Nick's Reviews > Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South

Ar'n't I a Woman? by Deborah Gray White
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M 50x66
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Apr 15, 2012

really liked it

Visiting a friend born in Mississippi recently, I once again heard that odd myth of the white Southerner, that slavery produced some genuine relationships between master or mistress and slave. My friend insisted that the act of owning another human being by itself destroys any pretense at relationship. Yes, his sister agreed, some terrible things happened, but there were cases of genuine relationship. It is a puzzling thing to me, this latter-day need to justify the unjustifiable, to defend the indefensible, to humanize the inhumane. Among other achievements, Deborah Gray White in this book punctures that argument with ample documentation from both slave narratives and plantation records. Her focus is on female slaves, what roles were forced on them (the mother surrogate Mammie, or the sexual Jezebel--often enough suffering at the hands of the mistress for the sins of the master), and how they tried to manipulate their masters and mistresses to marry, lighten their workload, or manage reproduction. That last item was of keen interest to the masters, even when the children were not their own; they expected slave unions to produce their future labor force in a timely manner. Some slaveowners were of course Simon Legree. However, if, as one of my teachers argued, that some owners must have behaved well because the slaves were property--he likened owning a slave to owning a Cadillac--well, property isn't generally encouraged or even forced to reproduce. Although it is disposed of without much remorse when no longer useful, as White notes. In a chagrined prologue, White acknowledges that Sojourner Truth never uttered the words that make the title, but she comes down on the side of, in the words of Jimmy Stewart, printing the legend not the facts.
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