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Women's Experience Under Slavery: Crash Course Black American History #11

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    Hi, I’m Clint Smith, this is Crash Course
    Black American History, and today we’re
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    talking about Black Women’s experiences
    under the early days of American slavery.
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    Enslavement, as has been made obvious by now,
    was inherently cruel to anyone subjected to
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    it. But it is important for us to note, the
    unique ways that men and women experienced
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    the institution differently because of their
    sex.
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    Women’s experiences under slavery gave them
    specific vantage points from which to observe
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    what was happening around them and also left
    them particularly vulnerable to some of the
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    most horrific parts of the intitution. So
    we want to spend a little bit of time talking
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    about experiences unique to enslaved women
    directly.
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    INTRO
    I want to note that there will be mentions
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    of sexual violence in this episode.
    Upon arrival at American ports, African captives
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    were taken to various trading hubs to be auctioned
    off to the highest bidder for plantation labor.
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    Historian Daina Ramey Berry writes in her
    book, The Price for Their Pound of Flesh,
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    that an enslaved person could be worth anywhere
    from $4 - $94,000 (when adjusted to 2014 numbers).
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    Plantation owners searched for enslaved laborers
    to cultivate cash crops, the most lucrative
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    of them being cotton, sugar, indigo, tobacco,
    and rice.
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    So, when these enslavers came to markets searching
    for new laborers, they considered several
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    factors before making a bid.
    Enslavers considered the health and strength
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    of potential laborers. They considered age,
    height, skin color, and the specific skills
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    an enslaved worker might have had.
    But there was another element that shaped
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    the hierarchy of value to prospective enslavers:
    And that’s gender. Gender placed a figurative
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    price-ceiling on enslaved women’s value,
    even though as we’ll see, they were often
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    expected to do the exact same labor as enslaved
    men. The deeply entrenched patriarchy in European
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    cultures extended across racial lines, and
    played a significant role in shaping African
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    captives' monetary worth.
    Even though enslaved women were not sold at
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    the same high price range as enslaved men,
    their value to those who purchased them, was
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    absolutely clear.
    In many regions of the colonies, enslaved
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    women’s ability to reproduce was hugely
    important. Buying a laborer who could bear
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    children meant that once those children got
    older, the enslavers could either exploit
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    that child’s labor or sell them at a profit.
    And as we’ve discussed one of the most consequential
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    laws that developed around slavery in the
    colonial era was Virginia's use of partus
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    sequitur ventrem, codified by the Virginia
    Assembly in 1662, which established the legal
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    precedent that defined slavery by the mother's
    status.
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    Therefore, regardless of the father's race,
    an enslaved black woman's child would automatically
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    be classified as the property of her enslaver.
    Meaning the children had from an enslaved
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    woman and the white man who may have enslaved
    her, would be born into slavery, and owned
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    by their father.
    In their jobs on plantations, enslaved women
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    sometimes did domestic labor, which consisted
    primarily of cooking, cleaning, waiting on
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    the lady of the house, and caring for the
    children of the estate.
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    New and nursing black mothers would often
    be forced to prioritize the care of the white
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    children of the estate, even at the expense
    of their own children. It was not uncommon
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    for enslaved women to breastfeed white infants
    as it was a task white women on the plantations
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    sometimes preferred not to do.
    But while there were many Black women who
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    engaged in domestic labor, in most cases,
    enslavers directed women to work outside the
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    home, working the land alongside the men and
    even their children.
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    While women’s field labor was comparable
    to men’s, they weren’t allowed to take
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    on some artisanal positions, like carpentry.
    Chattel slavery fundamentally disrupted traditional
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    gender norms within the colonies and in the
    emerging United States. Black women were seen
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    in fundamentally different ways than white
    women, and many of the typical notions around
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    gender roles simply did not apply to them.
    Sojourner Truth became one of the earliest
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    and foremost speakers to address black women's
    unique experiences in a racist and sexist
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    society. Spending a bit of time with her can
    be illuminating because she directly experienced,
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    and spoke about, life as a Black woman in
    bondage.
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    Let’s go to the thought bubble.
    Truth was born Isabella Baumfree aka “Bell”
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    in 1797 in upstate New York.
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    She was purchased and sold four times and
    was made to do brutal physical labor.
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    Truth, as we’ve mentioned of other enslaved
    women before, also attested to having to nurse
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    white babies in place of her own, as a part
    of her expected chores.
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    She also had to tend to poultry, prepare the
    ground for the cultivation of corn, pumpkins,
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    or buckwheat, and even cut the grass
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    -- which, at that time, was not as simple
    as just sitting on a tractor or pushing a
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    lawnmower. It involved a scythe and a lot
    of upper body strength.
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    In fact, when enslaver John Dumont offered
    to free her, she attempted to increase her
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    work product as a show of good will.
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    In the process, she lost her index finger
    during a work accident. Which, in a situation
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    filled with cruel irony, led Dumont not to
    keep his promise, claiming that she had become
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    less productive because of the accident.
    After realizing that Dumont would not free
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    her, Truth decided she was going to free herself.
    So, she was just going to walk away. Literally.
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    She gathered her still nursing child, said
    her goodbyes to the rest of her family and
