barbara omolade

To the slave master, the Black woman “was a fragmented commodity whose feelings and choices were rarely considered: her head and her heart were separated from her back and her hands were divided from her womb and vagina. … Her vagina … was the gateway to the womb, which was his place of capital investment – the capital investment being the sex act, and the resulting child the accumulated surplus, worth money on the slave market.”
—  Barbara Omolade, (Words of Fire, p. 366)
The sexual history of the United States became fused with contradiction and duality, with myth and distortion, with the white man’s hate and desire for the black woman, with competition and jealousy between white and black women for white men, with love and struggle between black men and black women. American sexual history reflects the development of patriarchal control stretched to its maximum extent by European men operating within a racial caste system supported by state power in which white maleness becomes the only definition of being. Simultaneously, the extremes of American patriarchy, particularly under slavery, pushed black women outside traditional patriarchal protection, thereby transforming all previous definitions of womanhood, particularly the idea that woman requires male protection because of her innate weakness and inferiority. Black women were oppressed and exploited labor and as such were forced to redefine themselves as women outside of and antagonistic to the racial patriarch, who denied their being. Most black women refused to accept the traditional notions of subordination of woman to man. The black woman resisted racial patriarchy by escaping, stealing, killing, outsmarting, and bargaining with her white master while she had sex with him, had babies by him, ministered to his needs, growing “to know all there was to know about him.” At the same time, most black women accepted traditional notions of patriarchy from black men because they viewed the Afro-Christian tradition of woman as mother and wife as personally desirable and politically necessary for black people’s survival.

The racial patriarchy of the white man enabled him to enact his culture’s separation between the goodness, purity, innocence, and frailty of woman with the sinful, evil strength, and carnal knowledge of woman by having sex with white women, who came to embody the former, and black women, who came to embody the latter.The white man’s division of the sexual attributes of women based on race meant that he alone could claim to be sexually free: he was free to be sexually active within a society that upheld the chastity and modesty of white women as the “repositories of white civilization.” He was free to be irresponsible about the consequences of his sexual behavior with black women within a culture that placed a great value on the family as a sacred institution protecting women, their progeny, and his property. He was free to use violence to eliminate his competition with black men for black or white women, thus breaking the customary allegiance among all patriarchs. He was also free to maintain his public hatred of racial mixing while privately expressing his desire for black women’s bodies. Ultimately, white men were politically empowered to dominate all women and all black men and women; this was their sexual freedom.
—  Barbara Omolade, “Hearts of Darkness”