White Man versus Himself The Internal Struggles of White Males Being Attracted to the Black Slave Women
WhiteMan versus Himself: The Internal Struggles of White Males BeingAttracted to the Black Slave Women
Manystories reveal the nature of the illicit relationships and sexualaffairs between white males and their black female slaves during theAntebellum south. Most of these sources reveal the kind of life thatthe black women had to endure during the era. It is clear that slavewomen were regularly forced to comply with the sexual advances bytheir white masters. Also, consequences of failing to comply includedphysical, sexual and verbal abuses (Bogle41).Therefore, many black women were made the white men’s concubines orfaced discrimination if they refused to comply. Nevertheless, withstrict laws in most southern states that regulated marriage andsexual relationships between the different races, and the fact thatmost males were bound in matrimony, there was often tension andhatred in their homes when such attraction took place (Lisa57).In most cases, the white mistresses would hate and abuse the slavewomen if they find evidence of relationship between them and theirhusbands. But perhaps the males themselves were the most emotionallyaffected when they developed such feelings towards their slave women.The white males, though sexually attracted to the slave women, wereafraid of the consequences of the strict marriage laws, the possiblereactions of their mistresses and the perceptions of the racialsociety in general. Therefore, most white males had to endureemotional stress as they face the dilemma of falling in love withtheir attractive slave women on one side and being loyal to thesocial norms on the other. Although few sources reveal these kinds ofsituations, it can be seen from the antebellum literature that theemotional attraction was real. In particular, a good example can beseen in such literature as Mulattoand the TheIncidents of a Slave Girl.Froman in-depth analysis of the characters and incidents in these worksof literature, an idea of the “White master versus Himself”arises. It can be argued that there was an internal emotionalstruggle among the white males as they face the situation of beingemotionally attracted to their slavewomen, but the situation negatively affected the targeted women morethan the man himself.
Aspreviously explained, if a white male was attracted to a black slavewoman, two things would happen. First, the white man would force andentice the woman into sexual intimacy. If she agreed, then she wouldbe strictly forbidden from telling anybody because the masters wereafraid of their mistresses as well as the reactions of the racialsociety. Secondly, the mixed emotions of the master could leave theslave in the forefront of his frustrated outbreaks. The slave wouldbe subject to rape and discrimination. The slave would not haveinterest in black slave men because of the fear that the master maybecome jealous. More so, if the master’s wife found out, the slavewould be punished. Either way, the idea of the man versus himselfwould detrimental to both the woman and himself, but more on the sideof the slave woman (Collins37).
Nevertheless,many black women fell into the trap of their masters and gave in totheir demands. Others were raped while others faced discriminationwhen they rejected the proposals. Due to the sexual relationshipsbetween the white masters and their enslaved black women, the numberof colored people, also known as the Mulatos, increased during theantebellum period. As the reviews by Gates and Smith show, most ofthe authors provideevidence that the institution of sex was a problem to mostAfrican-American families and their white mistresses (57). Gates andSmith highlight the writings by Jacobs, Toni Morrison, RitaDove and others. Majority of these writers highlighted in the bookshow evidence of the troubles that women in the south endured due tothe institutionalization of rape and sexual discrimination againstblack and colored females (Gatesand Smith 62).
Inher book Incidentsin the Life of a Slave Woman,Henrietta Jacobs argues, “Slavery is terrible for men in the south,but far more terrible for the females. Superadded to the burden ofslavery that is common to every person, they have many wrongs as wellas suffering, and mortifications peculiar to themselves” (Jacobs66). Unlike the black males in the antebellum era, black femaleswere inferior in a number of ways, owing to their race and gender.First, their dark skin and the fact that they were purchased andowned by their masters conveyed their inherent status of inferiorityin the racial society. They were further considered mentallyinferior. As females, they were considered weak but obedient. Thisenabled their white masters to abuse them, not only verbally andphysically, but also sexually. But the idea of the emotionalattraction of the white males to their black female slaves wasperhaps one of the reasons that placed female slaves in a moredangerous and risky position in their society than their malecounterparts.
Asdescribed in history, Jacob’s North Carolina, like most of theother southern states during the antebellum era, had condoned anumber of standards for conducting the behavior of its people,whether free or enslaved. In particular, young white females weresupposed to lead a Victorian life in which a dressing code wasstrict. Their dresses were usually long with frocks that barelyshowed their feet. On the contrary, black females were scantilydressed because their masters wanted them to live that way. Asslaves, they were often stripped when being punished or inspected bypossible buyers. As a result, they were victims of the masters’lust. In her book, Jacobs states that any slave owner and his whiteneighbors would express lust and desire for a slave woman, especiallythe young and attractive. Jacobs states that the majority of thesemasters, their sons, neighbors as well as friends held to the doublestandards that involved adoration for their white females and a greatdesire and disrespect for the black women. House servants were oftenthe major victims because they would be approached by the masters,their sons and family members for sexual favors.
