WENCH by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wench by Dolen Perkins Valdez

This is the stuff we need to be looking at. The fact that black women serviced their master’s sexually and that white women tend to be in denial. . .

A tender spot in master-slave relations
By Lonnae O’Neal Parker

Dolen Perkins-Valdez was reading a biography of W.E.B. DuBois when she came across the small aside. It was piece of history she hadn’t known, and couldn’t stop thinking about. [Washington Post article]


Joan Cartwright says:

I’ve often wondered what a white woman thought, when she realized that her good Christian husband was sleeping with her African handmaiden and saw little, brown, though light-skinned babies, running around her garden.

When I asked this question of some of my friends, many of them said the white woman was probably happy that her husband was going to the slave woman to take the burden off of herself.

I just cannot agree with this, since the vows taken in a Christian marriage dictate faithfulness and monogamy.

Here is the best response I’ve gotten on this subject from my friend Dinizulu Gene Tinnie.

Dear Joan,

This is one of those subjects that was always treated as “delicate” as I was coming up and getting older, and I have often wondered why (Hey, the Truth is the Light and the Truth will make you free, right?). Who was being protected by all of this silence? As far as I cold tell, it was the white perpetrators and their descendants. Then I came to the place where I realized what kind of conundrum is embodied in these stories:

When I started making presentations about the Middle Passage, I came upon something of a dilemma.

Unlike others in this drama, we have always been fortified by the Truth, but that ends up being much more easily said than actually made real. I think of that whole tradition of silence among our people. Rosewood was kept silent for how long? Part of it was due to the desire of the very victims (survivors) of that massacre “not to teach hate” [or fear] to the younger generations. It is a curious mixture of shame (how could we have been so easily defeated, and why are we so unprotected?) and pride (we will not give the perpetrators of these acts any more attention or power by reminding the world of this, or acknowledging that we feel any pain.) I was almost 40 years old when I learned for the first time about the Tulsa massacre (by watching an old “Tony Brown’s Journal” that some students presented at Miami-Dade Community College — and I was the ONLY one in the audience, other than the student presenters themselves!) Those are incidents in history that have been successfully hidden by a strange collusion between both Blacks and Whites, for obviously different reasons and motives, but with the same net result.

The routine violation of enslaved women by their self-proclaimed owners, on the other hand, while it may not have left documented records of every instance, is absolutely common knowledge. (Many of us can point to our complexions as evidence enough of how prevalent this was.) And yet it remains “delicate” or “uncomfortable” to talk about, even in private, it seems. I vaguely remember reading a story by Angela Davis in which she talked about how her grandmother would show the grandchildren the scars on her body, and tell the story of how each one came about. But there was one that she would not discuss. If the children asked, she would evade the question by saying something about how evil people can possible be, or something to that effect. The sheer pain of some of these past occurrences makes them impossible for those who suffered them to retell.

This is understandable for those who were so much closer to the pain than we, who can only imagine, and therefore might go seeking after evidence and truth with more rash bravado than those whose knowledge and experience tell them that there is much, much more at stake than just the knowledge of certain incidents. Those who came before us (and provided us with the opportunities we now have) are the folks that did not have to ponder and read, and get e-mail messages with all kinds of arcane information about the kind of people who are running this world (what we call the “global financial elite,” for example); those folks lived the reality every day and knew what they were challenging, often in subtle and careful ways that might ensure our survival.

So the dilemma I come to is this. We are talking about the Middle Passage: We “know” what took place aboard the slave ships — tiny, desperate, death-ridden little wooden islands on a vast ocean with no witnesses, and no law but the captain’s word and the owners desire for profit. Rapes and violations of girls of middle-school age and younger were routine. Yet, do we, today, teach that to girls that age? What do we do to what Dr. King once referred to as the “little mental sky” of children growing up when we introduce this kind of subject into their innocent lives? On the other hand, should they not know that the same kind of people are in authority today, and their safety is not assured, just to be more prepared and self-protective? (When I got to Florida in the 1970s, there was a story of a white Florida Highway Patrolman in South Dade who routinely molested a young African American girl, until he was caught and tried. He was “sentenced” to regular psychological counseling, which he never bothered to attend, and even kept his job. I don’t even think the news coverage of the case, a few years after the original fact, had any real impact. What does that say to every Black girl? More recently, just a few years ago, a story emerged — way overdue — about the routine unpunished rapes of Native American women by white men, usually off the reservations where Tribal Police and courts have no authority, to the point where 2 out of 5 Native women have been or can expect to be sexually assaulted, with no expectation of justice for the perpetrators. That same article, by the way, concluded with the very sobering fact, almost reported as a throwaway line, that Native Americans [who once peopled this land from coast to coast in established nations] then represented less than 3% of the total of 300 million Americans. Where is the indictment, the outrage, the calling into account for this kind of blatant genocide, which continues!)

