The Things That Fly in the Night: Female Vampires in Literature of the Circum-Caribbean and African Diaspora

By Giselle Liza Anatol | Go to book overview

6
Shedding Skin and Sucking Blood: Playing
with Notions of Racial Intransigence

To live in the skin of a black woman is to live permanently in a night
without stars[….] A dense night that weighs on us like a burden. That’s
why we want to get rid of it, to distance ourselves from it without looking
back. We want to run away from our black woman’s skin like one shuns
the night and its demons. Thus, we abandon our own people; we kill our
children; and we flee even from our own shadow
.

—MARIE-CÉLIE AGNANT, THE BOOK OF EMMA

Blood. The old people say it is the carrier of ancestral memories, and our
future’s promise
.

—CELU AMBERSTONE, “REFUGEES”

In conventional vampire tales, part of the anxiety over the vampiric bite concerns the contamination of the blood of the victim, whether this corruption occurs inside the victim’s body or outside of it, in the body of the vampire. Even in contemporary scientific discourse—where blood, with its white blood cells and antibodies, is viewed as the human body’s best defense against germs and other invading elements—the narrative of a closed circulatory system rejecting “foreign bodies” promotes these feelings of anxiety. Up to the late 1930s in the United States, the American Red Cross refused to accept blood donations by African Americans. The organization desegregated their blood supply shortly after the war but reportedly permitted chapters in the U.S. South to continue segregating blood through the 1960s.1

As was discussed in Chapter 2, horror shifts from the eighteenth century, when Gothic narratives focused on anxieties about debased aristocracy, to the nineteenth century, when ideologies of race led to a predominance of images of monstrously racialized—and often feminized—bodies: bodies that were seen as sites of depravity, threatening corporeal corruption. Popular culture scholar Judith Halberstam neglects the gender aspect when she notes: “[W]ith the rise of bourgeois culture, aristocratic heritage became less and less of an index of essential

-221-

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