Disfigured Images: The Historical Assault on Afro-American Women

Disfigured Images: The Historical Assault on Afro-American Women

Disfigured Images: The Historical Assault on Afro-American Women

Disfigured Images: The Historical Assault on Afro-American Women


"Much of the material unearthed by this book is ugly," writes Morton whose book exposes a multitude of dehumanizing constructions of reality embedded in American scholarly studies of the history of the Afro-American woman. Disfigured Images explores the "literature of fact" concerning black women during a century of American historiography extending from the late 19th century to the present and finds a body of work that "presented little fact and much fiction." The volume is a long-needed refutation of a caricatured, mythical version of Black women's history.


What readers will find in this book is not a history of Afro-American women, but rather an exploration of how their historical story has been told--and frequently mistold--from the late nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. Thus, this is an exploration of how black women's history has figured in a century of American historiography.

My study acknowledges that fictional and popular media have played a major role in shaping the culture's image of black women's history. However, the primary focus of this book is on the literature of fact that, in America, has been titled as scholarly and thus identified with the discovery and communication of truth. My findings suggest that from the late nineteenth century and well into contemporary times, this literature has said much about black women's history, and yet has presented little fact and much fiction.

A great deal that was said was comprised of caricatures--of little substance but of substantial import. Indeed, what was said over time in a vast body of historical and social-science literature has shaped, updated, and endorsed a distinctive and profoundly disempowering, composite image of black womanhood. This image is best described as mythical in the sense that it was constituted of images that became deeply interwoven into the shape of a story. And this constituted a story of damaged and damaging womanhood that began with slavery and seemed to have no end. Through images the black American woman has emerged in this historiography as a natural and permanent slave woman.

This study hopes to illuminate the role of American scholarship in the shaping and making of this story out of racial and sexual mythology. My findings argue that this body of literature is a telling mirror of the deep and persistent divisions and injustice in American society.

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