Sarah-Baartman

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This history lesson via video has been making its way around the Internet quite a bit over the past week or so. The case is a sad one for sure. A woman was taken from her homeland. After being taken from her homeland she was transported to a distant and unfamiliar land. In this distant and unfamiliar land, she was made a public and medical spectacle due to innate physical traits including her skin color. The novelty of her physical traits to a European public was used as justification for slavery and a bevy of other racist practices due to the perceived inferiority and non-humanity of those of her race.

All this is true, angering, and inexcusable. However, comparing the story of “Sarah Baartman” to video vixens of today is inaccurate and ignores major differences between the predicaments of “Sarah Baartman” and those of ladies who are in music videos today.

Firstly, there is the issue of consent. Whereas “Sarah” was taken from her homeland through, at best, coercion and, at worst, outright kidnapping video vixens have given their consent to participate in music videos. They are not the slaves of an invading Dutch colonial class. For a variety of reasons young ladies today choose to dance, model, or act in music videos.

Secondly, there is the issue of professional treatment. “Sarah” was literally treated like an animal. Displayed in cages at human zoos, poked and prodded by medical personnel and operated on even after her death. She was not regarded as a professional employee. Video vixens are treated highly differently in that they are not only often displayed in luxurious surroundings (nightclub VIP sections, poolside, on beaches, in luxury cars, etc.), they are given trailers to relax in while on video shoots, and employed for a finite time–not indefinitely.

Thirdly, there is the issue of compensation. “Sarah Baartman” was not compensated for the job she performed. As a slave, this was not even in the question and if anyone was compensated for her troubles it was either her owner or the doctor who first noticed her in southern Africa and devised the idea to bring her to Europe for continued exploitation. On the low end, up and coming models make a few hundred dollars a day though established video vixens can command up to $5000 for a video shoot. Supermodels or A-list actresses who decided to get in front of the lens of a music video can make even more–upwards of $15,000 a day. 

Finally, there is the issue of leverage. “Sarah” did not transition into any career after her time in Europe. She died there from European diseases around the age of 26. She did not support her family with her work nor use it as a springboard to follow her actual life pursuits. Video vixens such as Karrine Steffans have become best-selling authors. Melyssa Ford has transitioned into an acting career in television and film. Jennifer Lopez, rarely thought of as a video vixen, is now arguably the most influential Latina in the world and amongst the wealthiest. Each have transitioned into better-paying and more highly regarded field despite their career launchpads in rap and R&B videos.

To be clear, I find it sad and disappointing that so many young ladies who aspire to enter the entertainment business do so through these means. I’m not a female but I imagine that it is a demeaning profession and that the compensation they derive is paltry in comparison to the short and long-term damage to themselves and other women as a group. Aforementioned video vixens Karrine Steffans and Melyssa Ford are now strong critics of the profession. However, let us recognize the difference between those situations and the situation that “Sarah” found herself in for the her far too short life.

* Quotation marks added due to her original, Khoisian name being unknown.

Europe is Just As Racist with a History of Dehumanizing, and Brutalizing Africans/Black People

Sarah Baartman, remains were returned and laid to rest in her homeland 187 yrs later. She was put on display to further Europeans racist “scientific” ideology that Africans/blacks were inferior to them, and oversexed. Her naked body was displayed in “freak shows”, and “exhibits” for the European gaze. She died at the age of 25.
Georges Cuvier, a French so called scientist, made a plaster cast of her body, then removed her skeleton and, after removing her brain and genitals, pickled them and displayed them in bottles at the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
Some 160 years later they were still on display, but were finally removed from public view in 1974. In 1994, then president Nelson Mandela requested that her remains be brought home. It took the French government eight years to pass a bill – apparently worded so as to prevent other countries from claiming the return of their stolen treasures – to allow their small piece of “scientific curiosity” to be returned to South Africa.

