Harriet Jacobs The Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl

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Slave women’s subjugation under the institutions of slavery and patriarchy uniquely positions them to experience sexual exploitation from their masters and encounter difficulties in fulfilling their role as mothers. Dorothy Roberts alludes to Harriet Jacobs’ The Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl (2001) in her Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty (1998) to point out how slave women – simultaneously slave chattel and patriarchal property – experienced especially terrible oppressions. Although Jacobs’ intersectional consciousness precedes Kimberlé Crenshaw, Roberts alludes to Jacobs, suggesting the role of intersectionality in the lives of slave women, particularly the aspects of their lives concerning reproductive…show more content…
This dual interest explains how slavery was particularly terrible for slave women than for slave men. While slave women’s lives were “dictated by their masters’ economic stake in labor,” they were kept as breeders, supplying more labor to the domestic slave trade and sustaining the system that oppressed them (Roberts, 1998: 22-24). Furthermore, slave masters’ dual interest interfered with slave women’s ability to experience motherhood the same way free women experienced motherhood. Slave women’s children weren’t their own. Slave parents had no legal claim to their children. Linda’s grandmother had to buy the freedom of her children from their masters, and could raise Benny and Ellen only because Mr. Sands bought them from Dr. Flint. In a similar fashion, slaves’ surnames were typically their master’s surnames, not their parents’ surnames. (Although it is true that many slave masters fathered slave children.) Unlike free women, slave women had no authority over their children. Many parents and children were physically separated after the slave masters sold the children. Even in instances where mothers and children were kept together, slave masters had complete control of the children. As soon as they were of old enough, they were put to work and vulnerable to the same harsh conditions that their mothers faced. Slave women, more than free women, experienced the woes of losing children. Infant mortality was exceedingly high in slave populations because of the harsh conditions that the mother experienced during pregnancy (Roberts, 1998: 14). The slave women’s personal well-being often conflicted with their role as mothers. Additionally, a slave woman’s children were usually weaknesses that the slave owners would exploit. “[C]hildren tied mothers to their masters,” prevented them from running away, lured escaped women back to the slave owners, or pushed women into greater submission
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