Further,slave mothers were at pain to protect their daughters, but they hadlittle to do to ensure their safety. For instance, Jacobs states thather mother was away because she had been separated from her children,who were sold as slave children. As a consequence, Jacobs maturedwith mixed emotions. For example, when she realized that her firstbaby was a girl, she developed a strong love for her but also feltgreat pain at the thought of her future as an enslaved woman. Here,she says that her heart was heavier that it had ever been because shewas aware that “slavery was more terrible for women than for men”(Jacobs 71).
Duringthe era, raping the black females was not a crime. In fact, slaveswere part of the master’s property. Also, black women wereconsidered passionate compared to their white counterparts, and assuch, more willing to comply with the men’s sexual demands. Basedon these kinds of justifications, the black women were often forcedto submit to sexual harassment or face severe punishment anddiscrimination if they resist.
Afterthe death of her parents and the mistress, Brent (the pseudonym forJacobs) starts experiencing what mature girls and women weresubjected to by the masculine and racial society. Her master, thecruel Dr. Flint, subjects Brent to the actual slavery. Sheimmediately becomes his property. The master starts to seduce Brentat an early age as a way of priming her for future sexual intimacy.But Flint develops a sense that the young girl was set to agree withhis sexual advances. As a result, most of his actions are motivatedby this thought. Dr. Flint provides a good example and evidence ofthe problems that white males, especially slave owners, had to enduredue to their emotional attraction to the black females. It shows asignificantly large state of power imbalance between the blackfemales and their white masters. From the start of theiracquaintance, Brent starts to resist Dr. Flint’s lecherousadvances. When she matures enough to have sexual desires andattraction to the opposite sex, she defies Dr Flint’s proposals andinstead focuses on the black males. In fact, she is attracted to theblack males because she believes that they are likely to be interestin marrying her rather than using her for their sexual satisfactiononly. But Dr. Flint does not give up. Instead, she continues topursue her, trying to convince her that she was more likely tobenefit from him than from the other black males. When Brent refusesFlint’s proposal and finds a black suitor, the master tries to makeher believe that she has disgraced herself. Jacobs writes, “…Hethought he would make me feel disgraced for marrying a respectablecolored man. Although his lips disdained in my address, his eyes werevery garrulous… he was like an animal watching its prey narrowly”,(Jacobs 39).
Onone side, Dr Flint is the exact prototype of a man who is fightingthe dilemma of sexual attraction to his slave girl, while also tryingto hide it from the other people. From the story by Jacobs, it isquite clear that Dr. Flint is attracted to the young attractive girl.Because he is her master and owner, he has the opportunity toapproach her for anything. Nevertheless, he is also careful not tomake other people, especially the whites, realize that he isattracted to her. Dr. Flint is troubled and really sad when herealizes that Brent has a colored suitor. He wants her to remain hisproperty and sexual object, yet he does not want to marry her. It isclear that Dr. Flint had no intentions of marrying the young Brent,but wants to have sexual relationships only. In fact, this can beattributed to the fact that the society was against such kind ofmarriage between the blacks and the whites. It should also be notedthat the society was against the children of black people married tothe white to inherit any property when the master dies. As such, anychild born to a white master and his black concubine was set toremain a slave rather than the heir. In this case, despite havinggreat sexual desire and attraction towards Brent, Dr. Flint is awareof the social norms in the masculine and racial society. In fact,being part of that society, Dr. Flint does not want and is not evenwilling to break the culture and the social norms by marrying theblack girl. Consequently, it is evident that his missions to face thegirl are always kept a secret because he does not want any otherperson, especially the members of his family as well as hisneighbors, to know that he desires to have Brent as his concubine.This explains why he has to seek audience with Brent in private, yethe insists that he loves her. It is evident to the audience thatJacobs wanted to elaborate how the white masters were having troublesfighting their own ego as gentlemen but at the same time fight hardto control their great sexual desire for the black enslaved women. Inother words, it is clear that he is struggling to strike a balancebetween the power endowed to him by the society as a slaveholder andmasculine white gentleman on one side and trying to win the young andattractive Brent on the other.
Thesame phenomenon is evident in the play “Tragic Mulatto”, wherethe colored women face almost the same as the African-AfricanAmerican women in the south. For instance, the play shows that manyof the antebellum black women sold into prostitution were colored orlight-skinned. They were the target of the wealthy white landownersin the south. In what was known as “the placate”, a whitesoutherner would come into terms with the mulatto such that he wouldprovide financial support in exchange of long-term sexual services.The mulattos were generally considered black and by being sold toprostitution, they would remain slaves in “Quadroon Bells” or sexmarkets.
