More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas

More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas

More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas

More Than Chattel: Black Women and Slavery in the Americas

Synopsis

Explores slavery and slave society through the lives of black women. Slave men's experiences differed from those of slave women. The women did not figure prominently in revolts, because they engaged in less confrontational resistance, emphasizing creative struggle to survive dehumanization and abuse.

Excerpt

The idea for this book originated in several conversations between the editors about scholarly works on slavery, slave societies, and women’s history Recent scholarship indicated that there was a lively interest in these fields, but we wondered to what extent scholars actually engaged in intellectual exchange across them, or how work in each may have affected the other. Areas of inquiry may initially develop independently, but later on their connections may become clearer and more integrated work can emerge. Has this occurred in the study of slavery and women’s history? As interesting as this question obviously is, we thought that an initial stage in developing or finding a satisfactory answer would be to ask what work was being done on black women and slavery in the Americas. We were particularly interested in themes and conceptual frames. A call for papers produced an interesting set of clusters of themes, and these have shaped the organization of this volume, which, it is clear, does not have a comprehensive geographical or regional coverage within the Americas.

The contributors to this volume, focusing on the lives, situations, and experiences of slave and free black women, explore diverse dimensions of slavery and the related forces that shaped slave society to show that one of the most decisive of these forces was gender, however it may have been constructed in particular societies or applied in particular situations. To explore slavery and slave society through the prism of the lives of black women is to come to a better understanding of how much scholars have missed or misconstrued when they have used the term slave without due regard to gender, or with reference specifically to slave men. Gendered relations and expectations within the slave societies of the Americas constituted a powerful force that shaped the lives of slaves in such a way that slave women experienced slavery quite differently from slave men, although it is difficult to identify a strong sense of such differentiation in the slave laws. These laws lump the slave population of both sexes together in the interest of social control, presenting a homogenized image that conceals more than it reveals about the realities of slave life. The study of slave women through other kinds of sources, including plantation records and other accounts of their responses to slavery, help to reveal a more richly differentiated picture of slavery.

Black women were exploited as slaves in regard to both their productive and their reproductive capacities. Their resistance to slavery was rooted in a deep sense of the oppressive weight of this double burden which they were forced to carry and to endure. If slave women did not figure prominently in the organization of collective resistance such as revolt, it was not because they lacked the will but because, as mothers of children and nurturers of their families, they engaged in less confrontational or nonviolent forms of resistance that emphasized . . .

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