During this quarter, we have been learning about the struggles that the African Americans have made in order to survive from the ghastly racial slavery, which has lasted for hundreds of years. They were enslaved, tortured, and dehumanized. As a young woman myself, I was very shocked when the professor introduced us with the tortures that black women have been through during racial slavery. Enslaved black females not only suffered from physical exploitations but also were exposed to great chance of sexual violence. They were raped by their white owners, and treated as machines for reproduction. I choose the painting presented above as my artifact because it displays a visual sense of sexual violence of enslaved black women during racial slavery. This painting makes me emotional, and it inspired my second blog.
The painting I’m using, as the artifact, is displaying a scene of the raping a black woman. A naked white man sits on the bed and aggressively holding a naked black woman on his lap. Another naked white man holds a white cloth in place with one hand and points at the black woman with the other hand. The white man in the black business suit is standing besides the bed, and he is the only one who is dressed in the painting. The black woman looks frightened and is trying to struggle. The painting is called Three Young White Men and a Black Women, and it was created by Christiaen van Couwenbergh in 1632(Wikipedia, 2015). Christiaen van Couwenbergh was a Dutch Golden Painter who was born on the 8th of July, 1604, in Delft, and and died in Cologne on the 4th of July 1667 (Wikipedia, 2015). Couwengergh is known for his portraits and historical allegories (Wikipedia, 2015). According to Web Gallery of Art, Couwenbergh illustrated an episode from an unidentified story in this painting (Web Gallery of Art, 2015). It is unclear that what has inspired the creation of this painting, but I would hypothesize that Couwenbergh was trying to humiliate enslaved African females who were subject to this type of sexual violence. Since Dutch was also a major player in the racial slavery during that time, Couwenbergh must have received some impact from the brutal racial slavery. This painting visually presents and illustrates that Black female slaves were forced to have sex with white men. I was drawn to this image because it well reflected the sexual violence that enslaved Black female slave faced during the time of racial slavery. Visual images are more compelling than literal works, and they usually make it much easier for viewers to imagine and understand the actual situation. It is much harder to be ignored when the situation is visually presented. When I saw this image, the difficulties that Black female slaves were facing during the time of slavery, which what we have talked about in the lectures, has come into my mind.
The image I selected as artifact for my second blog reflects the harsh situation enslaved females experienced during the time of racial slavery. Racial slavery emerged during the 17th century, and gradually became the major institutional system in the U.S. Racial slavery was a total institution, which was mainly driven by racism and profit. Slaves were treated as properties rather than humans, and profits were always placed on the top of human rights. Families were broken out and enslaved Africans were auctioned and sold as individuals. Slave marriages were being limited and controlled by White owners. Husbands were most likely to be separated from their wives and children. The emotional needs and kinship ties of enslaved Africans were completely not recognized as those experienced by their white owners (Dr. Lashawnda Pittman, AFRAM 101, 2015). African Americans were even portrayed as “savages” (Dr. Lashawnda Pittman, AFRAM 101, Dec. 8, 2015). Enslaved Africans, both men and women, were forced to do huge amount of plantation work under brutal circumstances, and treated with insufficient support of aliments, clothes, and shelters. They were only allowed to travel with permissions, and they were banned from worshiping in the churches. Slaves were oppressed from every aspect of their lives. They were always worked to death, and they were deprived from their basic rights.
In class, we have talked about different forms of sexual exploitation that Black women have suffered from. This artifact is related to the class because it visualizes sexual violence, and better illustrates the ideas we learn from the readings and the lectures. It gives me a visual impression and deepens my understanding of what we have learned from the literal materials from class. Female slaves were usually restrained to stay in the fields and take the responsibility of subsistence productions, while male slaves usually gained more opportunities to be hired out to jobs that require more skills, and this kept enslaved African American women closer to their owners and made them exposed to more chances of being sexual exploited. “Enslaved women were forced to have sex with their owners, but white men often claimed they were doing Black women a favor by saving them from having sex with Black men who were considered to be animalistic and brutal” (Taylor Gordon, 2014). “Sexual exploitations of women of African descent occurred throughout slavery” (Trent, 2010). Black women were workers but their sexuality and reproductive capacity presented opportunities for forms of sexual exploitation and sexual slavery (Dr. Pittman, Oct. 2, 2015). During the time of racial slavery, white men had no fear of punishment to the rape of female slaves.
