“Too Filthy to Be Repeated”: Reading Sexualized Violence Against Enslaved Males In U.S. Slave Societies
Frederick Charles Staidum Jr.
Thesis DT 3.5 2007 S735
xii, 147 leaves : ill. ; 29 cm.
“To Filthy to be Repeated”: Reading Sexualized Violence Against Enslaved Males in U.S. Slave Societies is an exploration in the operation of male on male sexualized violence and resistance in the Atlantic World, specifically the United States. Overall, the work is concerned with the interaction of race, class, gender, and sexuality when an enslaved Black male is sexually violated by a White male slaveholder. The central task of this thesis is to properly re-read the history of slavery in the United States. Furthermore, this research project attempts to recover the silented narratives of sexually assaulted enslaved males, while simultaneously asserting Black queer/ quare re-reading as a fruitful theoretical and methodological tool for the scholarly and disciplinary labor of Africana Studies.
The thesis draws from two distinct, yet dialogical mediums as primary evidence—visual culture and slave narratives. The overall work attempts to place these antebellum sources in conversation through a Black queer / quare re-reading. I insist on a “re-reading” instead of a “reading”, because these visual and written texts were not properly read the first time. Thus, a “re-reading” is required. It is at this point that this thesis seeks to make a critical intervention by exposing the sexual vulnerability of the Black male body and the Black individual and communal resistance against such transgressions.
The first chapter, Slave Societies in Flux gives a brief socio-historical framework of slavery. It contextualizes race, class, and gender of the enslaved male as it relates to power and violence, particularly sexual violence. This chapter will address the “plantation” as a model for society, and acknowledge the importance of crop, region, colonial presence, era / period, urban v. rural, plantation size, enslaved population in determining power dynamics.
Scenes of Inspection opens by acknowledging the Brazilian and Jamaican record of male-male sexual violence, and then moves to the visual record of enslavement, inspection, and sale by way of Trans-Atlantic crossings. The chapter is concerned with the construction and distribution of the Black male body in late 18th and early 19th Century visual culture. The engraving, Marché d’esclaves by Laurent, and the paintings, The Slave Trade by FrançoisAuguste Biard and Slave Market by an unknown American artist are studied with a quare approach. This chapter deconstructs the scene of inspection and the White male pornographic gaze to build upon the structural insights of the first chapter. It demonstrates how the threat of male-male sexual violence operates within the realm of the visual. Like the pervasiveness of the inspection, the omnipotent threat of sexual violence is not only a Brazilian or Jamaican occurrence, rather, a Black Atlantic phenomenon.
Resistance is the central theme of the chapters three and four, Re-reading Narratives. The purpose of these chapters is to explore the relationship between male-male sexual violence and resistance in the United States. I employ Harriet Jacobs’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave and My Bondage and My Freedom in chapter three and four, respectively. Jacobs and the former enslaved male, Luke, make use of Black vernacular traditions to critique and resist U.S. legal discourse and its support of sexual assault. Meanwhile, the prospect of male-male rape forces Douglass to retreat into a masculine safe space, which nurtures a gender progressive resistance.
The thesis closes by contextualizing Black queer/ quare re-reading as a scholarly endeavor within and natural to the Africana Studies project. The conclusion, The Art of Reading covers the overall theoretical implications and contributions of burgeoning Black que(e)rying of African American and American history, art, and literature. Lastly, considerations on the possible future directions of this research project are included.