The way she was treated sickens me. The fact that France returned her body only recently is revolting.
You displayed pieces of her body until 1974. And kept it, for what? That fact that the French called pieces of her body their treasures? And we’re afraid that the British or other nations may lay claim to this “treasure”. Her story is heartbreaking. I can’t believe they had her remains for 187 yrs. I don’t want to ever hear again from Europeans about their own fucked up racist fascist white supremacist history not existing. That is bullshit. What happened to Sarah Baartman is horrifying.

the naked black woman

Everywhere I look your there, standing, sitting all the same

In history books, the internet, on television

I wish you knew what you became

They all see you as strange

While I glance at a picture in shame

You look like me each curve, each swift, each frame

I wish you knew what you became

I wonder what you might’ve thought of all the ones after you and before you

Your skin exposed by each flash, while your picture circulated more then your name

I kept seeing those like you as I grew up in magazines, books, and TV we might as well have been a game

I wish you knew what you became

I started comparing myself to you because I mean, aren’t we all the same?

We’re naked here, we’re naked there and who’s to blame?

Not me, not you but that camera

Am I naked? Is that all the camera exposes?

The naked black woman - its me, its you - we’re one in the same.

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According to popular history, Baartman was born in 1789 in the Gamtoos Valley of South Africa. When she was barely in her 20s, she was sold to London by an enterprising Scottish doctor named Alexander Dunlop, accompanied by a showman named Hendrik Cesars. She spent four years in Britain being exhibited. Her treatment caught the attention of British abolitionists, who tried to rescue her, but she claimed that she had come to London on her own accord.
Baartman lived on in poverty, and died in Paris of illness in December 1815. After her death, Cuvier dissected her body, then displayed her remains. For more than a century and a half, visitors to the “Museum of Man” in Paris could view her brain and skeleton until she was peacefully laid to rest.

Basically the era where being thicker than a midget was a crime just because Africans happen to be thick. Sarah (Saartije) Baartman was a Khoisan (South African) woman who performed under the name “Hottentot Venus” in 19th century England and France. She is the original video vixen: discovered at home in South Africa during her late teens, she was offered money and fame in Europe as a singer and dancer. Little did she know that she would be exploited and put on display for everyone to gaze at her large butt, long clitoris/labia, small waist, big breast and kinky hair– all traits that are very common amongst Khoisan women. As her shows attracted more fans, she was forced against her will to have sex with men AND WOMEN who gave enough money to her exploiters. Sarah got none of the money, as she was once promised. After her act got old, she was forced into prostitution, where she died of std’s and alcoholism. The obsession with Saartije lasted after her death as well. For more than 100 years, visitors and “scientist” were able to examine her dissected body parts in Paris museums. The 19th century shapewear, the “bustle” was inspired by her in order to give european women her unique physique. Yes, an old school booty pop. On behalf of Nelson Mandela’s request, Paris returned Saartije’s remains to South Africa in 2002. Black men, it’s time that you start respecting the black woman’s body, because this act of objectifying it was taught to you. #sarahbaartman

Mama Baartman sees Janet at the Superbowl

…and I write Justin Timberlake a letter on her behalf

Dear Justin,

I know you didn’t mean to

but when Janet faced us

breast out

flashing lights,

Saartjie shook against the walls of her coffin

reached up to cover her own breasts with her hands.

I know you didn’t mean to, Justin

but Mama Baartman still

has nightmares about stages.

She knows you can feel naked

with your clothes still on.

She’s tired. She wants to sleep,

but when she saw the Superbowl

she had flashbacks of Paris.

You are giving her nightmares.

She was buried 187 years after she died. 

Her bones have been spread across the globe.

She just wants to sleep.

We have to let her sleep.

- Jacqui G.

"History is time that won't quit." --SLP

A “reverse” timeline that was included in our program written by production dramaturg, Jules Odendahl-James. 

31. March 2012: South Africa’s Department of Arts & Culture pledges R168-million ($22 million US) to fund the building of the Saartjie Baartman Centre of Remembrance.

30. Sept. 2010: Venus Noire, a film by Tunisian born French filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche, premieres. His body of work explores the immigrant experience in France.

29. Fall 2002: Baartman’s grave is vandalized. Officials erect a metal fence around the site.

28. Aug. 22, 2002: The former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, declares Baartman’s grave a national heritage site.

27. Aug. 9, 2002: After a Khosian cleansing ritual, Baartman’s remains are buried in the area of her birth, the Gamtoos River Valley, in Cape Town South Africa.