However, being raped was not the only thing other than intensive amount of work and physical abuse that African American female slaves suffered from. They were also forced to carry out the pregnancy after being raped, even though their white owners usually refuse to take responsibility of the babies (Taylor Gordon, 2014). Fifteen percent of the enslaved African females were sexually exploited with majority male force or physical violence, and 1 in 10 households were headed by women, whose children were outcomes of sexual exploitation by white men (Dr. Pittman, Oct. 14, 2015). The biracial children always followed the identity of the mother, and were treated as slaves as well. Enslaved African women were forced to breastfeed and take care of white children, even when they were only allowed to nurse their own children with the permission from their owners. Slave owners determined when, where, and how enslaved African mothers could take care of their children.
Moreover, black women were not only subject to sexual violence by their white owners, but were also forced to have sex with black men to promote reproduction. In class, we have also discussed that white slave owners usually paired female slaves up with strong and healthy male slaves in order to breed healthy slave babies. On the average, each enslaved African American woman would give births to 10.4 children (Dr. Lashawnda Pittman, AFRAM 1O1, Oct. 21, 2015), but only few of them survived. Enslaved African women were also “pressured to marry in teens” (Dr. Lashawnda Pittman, AFRAM 1O1, Oct. 21, 2015) in order to promote fertility and pregnancy. In this case, white oppressors dehumanized enslaved African women, and manipulated them as production machines in order to fulfill and maximize their needs for profit.
This culture artifact is significant to the time period because it documents the sufferings that enslaved African women have experienced, and displays a visual impression of the brutal situations. This racialized sexual violence was a strategy tool for the white oppressions. It reflects a significant way of how white men dehumanized and dominated over enslaved Africans during that time period. It is a depiction of sexual violence used to dehumanize, torture, and control over enslaved Black females. This painting truly speaks the sufferings of sexual violence to enslaved African women during racial slavery in a voiceless way.
While I was writing on my blog, something else has came up to my mind that similar situations are happening even in today; girls and young women are sometimes abducted and being sold into small mountain villages as “brides” in some parts of China. They are forced to have sex with the men in the village in order to get pregnant, since the people in poor villages always believe in that children are the hope to make the family rich in the future. Both of these girls and the enslaved black females have suffered from sexual violence, and were forced to carry out pregnancies. Sexual exploitation is an important piece of the sufferings African American females have been through during slavery. Suffering from sexual violence can always result in both physical and psychological traumas in enslaved African females. Enslaved African females were treated inappropriately because of their gender and physical characteristics during racial slavery. Their work were not valued nor recognized. All these sufferings that enslaved Black women have experienced are worth to be recognized and remembered.
Gordon, T. (2014, November 5). 10 Horrifying Facts About The Sexual Exploitation of Enslaved Black Women You May Not Know . In Atlanta Black Star . Retrieved from http://atlantablackstar.com/2014/11/05/10-horrifying-facts-about-the-sexual-exploitation-of-enslaved-black-women-you-may-not-know/
Sexual Exploitation on Plantations by Lindsey Dirkse (2010, May 26). In Slavery & Place. Retrieved December 11, 2015, from http://slaveryandplace.web.unc.edu/2010/05/26/lindsey-dirkse-midterm/
Pittman, L. (2015). Black Sexual Politics Lecture [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from https://canvas.uw.edu/courses/986700/files/folder/Course%2520Lectures?preview=33866362
Christiaen van Couwenbergh. (2015, June 21). In Wikipedia. Retrieved December 11, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christiaen_van_Couwenbergh
Krén, E., & Marx, D. (n.d.). Couwenberghm Christiaen van. In Web Gallery of Art. Retrieved from http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/c/couwenbe/3young_m.html
Treatment of slaves in the United States. (n.d.). In Wikipedia . Retrieved December 11, 2015, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treatment_of_slaves_in_the_United_States