Harriet A. Jacobs Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl is an autobiography written under the name of Linda Brent. This autobiography is a detailed account of her life or lack thereof. I use the term lack thereof because Harriet Jacobs was raised by her grandmother due to her mother dying at a young age. Harriet was taught to read and write as a young slave girl by her mistress. Harriet’s grandmother was a well-respected older slave woman who gained her freedom in the last will and testament of her mistress. Jacobs is determined not to be raped or surrender all her rights to anyone. Jacobs didn’t know she was a slave until she was almost a teenager. Her mother had passed away and the sad reality of her life as a slave sunk in. Harriet was raised to possess great moral character and virtue. During this time in history black women were “slaves of a slave” (Beal p.13).Frances Beal made that observation due to black women being subservient and degraded by their slave owners and their black men.
Not all slave owners allowed their slaves to marry. With that in mind black women often were used and misused by their own race and their masters. Jacobs displays great determination to remain true to chastity despite constant stalking and demeaning remarks by Dr. Flint. In 1842 Harriet Jacobs escapes to freedom, this was at a great price she gave herself willing to the unmarried lawyer next door and bore him two children. Jacobs hid in a 3foot crawl space at her grandmother’s home for seven years. There was no light or room for her to stand up in that small space. Mice and insects crawled on her body and she hid there to avoid Dr. Flint. Jacobs’s story is a testament to what determination and a strong will can produce. Jacobs’s construction of black female empowerment was openly displayed throughout her story.
She did not allow intimidation to prohibit her from believing in the hope that she was more than a slave. Harriet displayed this attitude in all that she did she stayed one step ahead of Dr. Flint. To talk of the brutality that was perpetrated by slave owners on slave girls and women was taboo. Not only was it taboo but it was also unheard of. Harriet Jacobs was given a strong will and mind by God. She added to what God gave her by taking the advice of her grandmother. During this time in history black women were raped, molested, tortured, degraded and exploited economically.
Black women worked on plantations picking cotton, cooking and cleaning their homes and nursing the mistress babies while most times their children were neglected. There was no possible way you had a right because you were property and property can’t own property (Jacobs). Dr. Flint told Harriet she was made for his use, made to obey his command in everything; that she was nothing but a slave, whose will must and should surrender to his (Jacobs). Harriet would not accept those words. Harriet would not accept that sentence he pronounced on her life. Jacobs knew she had a brain and could think for herself and despite what society had dictated to her race and to black women she would help to free other black women.
The United States grew on the backs of slaves male and female. Yes our men suffered great injustices. However, our black women suffered also. There is yet a debate for some as to who suffered the most during slavery. I will say this as a people we have suffered tremendously. There are no words that can replace the separation of families. The loss of parents and children who would die trying to purchase a child that God had allowed them to birth. If you birth a child isn’t that child yours? According to slave rules and regulations slaves were nothing and if a slave girl gave birth to a child that was the master’s she could not tell a soul. Not even the black man who she tried to make believe that he fathered the child. If the slave told that the child was the master’s she could be killed, sold or imprisoned (Jacobs).
Certain black men are maintaining that they have been castrated by society but that black women somehow escaped this persecution and even contributed to this emasculation. The black woman had no protector and was used and in some cases, as the scapegoat for the evils this horrendous system has perpetrated on black men (Rubenstein). This statement rings true now as we look at the single parent homes of today. Today black women are yet subverting societal convention. We are yet rising above our current economic and socioeconomic status. In spite of great disadvantages and struggles black women are innovators.
The black woman’s physical image has been distorted for societies view. We were called ‘mammies” From slavery through the Jim Crow era, the mammy image served the political, social, and economic interests of mainstream white America. During slavery, the mammy caricature was posted as proof that blacks — in this case, black women — were contented, even happy, as slaves. Her wide grin, hearty laugher, and loyal servitude were offered as evidence of the supposed humanity of the institution of slavery (Ferris). The mammy caricature was deliberately constructed to suggest ugliness. Mammy was portrayed as dark-skinned; often pitch black, in a society that regarded black skin as ugly, tainted. She was obese, sometimes morbidly overweight.
Moreover, she was often portrayed as old, or at least middle-aged. The attempt was to desexualize mammy. The implicit assumption was this: No reasonable white man would choose a fat, elderly black woman instead of the idealized white woman. The black mammy was portrayed as lacking all sexual and sensual qualities (Ferris). This was a well calculated plan executed by the white slave owners. This was done to provide a false sense of security to the white woman. Mammy was some bogus reassurance that their ideal life style was not in danger of being destroyed. Harriet was able to expose this injustice through her writings. Jacobs’s writings were shared with whites and blacks. Exposing the dark pit of slavery and his secrets is what Harriet Jacobs and several other noteworthy African American literary abolitionists did.
Their writing was productive and powerful. Their writings provided hope to other black people who dared to even dream of freedom. African American women suffered hardships of oppression and yet while being oppressed and depressed black women were inspired to write. They were compelled to share their story with others. Although, the recollection of the events that shaped their lives was not pleasant memories; they knew they could not remain silent. They knew that they had to tell the story in hopes and saving their race. My people perish for a lack of knowledge (Hosea 4).Knowledge of what was exactly going on in the deep dark south would hopefully and eventually save lives.
Spreading the truth about slavery would expedite freedom for the black race. During slavery it was also believed that black slave girls were promiscuous this undoubtedly was another untruth placed upon the black race. However, this untruth was widely used as an excuse to sexually exploit the black female. This is what was used as the carte blanche to allow more evils upon the black slave girl. Black women continued to be oppressed for many years because society would not see black women as citizens.
The de-eroticism of mammy meant that the white wife — and by extension, the white family was safe.
The sexual exploitation of black women by white
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