26. Jan. 2002:  The preserved body parts, skeleton, and full plaster body cast of Baartman is returned to South Africa from the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Man) in Paris, France.

25. 1996: Suzan-Lori Parks’ play VENUS premieres at Yale Repertory Theatre, directed by Richard Foreman. Parks wins a 1996 Obie Award for playwriting. 

24. 1994: Newly elected South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela makes a formal request to the government of France to return Baartman’s remains.

23. 1994: According to one source, Baartman’s body parts are included as part of an exhibition critical of the nineteenth century European artists’ depictions of aboriginal and African peoples.

22. 1985: In The Flamingo’s Smile, renowned paleontologist and evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould writes about Baartman’s skeleton and dissected genitalia residing in jars amongst the preserved brains and skulls of white European male subjects in the archives of Paris’s Museum of Man. He describes the scene as a “chilling and immediate insight into the scientific racism of the nineteenth century.”

21. 1985: In “Black Bodies, White Bodies,” cultural and literary historian Sander Gilman analyzes how Baartman’s body was objectified in life and death: “Sarah Baartmann’s […] genitalia and her buttocks, serve as the central image for the black female throughout the nineteenth century.”

20. 1981: In Mismeasure of Man, Gould mentions the display of Baartman’s preserved skeleton. According to one source, this provokes curators to move all of the materials into the archives.

19. 1974 or 1976: Baartman’s skeleton, preserved genitals and brain are placed in the museum archives. A full plaster body cast of her partially naked figure remains on public display.

18. 1815-1970s: Initially kept in the private rooms of naturalist Georges Cuvier, the “father of comparative anatomy” and Napoleon’s Surgeon General, Baarman’s body parts and plaster cast eventually become part of the Museum of Man’s permanent collection.

17. 1815: Cuvier petitions Napoleon to take possession of and perform an autopsy on Baartman, “to determine her relationship between animals and other human beings.” He casts the corpse in plaster, macerates the body, preserves the skeleton, removes and “pickles” the brain and genitalia.

16. 1815: Baartman dies. Reports conflict on whether the cause was alcoholism, venereal disease, pneumonia (due to the particularly harsh Parisian winter that year), or a combination of all three. 

15. 1814-1815: It is unclear when Cuvier first saw Baartman but it is around this time that he “rents” her for study, which includes extensive sketching and measurement of her body by him and his colleagues at the Muséum d’Histoire Naturell in Paris.

14. 1814: Emmanuel Théaulon’s vaudeville play, The Hottentot Venus, entertains Parisians. It tells the story of a French gentleman, Adolphe, who declares his intent to marry “une femme sauvage” but recants when he sees a portrait of the real Hottentot and is horrified at her appearance.

13. 1814. Cesars sells Baartman to an animal trainer, Réoux, who displays her across France. 

12. 1811-1814. Cesars tour Baartman across England. Initially an extremely popular attraction, especially after her court case, public interest and revenues lag.

11. Dec. 1811: Baartman is baptized by Chaplain Joseph Brookes.

10. 1810: A court case is brought by abolitionists arguing Baartman is being held against her will. She gives her testimony in Dutch, saying her treatment is acceptable. The case is dismissed.

9. 1810: With help from a British Army medical officer, Baartman is brought to London by the Cesars brothers. She begins her career as “The Hottentot Venus” in Piccadilly Circus.  She is advertised as “a most correct and perfect Specimen of [the Hottentot] people,” exemplified by her large posterior (or steatopygia).

8. 1807: The Slave Trade Act is passed by British parliament but slavery does not officially come to an end across the Empire’s homeland and holdings until the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833.

7. 1806: British forces occupy the Cape colony and missionaries petition the British government for special protection of the Hottentots “because of their general imbecile state.”

6. 1800-1820: Displays of human “curiosities” draw large crowds in Georgian London.

5. 1805: After her parents die, Baartman moves to Cape Town and becomes a servant in a series of houses including that of a Free Black man named Hendrik Cesars and his brother Pieter.

4. 1770 or 1789: Saartjie (Sara, Sarah) Baartman (Bartmann, Baartmann) is born 400 miles from now Cape Town.