In all of the written documents and records that shed some light on the Middle Passage for us today, most of which come from European and Eurocentric sources, there is barely and rarely a mention of the sexual violations of African women — almost in inverse proportion, we might guess, to the actuality of the incidents. What mention there is might much more likely come from rare African sources — “slave narratives” — like that of Ottobah Cugoano of Ghana, whose account was published even earlier than the better known narrative of Olaudah Equiano. (And these accounts, then and now, have always been subject to questioning as to their “authority”; no such doubts apparently attach to the presumably objective stories told by slaving captains and their ilk.)

As aboard the ships, so on the plantations, where the nightmare of several weeks at sea gave way to lifelong horror. When we observed the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 2007-8, one of the stories that hardly got the attention that it was due was the direct impact on enslaved African women. With the supply line to Africa now legally cut (although smuggling, of course, persisted), the need for fresh replenishments of labor (slavery used up lives at a fearful rate –“prime male slaves,” aged 15-25 on sugar plantations were literally worked to death in nine years’ time on average) now had to be met by reproduction. enslaved females began to be marketed for their qualities as “breeders,” and were subjected to all manner of indignities under the guise of “medical examinations” to purportedly determine the degree of this quality. (Put this in context: under natural reproduction, as opposed to freshly arrived shipments, the slaveowner has to pay for the care and feeding of the child until [s]he reaches working age — an economic downdraw that makes the “need” for adults even more desperate, and thus exacerbates the frenzy of “breeding.”)

Now the point I am bringing all of this to may seem just “philosophical” to some, but it is the most real thing there is for us. In our tradition, Ancestral wisdom has us to know that there is only one universe (no “parallels”), to which nothing can be added, and from which nothing can be subtracted. There are no “aliens.” Everything that happens here stays here. Forgetting it or being ignorant of it does not erase it — or its continuing consequences. Whether or not we acknowledge this “delicate” matter of sexuality between slaveowners and enslaved (such an unnatural matrix that it could only be maintained by unrelenting force and violence), the fact of it remains, and we are all products of it. The one universe includes the vast spiritual as well as the finite physical. It includes the entire past and future in the present moment. We are born with the knowledge, pains, triumphs and aspirations of our Ancestors, and of the generations yet unborn. Therefore EVERYTHING that has happened to our people is who we are. Although we are born knowledgeable and connected to all things, our struggle to learn in this lifetime is the struggle to be AWARE of what we know. (I submit that the real definition of “intelligence” is simply awareness: How much are we aware of in this universe?)

So, if we are all walking around with various forms of “Post Slavery Stress Disorder,” as it has been called, and this is affecting everything we do — our attitudes toward work, relationships, spirituality, life itself — then this is something that we need to come to terms with. The Native Americans wisely remain aware that “If a man takes a woman by force, the entire tribe is weakened.” Just one instance can do that. So what are we to say about our entire species at this point in time. It seems that the question for us is whether the damage has been so great as to overcome all hope for recovery and healing at all. That gets very real.

But, back to specific cases and to the question at hand: What has to be a major concern in America is the extent to which the national “racial” hysteria skews all judgment and common sense, and diverts attention from the real issue to the nonsense of America’s comfortable (or uncomfortable) pathological myths. The case in point that most readily comes to mind was the brouhaha a few years back, after the (dare we say overdue?) death of Sen. Strom Thurmond, when it was revealed that he — arch-segregationist, leading Dixiecrat, racist’s racist and white supremacist — had fathered a Black daughter. As the story went, to his “credit,” he provided for this daughter throughout her life. Gee, thanks, large charge! All of the news stories hyped and sensationalized the great irony of this segregationist crossing the line and having a child by a Negress. What was hardly discussed, much to my continuing disgust, was the fact that the mother of the child was 16 years old at the time of this liaison. Now, where I come from, that is called statutory rape. What kind of place are we living in when we think that something of absolutely NO importance — the myth of “race” — deserves so much attention and is such a sensation as to engender prolonged news coverage, while NO attention is paid to the fact that here is a felon who was never tried, never convicted, and never punished for his crime, but instead, if anything, was rewarded with all of the power and status of a lifetime term in the U.S. Senate, one of only 50 who are trusted with shaping the fate of an entire nation of 300 million souls.

As you see, I have typically rambled at length on this topic and I haven’t even read the article itself. I imagine my reaction to it won’t be much different from some of what I have thrown out here. There are so many things to react to in our world. We live, as I believe we have shared before, in such a word of things: things to have, things to do, things to be or become, things to be distracted by. Which may be the real bottom line. (I often refer to “The Bankers Manifesto of 1892,” which you can Google, to put some of this in the social and political context that we often need.) We can think about all of the energy that is consumed, and the waste that is generated, by all of this stuff. (An animated video called “The Story of Stuff” is a great wake-up call on this, although it doesn’t even look at the mental and spiritual energy lost.) The Strom Thurmond case is a reminder of the things that are real, and universally human. We need to see all the land on planet earth as a single island, and all the people as (trite as it sounds) a single family. We need to act out of wisdom rather than react to foolishness with most of our time and energy.

