Homosexuality in American slavery.
Homosexuality and slavery are two of the most contentious yet less discussed topics in today’s world discussions. They are commonly discussed in isolation but rarely together as a unit. Talks about individualism, normativity, sexuality, ethics, religion, etc., are some of the common manifestations in the debates on homosexuality in American slavery.
Slavery, according to Aidoo J. (2018), has been defined as an institution that was formed on the surface by inequality or differences, differences “between the free and the enslaved, the black and the white, men and women, the wealthy and the impoverished, elite and the marginalized” (Aidoo, 2018). This inequality generated through a stark power and the innate will to dominate and oppress.
To show the intensity of this institution in the history of America and the world over, it has also been described, also by Aidoo (2018) thus; “Slavery is not a single, uniform institution... There are many slaveries”. We are made to understand that every period and occurrences in the history of slavery are usually determined by social, cultural, and environmental contexts that surround them. These also, in turn, determine the circumstances which masters subject all their slaves to.
Slavery is commonly described by many people as “the original sin of America”. Virtually all the respected builders of American history were slave owners. It was a brutal fragment of the history of America; this deliberate degradation and dehumanization of the black race.
Despite the strong influence slavery had and has in world history, many have now long forgotten the horrors it caused when it was in place. The stories of suffering and hopelessness attached to slavery are usually told from a biased and/or heteronormative angle. Not much is usually said about the sufferings of the LGBTI slaves in the American community, especially before slave emancipation.
However, today, these stories are now beginning to resurface from under the cloak of invisibility that they have been instrumentally concealed in. These sufferings are now being commendably reflected in many of our present-day fictive works written by popular writers like Alice Randal, Alyssa Cole and so on.
One of the common things we know about American slavery is “slave buck”. This is a term used to describe the activities of the white slave-owners who usually forced their black slaves, at that time, to procreate and expand their slave custody. “During slavery, males enslaved were viewed not only for physical labor but also as a 'stud' to ensure other slaves were being produced to continue slavery.” (Hunter, 2003). We also know about the illegible violence conducted on women slaves at the time. The seduction, violence, and exploitation of the black women slaves by their masters.
What many people usually don’t talk about, or forget to talk about, is the stereotype of the “docile slave”. This myth was created to weaken the black masculinity. This term was used back then to signal to slave owners if a particular black male was LGBTI. Only a few people know this fact. Several white gay slave owners usually forced themselves openly on their male slaves, whether queer and straight. Male slaves were objectified and used by their masters to derived homosexual pleasure in a time when homosexuality was still a crime against every moral background and the state.
“When it comes to African American males, sex and sexuality continues to be taboo areas of life. Especially when it comes to having or being interested in sex with the same gender — this is a lingering perception by many in the African-American community, as the lowest point of human existence, with ties to the residues of slavery” (Hunter, 2003).
One of the reasons homosexuality is now viewed as a sin among African-Americans is the experience attached to it during slavery. For example, as pointed out by Hunter (2003), “If a male slave has sex with the same gender or possesses feminine mannerisms, he is ostracised and labeled a 'punk', and would also be called other names to emasculate his manhood.”
Among African-Americans, the negative atmosphere currently surrounding homosexuality in American slavery was actually built on the horrendous experiences of the male slaves. At a point in American history, same-sex relationships are generally viewed (and are still seen by a majority) as unions that cannot spawn true affection similar to what the heterosexuals have.
None of us today can completely comprehend the height to which the atrocities, and dehumanization enslaved women children and men endured in the hands of their slave masters. Many blacks still find it extremely difficult to accept homosexuality because of these past experiences.
According to Hunter (2003), “Sex in the universe of slavery was a weapon, a mechanism of torture, a calculated means of reproducing slaves and slavery, and a consummate form of annihilation.” This is why many people feel great discomfort when questions of race and sex are raised. Not only is it a testament to the horrors of the past, but it is also a confirmation of the irregular reappearance of this degradation in today’s social life.
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