3. 1650-1700: The Dutch tighten their control over the “Hottentots,” from the Dutch hateren (to stammer) and tateren (to stutter). Hottentot representation changes in European accounts from violent to indolent savages whose lack of work ethic necessitates the appropriation of their land.

2. 1652: The Netherlands East India Company establishes a rest station at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, bringing smallpox and forced labor to the “nomadic pastoralists” Khoikhoi.

1. 1400 (and before)-1650: The Khoikhoi populate areas between what is now Northern Bostswana and the Cape. Their carefully modulated language of click sounds and violent actions against foreigners are characterized in European accounts as proof of their position on the lowest run on the Great Chain of Being.

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Sara “Hottentot Venus" Baartman : if you haven’t heard of her story, you really should. 

As Black women, we as a whole to fail to realize our potential and worth. Instead we allow ourselves to be objectified through the media and in black communities as if this was our purpose in life. Sara was exploited against her wishes and here we have Black women today lining up to be video vixens and such. Is getting paid really more important than understanding your True worth? 

They called me "Hottentot Venus", I pray that you call me Inspiration.

Dear Sons and Daughters of the Sun,

           If a wolf cries boy will the tears matter? Will the agony echoed through the wolf’s howl be muffled by the unforgiving beast of fear that lives within the hearts of mankind? Will the big bad wolf’s story ever be told? The story of how she so gallantly fought against hunters to protect her offspring and her legacy. Will her truth be buried with her memory and replaced by fables and fairytales of her monstrous instincts?  

          I remember the very last tear that fell from my eyes, I named her Amour. I gently asked that she would never leave me. She was the closest feeling to love that I had felt in many years. When I parted ways with Amour I knew that I was also saying goodbye to life. My story is like that of the wolf who cried boy, rarely ever told and sadly misunderstood. My cry for help was also hushed by fear. Unlike the wolf I was a human being. It never mattered that I too dreamed of happiness. In the eyes of my alleged superiors I was an animal. If I only knew I also had a legacy to protect I wouldn’t have felt so alone. For almost 200 years I’ve felt the piercing deception of history’s pin poking at my memory. I just want to rest peacefully now.

           To the sons and daughters of Europe I was a freak of nature, to nature I was simply a woman. I was a product of her beauty and a reflection of her wonders. I wasn’t some mutation of normality placed on this earth to be subjected to their ignorance. The way that I was created made me no more of a freak than the actions of my secret admirers. Their eyes spoke truths their mouths would never admit to.  I wasn’t inferior, I was bewilderingly beautiful. They publicly gawked but privately longed to ignite the fires of my passion. They desired to understand my curvaceous body so they sought to simplify the complexity of my composition. I was labeled inferior because the wonders of my ambiguity could not be tamed. I was a woman, emotional yet strong and ready to love eternally. I was no different from their mothers or even their daughters. I had dreams; I loved and longed to live happily. I was more than images of a hypersexual primitive beast exhibited as a part of a freak show. I am Sarah Baartman and my memory lives on through you.

          According to history’s ink I am the “Hottentot Venus”, a Khoisan woman from South Africa whose body was a freak attraction placed on display throughout London and France. I was a slave in Cape Town, South Africa before being “discovered” by a ship surgeon and persuaded to travel to London. I was caged and placed on display for starving eyes to feast upon. Stripped of my pride, I stood there naked before audiences of lustful citizens who claimed to be superior. My buttocks and genitals, which they viewed as abnormally large, became objects of their fascination. Even though I was subjected to extreme humiliation history’s pen is sure to inform you that this was of my free will. The notion that I willingly exploited by body as if I enjoyed it only perpetuates the stereotype of the oversexed primitive black woman. From London to Paris my body was exhibited as if I weren’t human. I eventually turned to a life of prostitution and died at age 25 of inflammatory and eruptive sickness, some say syphilis. Even after my death my genitals and other parts of my body were pickled and displayed in bottles at La Musee de l’Homme in Paris. For 160 years my body parts were exhibited for audiences to indulge in my exploitation. Just recently my remains were returned to my homeland and properly buried.