What has happened in the last 500 years (or much longer) is that “the inmates have seized control of the asylum.” A small minority of people — they call themselves an elite (which literally means the elect, or the chosen ones, presumably by God, as they wishfully imagine God to be) — who are pathologically deluded in their compulsion to control and enslave everyone and everything they encounter. They imagine themselves as being the serious, intelligent, responsible ones among the masses of irresponsible rabble who are looking for someone to direct them and care for them. (Is it not interesting that no one in any human society ever fit this description until they came on the scene to impose this kind of society.) They crow about their “freedom,” which is the freedom craved by the child — to go anywhere, do anything, take anything, hurt, or kill, anyone who opposes them — and never be reprimanded or punished or, worst of all, be told that they are sick. (They have eliminated or neutralized the healers and the asylum officials and can’t get enough of occupying those high offices and proclaiming themselves in charge.)

This analogy is accurate enough, I think, but real humanity knows that there is no real distinction between “us” and “them”: Everything in the universe is “we.” The behavior we observe by individuals who are more slaves to greed than they are masters of the world as they imagine is in all of us. The worst behaving individuals are members of our village, and we have to bear the responsibility for having fostered such behavior, even as we look for ways to cure it, for it is a sickness of a sort. (The individual will claim, to the contrary, that [s]he was born that way, elected by God to be superior to the rest of us, who could not possibly understand, with our limited intelligence. Evidently the supposedly greater intelligence of such claimants does not require them to study history.)

It really comes down to what Ghandi said: To make the changes that need to be made, we have to “Be the Change.” Even that, however, is limited by being reactive. (“Change,” like all those “R” words that we have become proud of in our history — resistance, revolt, rebellion, runaway, renegade, etc., is based on reacting to what exists.) We need to assert what is: ourselves as part of a single universe and as manifestations of God, so to speak. How do we make harmony the goal of every action and thought? (I dare say you come close as a dedicated jazz diva. Can we all be the “artist” within, and live the creative lives that we were born to have?) The traditional Hawai’ian culture might offer a good clue. As you know, the motto of the State (and former Kingdom) translates as, “The life of the land is perpetuated by righteousness.” I often come back to thinking about (if not actually practicing) the discipline of Hula, which pretty much defines “righteousness” as being right with God, tight with nature, and right with the rest of humanity. This is achieved by practicing “doing the right thing, in the right way, in the right place, with the right people, at the right time, the first time.” We can add that to the Native American awareness of the Seven Generations, and the African awareness of all of our Ancestors and Future Generations being present and alive within us, or my friend’s wise idea that “We are constantly confronted with two choices; the more difficult of the two is ALWAYS the right one.” There is no lack of guidance in our lives, but the inmates have spent 500 years on nothing else but how to distract, sedate, intimidate, manipulate, or otherwise divert us from hearing the Divine voice within us, “which always tells us what to do, never tells us what not to do,” but gives us choice.

An interesting thing this business of life and being human.


Blizzards in 2011

One thing is for sure, all the money in the world cannot control the weather. Mother Earth strikes again!


“Big bad man, where can you be?”
“I’m locked inside. It snowed, you see.
“I’ve no machine to stop the snow,
“So, when it falls, inside I go.”

“Inside? You mean you run away?
“From little flakes, you ran, today?”

“Oh, yes, I’m strong, all winter long
“Until the chill turns into snow.
“Then, with a flash, I dive inside.
“Imagine how it hurts my pride.
“The Stock Exchange can’t see me, now.
“Dow Jones would think I am a cow.”

“But what about the little men
“You push all year? What of them?”

“Shhhhh, don’t you say I ran away
“To those I bullied, yesterday.
“My big machines and mighty dollar
“Make little men jump and holler.”

“Well, can’t your Diner’s Club card
“Stop the sky from snowing hard?”

“It can’t, you see, because snow is free
“And credit cards won’t do the job.”

“A gun, I’m sure, would stop the stuff
“Plug up the sky. Point, shoot and puff.”

“I tried a gun. Just made it rain
“And, then, last year, it snowed, again.”

“You’ve one more chance to kill that snow.
“Use propaganda. That’ll make it go!”

“Yeah, maybe that would do something.
“With no more snow, I could still be king.”

“Big bad man, I pulled your leg.
“You can’t stop snow with words that beg.”

“I must admit, it is a blow.
“Ha! Even you can’t stop the snow.
“You’re beat, big man, by tiny flakes
“They stop your show with no breaks,
“The same way you do little men
“With big machines and your money, friend.
“Big bad man, snow is just for you
“So, you could feel empty-handed, too.”

Power-less ©1979 Joan Cartwright