Academic journal article Interactions

An Analysis of the Power Relations between White and Black Women in the Slave narratives/Kole Anlatilarinda Beyaz Ve Zenci Kadinlar Arasindaki Guc Iliskileri

Academic journal article Interactions

An Analysis of the Power Relations between White and Black Women in the Slave narratives/Kole Anlatilarinda Beyaz Ve Zenci Kadinlar Arasindaki Guc Iliskileri

Article excerpt

As far back as slavery, white people established a social hierarchy based on race and sex that ranked white men first, white women second, though sometimes equal to black men, who are ranked third, and black women last. (hooks 1992, 52-3)

According to Foucault, all human relationships include exertion of power. He sees social relations basically as power struggles between the dominant class and their subordinates: "in human relationships, whether they involve verbal communication [...] or amorous, institutional, or economic relationships, power is always present: I mean a relationship in which one person tries to control the conduct of the other" (1994, 291-92). Foucault argues that there is no existence without power relations; whenever there are more than one person, struggle for power is inevitable: "to live in society is to live in such a way that action upon other actions is possible- and in fact ongoing. A society without power relations can only be an abstraction" (1982, 222-23). Therefore, power exists everywhere, so much so that it "is as present in the most apparently trivial details and relations of everyday life as it is in corporate suites, industrial assembly lines, parliamentary chambers, and military installations" (Burke 226). However, taking human relations solely as struggles for domination would be an overgeneralisation because those struggles include a great many subtle methods that one group employs on another.

One of these methods is racism: "Since there are no genetic grounds for any one human sub-species to claim natural superiority over others, racism is integrated into other historically specific struggles for power and domination" (Ramazano?lu 133). Thus, in the absence of any natural explanation for their discrimination of a people with a different color and religion, white people integrated racism into their society and passed laws to claim superiority over the blacks. In other words, racism was a means of legitimizing slavery: "A compact, volatile, and ultimately isolated society, the slaveholder's estate represented in microcosm a larger drama in which physical force, the hallmark of the region's political economy, sustained power of whites over black, men over women, rich over poor" (Jones 9). At first, slavery was a matter of economic exploitation which started when merchants imported the first slaves from West Africa in the seventeenth century (Degler 29). Black slaves were much more valuable than white bond servants: "in an inventory in Virginia in 1643 a twenty-two-year-old white servant, with eight years to serve, was valued at 1,000 pounds of tobacco, while a "Negro boy" was rated at 3,000 pounds" (Degler 33). Blacks were permanent, hence valuable commodities, whereas the white servants were prospective landowners who would be free once they had served their time. As a result, slavery was established as "a labor system which had become indispensable to the economy" (Degler 38). Since the slaves were an indispensable part of the economy and were treated as commodity, the white slaveholders considered them as part of their estate; white man's law declared them to be property and consequently they were deprived of all human rights (Degler 33-7). However, in time, this labor system turned into a total display of power, since underneath it all lay discrimination, based on differences, especially of color and religion: "discrimination preceeded slavery and by so doing helped to reinforce it" (Degler 30). Treating the black slave in a cruel manner was a sign of authority on the part of the white master.

Foucault does not consider slavery a kind of power relationship since according to him "[p]ower is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free" (1982, 221). Therefore, a retrospective look at the era of slavery to investigate the power relations between the women of the period from a feminist standpoint, requires a transformed use of Foucault's theories as Hartsock and Deveaux suggest. …

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