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  • #MeToo Mishaps:Black Bodies, Bloody Grounds
  • Amity Nathaniel (bio)

The bodies of Black women are violent maps; geographies of marginalization, diasporic spaces brimming with corrupted sexuality, and repugnant tropes that depict Black women as promiscuous brutes. Black women reside in colonized and whitewashed spaces globally that disallow ownership of their bodies, inducing Black women to then disconnect from their interior and exterior selves. The broken Black female body, which is a result of domination, manipulation and endangerment by whiteness, has also taken a psychological toll on the Black woman's psyche that forces her to believe that she is incapable of self-ownership. Therefore, any attempt at freedom fails because the Black woman has been systematically fine-tuned to hate her body and to normalize the horrors committed against it. Katherine McKittrick1 analyzes and assesses the violence committed against the Black female body, and her theory is framed within and around specific lands and geographies; unraveling the ways in which the body can function as its own violent terrain, her work investigates how the perpetuation of specific fallacies (such as inaccurate notions involving Black female sexuality) keeps the terrain fertilized and cultivated.

Contemplating the legacy of North America slave culture specifically, and the ways in which Black women have been stereotyped and abused, their bodies were posited in ways that were ripe for the picking. Since the Middle Passage, when Blacks were stacked on top of each other in slave ships and implanted on American plantations, the Black woman in particular has been categorized as a "marked woman"2: marked for sexual violence, marked for bodily exploitation, marked by the commodity of her womb, and marked by her animalized breeder status. It is a particular type of marking that is unique to the Black woman; unlike her male counterparts, who were also on the receiving end of unfathomable violence, the Black woman's body had a multiplicity of functionality, including the housing of the phallic presence of her captures, colonizers, and abusers. It was used not only for labor, but for pleasure and, significantly, for the production and birthing of new "tools" of labor. Dorothy E. Roberts affirms the marking of the body by stating, "female slaves served as both producers and reproducers, their masters tried to maximize both capacities as much as possible […] the grueling demands of field work [End Page 52] constrained slave women's experience of pregnancy and child-rearing. Every aspect of slave women's reproductive lives was dictated by the economic interests of their white slave masters."3 In the book Traces of a Stream: Literacy and Social Change Among African American Women, Jacqueline Jones Royster underscores the terms of the marking: "Since the beginning of Africans' lives in the Americas, African American women have been encumbered by racist, sexist, class-bound ideologies."4

Although the potency of slavery on the Black female body initiated a trajectory of pain and sexual violence that follows Black American women in modern day and prevents Black women from ever removing stigmas of promiscuity or accusations of initiating their sexual abuse, Black women have repeatedly made courageous attempts to protect each other. Though the "marking" of the Black female body was inevitably "a theft of the body—a willful and violent […] severing of the captive body from its motive will, its active desire,"5 Black women formed a collective culture that worked to combat the bloodshed. Black female activism parallels the collective culture that stands against the torture, and all of the remedies and creations of collective contraptions have somehow empowered women of color through the centuries of abuse on American soil. In the present-day intersecting paths of pain and power stands activist and Me Too Organization founder Tarana Burke who, in 1997, began her contribution to the activist work of her Black female predecessors. More than one hundred and fifty years after Harriet Ann Jacobs hid in a crawl space for nearly a decade to avoid the sexual abuse from her slave owner before later becoming an author and activist,6 more than one hundred years after Sojourner Truth traveled the country using her speeches to single out the unique oppression committed against Black...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1549-3377
Print ISSN
0743-6831
Pages
pp. 52-67
Launched on MUSE
2019-07-27
Open Access
No
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