Likein the case with Brent in Jacob’s book, the Mulattos were subjectedto male chauvinism and were the target for rape and other forms ofdiscrimination. In Hughes’ play “The Cross”, the authorhighlights the relationships between the Mulattos and the majoritywhite landowners and masters. For instance, Hughes writes, “my agedman’s white old man had a relationship with my old mother’sblack, so if I ever curse the white old man, then I will have cursedmyself” (Hughes, 14). The play shows that the males developedstrong desire for the mulattos, owing to their light-skinned color,but they were not willing to have formal marriage arrangements withthem. The society, just as indicated in the story of Brent, providesevidence that the men would struggle to have their relationship withthe Mulatto remain a secret because they were ware of theconsequences. The racial society did not favor the marriage of thewhite landowners and the coloreds. In addition, if the mistressrealized that the husband had a relationship with the mulattoconcubines, the marriage would face difficulties or even break, whichwas against the norms of the Christian south. Consequently, the menhad to fight to control their sexual desires for the colored womenwhile also trying to maintain a decent and noble life of a wealthysoutherner. As a result, they would be fighting two opposingemotional feelings, which shows some evidence that the idea of “theWhite versus Himself” was common. Nevertheless, just like in thecase of Brent and Dr. Flint’s society, the women were the largestlosers in the “White Man Versus Himself” system because once theytried to disclose their relationship with the wealthy men they wouldbe subjected to discrimination. For example, the law allowed the mento leave these women in poverty. In addition, the system allowed themales to disown any child they had with the females of the differentraces, which means that the women would be left with the burden ofthe children. As such, the concubines were supposed to maintain thesecret of their relationship with the wealthy southerners. Forinstance, Hughes writes, “… My old white man died in a big finehouse, but my mother died in a shack” (Hughes 16). This is enoughevidence that the colored mulatto women were disregarded by thesociety because they had a black origin and were used as sex objectsby the whites. Hughes himself was a mulatto. Therefore, he was wellaware of the problems his mother and other mulatto women faced afterbeing abandoned by the white males who were not able to support thembecause they were fighting their ego as well as the desire for thecolored females.
Thetwo stories reveal that many black women were either concubines ofthe white males or remained discriminated if they refused to comply.Nevertheless, with strict laws in most southern states that regulatedmarriage and sexual relationships between the different races, andthe fact that most males were bound in matrimony, there was oftentension and hatred in their homes when such attraction took place. Inmost cases, the white mistresses would hate the slave women whom themaster seems to be attracted to. But perhaps the males themselveswere the most emotionally affected when they developed such feelingstowards their slave women. As noted earlier, the white males fearedthe consequences of the strict marriage laws, the possible reactionsof their mistresses and the perceptions of the racial society ingeneral. Therefore, the white males had to endure emotional stress asthe face the dilemma of falling in love with their attractive salvewomen on one side and being loyal to the social norm on the other.Although few sources reveal these kinds of situations, both fictionand bibliography from the antebellum south show that the emotionalattraction was real.
Inconclusion, the two stories in Mulattoand the TheIncidents of a Slave Girlshow how women had to suffer when the “White man versus Himself”phenomenon took place. From an in-depth analysis of the charactersand incidents in these works of literature, an idea of the Whitemaster versus Himself arises. It can be argued that there was aninternal emotional struggle among the white males as they face thesituation of being emotionally attracted to their slave women, butthe situation negatively affected the targeted women more than theman himself. The males were the most emotionally affected when theydeveloped such feelings towards their slave women. It is evident thathis missions to face the girl are always kept a secret because hedoes not want any other person, especially the members of his familyas well as his neighbors, to know that he desires to have Brent ashis concubine. This explains why he has to seek audience with Brentin private, yet he insists that he loves her. It is evident to theaudience that Jacobs wanted to elaborate how the white masters werehaving troubles fighting their own ego but at the same time fightinghard to control their great sexual desire for the black enslavedwomen. In other words, it is clear that he is struggling to find abalance between the power endowed to him by the society as aslaveholder and masculine white gentleman and trying to win the youngand attractive Brent.
Fromthis analysis, it is evident that slavery was bad for the blackpeople, but worse for the black women because they faced sexual,physical and verbal abuse. The white males and landowners fell inlove or even developed emotional attraction to the black women, butthe society did not recognize the union between people of the tworaces. So, many women were forced to give in to sexual advances oftheir white masters. Once they accepted, the children resulting fromthe intercourse were left as Mulattos and in poverty. Also, if themistresses realized any relationship between the master and the blackfemale slaves, the marriage would in difficult or the black womanwould face abuse and discrimination. For the women who rejected thewhite owner’s sexual advances, the consequences were the same.Nevertheless, the position of women in slavery was made worse by thewhite men’s “White man versus Himself” phenomenon, whichsubjected the black women to sexual assaults and discriminationswhether they accepted the sexual advances or not.
Bogle,Donald. Toms,Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, and Bucks: An Interpretive History ofBlacks in American Films.New York. Continuum. 2001.
Collins,Patricia Hill. BlackFeminist Thought Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics ofEmpowerment.New York. Routledge. 1991.
Gates,Jr., Henry Louis and Valerie A Smith. TheNorton Anthology of African American Literature,Third Edition, Vols 1 & 2.New York: W. W. Norton Company, 2014. Print.
Hughes,Langstron. Mulatto.New York: Chapell, 1998. Print.
Jacobs,Harriet. Incidentsin the Life of a Slave Girl.New York. Signet Classic. 2000.
Lisa,Anderson. MammiesNo More: The Changing Image of Black Women on Stage and Screen.Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc.1997.
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