Throw Momma from the Train” proviso that his own slaves were not to be freed till after Martha’s death, leading to fears at Mount Vernon of what we would call today a perverse incentive, and as the linked article notes his slaves were freed early.

As for the Liberty Bell – without the wealth created by slavery American independence might not have been possible. So there we are – and the country is still living with the contradiction.

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