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    left before dawn eventually fleeing to a local
    abolitionist family,
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    the Van Wagenens, who paid Dumont twenty dollars
    to buy Truth’s labor for the remainder of
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    the year.
    She remained with the family until she was
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    freed when the New York State Emancipation
    act went into effect.
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    She’d later successfully sue for the return
    of her six-year-old-son Peter, who was illegally
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    sold into slavery in Alabama.
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    Thanks thought bubble.
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    You may have heard of Sojourner Truth because
    of her famous “Ain’t I A Woman” speech.
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    ...the one where she said “I have borne
    thirteen children, and seen most all sold
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    off to slavery, and when I cried out with
    my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me!
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    And ain't I a woman?”
    Well, it turns out, she might not have ever
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    said exactly that! She gave a speech in 1851.
    That’s definite. But as historian Nell Painter
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    explains in her book, Sojourner: A Life, A
    Symbol, while this is the version that is
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    most widely circulated, it is not one grounded
    in…well, Truth.
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    The famous--but inaccurate--version was written
    and published 12 years later in 1863, by a
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    white abolitionist named Frances Dana Barker
    Gage. Not only did Gage change or simply make
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    up some of Sojourner’s words, but she also
    put it in a stereotypical 'southern black
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    slave accent', rather than in Truth’s actual
    upper New York State, low-Dutch accent which
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    sounded very different.
    And what’s more, the line Gage originally
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    published was “ar’n’t I a woman” but
    became widely recast as the “ain’t I a
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    woman” speech in the early 20th century.
    It’s a reminder of how, throughout slavery,
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    the testimonies of Black people were often
    filtered through others, who may or may not
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    have made their own changes along the way.
    One of the most horrifying parts of Black
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    women’s experience in slavery, was the pervasive
    sexual violence and harassment they were subjected
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    to.
    Harriet Jacobs provided a detailed account
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    of the sexual violence that shaped the everyday
    lives of black women in her 1861 autobiography
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    Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl, which
    she published under the pseudonym Linda Brent
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    in order to protect herself.
    She writes, “My master met me at every turn,
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    reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing
    by heaven and earth that he would compel me
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    to submit to him. If I went out for a breath
    of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil,
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    his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my
    mother’s grave, his dark shadow fell on
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    me even there. The light heart which nature
    had given me became heavy with sad forebodings.”
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    The sexual violence that Black women experienced
    took on many different forms. There was even
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    a practice called the Fancy Trade designed
    specifically for the sale of mixed race women
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    for sexual concubinage and prostitution.[1]
    In 1937, a formerly enslaved man W. L. Bost
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    explained some of these dynamics to an interviewer
    for the Federal Writers’ Project, a New
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    Deal era initiative which recorded the oral
    testimonies of over 2300 formerly enslaved
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    people in the late 1930s.
    When published, these conversations were often
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    written with a heavy dialect attributed to
    the Black interviewees. Bost said: “Plenty
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    of the colored women have children by the
    white men. She know better than to not do
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    what he say...they take them very same children
    what have they own blood and make slaves out
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    of them.”
    While the use of sexual agency is discussed
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    by many historians and writers as a viable
    form of resistance, it is important that we
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    not misconstrue it for consent. Writer and
    scholar Saidiya Hartman urges us to redefine
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    rape and sexual assault within the context
    of slavery. Women who were legally defined
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    as property were never in a position to provide
    consent when, in so many ways, their bodies
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    and their choices did not belong to them in
    the first place.
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    Relationships with an enslaver--to the extent
    that any such association can be called a
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    relationship given the power dynamics in place--
    could provide some women certain types of
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    protection and some small privileges that
    other enslaved people did not receive.
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    That could take many forms. It could mean
    not having to work in the field. It could
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    mean having slightly better food for one’s
    family. It could also mean keeping one's children
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    safe from harm or from being sold away. Black
    women were presented with a series of impossible
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    choices, and each decided for themselves how
    to navigate it.
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    Slavery was an oppressive institution and
    enslaved life and labor were difficult regardless
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    of someone’s sex. But it did not affect
    black men and women in the same ways, and
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    it’s important that we be precise about
    that.
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    Their experiences reveal that as critical
    as Black women’s labor, and their reproduction,
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    were to the early American economies, they
    were not valued as such--not on the auction
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    block and certainly not in respect to their
    womanhood.
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    Black women’s particular experiences during
    the era of slavery give us insight into the
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    early iterations of racialized and gendered
    oppression that would continue and evolve
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    in new and insidious ways for centuries to
    come. Thanks for watching, I’ll see you
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    next time.
    Crash Course is made with the help of all
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    these nice people and our animation team is
    Thought Cafe.
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    making Crash Course possible with their continued
    support.
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    ________________
    [1] Findley, Morgan, An Intimate Economy Enslaved
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    Women, Work, and America's Domestic Slave
    Trade. (North Carolina: University of North
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    Carolina Press, 2020)
Pavadinimas:
Women's Experience Under Slavery: Crash Course Black American History #11
Apibudinimas:

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Video Language:
English
Team:
Crash Course
Duration:
12:23

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