          Since the day I said goodbye to the earth I have been unable to rest in peace. I can’t help to feel as if I’m still on display with every image of degradation I see being produced and consumed in the world today. Imagine being naked in a cage and placed on display for all to watch. Remove the cage and change the early 1800’s to the new millennium and not much has changed. Women of color are still being publicly degraded and subjugated. With each flash of exploitation you are stomping on the memories of those who came before you. The exploitation may not always be in the form of sexual subjectivity. Today, the perpetuation of stereotypes depicted on what you call “reality television” seems to be the greatest exploitation.  I see women who have acquired fame through simply selling sex when I know that they have other talents, and more importantly a brain. Not only black women are degraded, however I feel as if we are still the least appreciated. I see women who neither look like me or you receiving high praise for their curves when we’ve carried the blessing since the beginning of time. Sometimes it makes me laugh, but it’s not long until my laughter turn into tears.

           I simply ask that you remember me. My question for you is who will you let write the story of your life? What will the world remember you by?  According to history I was a freak of nature who willingly walked into the circus of exploitation to be the subject of ridicule and freakish infatuation. The world will never know the thoughts that crossed my mind as I traveled to Europe. They’ll never know why I participated in such cruel and inhumane practices. The reason is simply because I never wrote my own story. My story has been told by a stranger who never met me. Now my story is his, they call it history. Black women, I ask that you own your story. I ask that you write each and every sentence and close this chapter of degradation. Some may call me the very first “Vixen”. If I knew how you would have been impacted I probably would have fought a little longer to stay alive. I would have fought a little harder to write my own story for you to read. I would have fought for the world to see that our bodies are to be celebrated and not subjugated. This is why I still cannot rest in peace.

           I wrote this letter for all daughters of the sun to remember me. If you have never learned of my story I am now here to share. We can’t rely on strangers to tell the story of our lives. I want you to know that you were blessed with supernatural beauty. Black women your makings are a work of art. I want you to embrace your skin in all of its diversity. From the deepest sun kissed coatings to the brightest reflections of light I want your beauty to be celebrated.  From the fullness of your lips to the secrets that hide in the crevices of your brilliance I want you to be celebrated. I want you to love yourself so much that you never place a price on your beauty. I want you to be remembered for the changes you’ve made in the world. I want you to be remembered for the hearts you’ve touched and the lives you’ve inspired. Learn from my story. Think of me when you chose your movie roles. Think of me before allowing a television network to capitalize off of your misunderstood ways. Think of me as you dominate sports, the corporate world, law and medicine. Entertainment is not the only path that leads to the fulfillment of your dreams. When the world places labels on you I want you to stand proudly and proclaim, I am __________ ________ and I am BEAUTIFUL. You deserve to be loved and admired; you don’t deserve to be exploited. Your mind can take you places that your body can only follow.

           I also wrote this letter for every black man. I want the world to see that while you too have bodies resembling classical architecture your minds are far more intriguing. I want you to show the world that not only can you dominate sports but you can also dominate business.  Aspire to own the brands that have established extreme wealth off of your unprecedented skills. I want you to take the hustle developed on the street corners to the boardrooms and establish your presence. Establish empires of excellence that the fruits of your labor will one day enjoy. Always remember how important it is to celebrate and understand black women. In every black woman you should see your mother, sister or daughter and show respect. Even when you find a black woman who has never learned how to respect herself treat her with respect and set that standard. Don’t allow yourself to be degraded to dogs through the exploitation of your women by calling them “bitches”. You are a king, always remember that. You don’t have to be a pawn in the ploy to eradicate the strength of the black family. There is no image more serene than that of black love. For every black woman that is degraded you are also degraded. Black man I ask that you learn how to love the black woman again. With that being said, black women I ask that you allow yourselves to be loved. Write your very own love story and paste it to the sky.  I encourage you to write stories that your great grandchildren will be proud to share. Love each other and build each other up. Don’t allow history to label you as the wolf that everyone feared or as the primitive beast that needed salvation. You are the living legacy of Kings and Queens who have walked this earth before you. March on, march with love.  Always remember me.

Love, Sarah Baartman

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Painful Cake [TRIGGER WARNING for anti-black racism, misogyny, simulation of cannibalism/genital cutting]

remember Sarah Baartman?

this is the most disgusting, ridiculous, racist, misogynist, psychotic thing i’ve seen in 2012.