In part one of Beloved, I was horrified by the description of the enslaved men who raped cows in place of women. It was horrific, because the act felt so against nature, and so violent. Yet, what these enslaved Black men did pales in comparison to the rape perpetrated against enslaved Black women by White slaveowners. The story seamlessly glides between the two horrors, with the Sweet Home men and the cattle and Mr. Garner and Baby Suggs, daring us to blanch at the idea of fucking cows, but not at that of raping Black women.
It’s so easy to look back at slavery from a place of White privilege and pass judgement upon the behavior of those our ancestors enslaved. I found myself disgusted yet again in the second chapter, reading Paul D’s perspective of resentment toward Sethe for not being a more worthy “lay.” The idea that women weren’t seen as fully human, but as fuckable things, and in the case of Black women, deserving only slightly more respect than the cattle (if that), was revolting. And yet, that is how Whites treated Black men and women for centuries. Our ancestors taught them that they were violable things, and in spite of being raised with that understanding of themselves and their place in the world, the fact that the Sweet Home men could treat Sethe with such delicacy and kindness is a testament to these men’s humanity and goodness in the face of such depravity.
That alone can’t change the experience of enslaved Black women like Sethe and Baby Suggs though, which is why an understanding of intersectionality is so important. Not only were Black women treated as inhuman for their race by White men and women, but they were also stripped of their humanity yet again by men–Black and White–who saw them as violable, fuckable objects because they were women. It’s hard to read a book like this, knowing the humanity these women (and the Sweet Home men) deserved to be treated with, but were denied on the basis of characteristics that should not ever have defined them.