Sexual Violence Against Enslaved Men – AAIHS Review

In Rethinking RufusSexual Violations of Enslaved Men, historian Thomas Foster examines how the conditions of slavery gave rise to sexual violence against enslaved men in the Americas during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing from historical studies of sexual violence against enslaved women, Foster uses a range of sources including early American newspapers, enslavers’ journals, court records, visual art, and abolitionist literature to illuminate how various forms of sexual violence, including physical assault and coerced reproduction, affected enslaved men and their communities. Rethinking Rufus also centers the experience of enslaved men by using testimonies, autobiographies, and interviews to shed light on how they responded to and navigated sexual violence in order to maintain autonomy and independence in their intimate livesRethinking Rufus analyzes the “history of the peculiar conditions that enslavement established, nurtured, and expanded that enabled those in power to dominate many enslaved men through sexual violence” (10). In this way, Foster’s study interrogates broader systems of power and domination that led to the sexual abuse of enslaved men.

Rethinking Rufus makes an important intervention into the historiography of slavery in the Americas. Foster uses feminist theories of sexual assault to examine how corporeal punishments functioned as displays of power that constituted sexual violence against enslaved men. Foster builds upon historians such as Daina Ramey BerryDeborah Gray White, and Jennifer Morgan, who have used gender as an analytic to more fully understand how enslaved women experienced and challenged sexual abuse under enslavement. Foster’s combination of historical methods and feminist theories of sexual assault inform one of Rethinking Rufus’s main arguments, that enslaved men could not consent to sexual activity given their legal status as property and vulnerable position in the social order of slavery.

Through five chapters, Foster examines the multiple forms of sexual violence against enslaved men from a variety of perspectives. The book’s title, Rethinking Rufus, is in reference to the story of Rufus, an enslaved man who was forced to bear children with an enslaved woman named Rose in Texas during the mid-nineteenth century. Foster uses Rose’s interview published by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), where she negatively recounts her sexual experiences with Rufus and describes him as a “bully,” as an example of how sexual violence affected both enslaved men and women. Foster notes that while Rose’s interview documents the trauma of coerced reproduction, a form of sexual violence in which enslavers forced enslaved men and women to bear children in order increase the population of enslaved people, sources that highlight the sufferings of coerced reproduction from the perspective of Rufus are nonexistent. Foster theorizes the absence of a counternarrative by Rufus and many other enslaved men as another type of sexual violation that stemmed from a broader cultural failure to consider men as victims of sexual violence. The repeated absence of narratives from enslaved men that document their experiences with sexual violence propels Foster’s deeper exploration into the conditions of slavery that gave rise to the sexual abuse and exploitation of enslaved men.

Foster begins Rethinking Rufus by examining how enslaved men’s bodies were depicted in Western art and sculptures that were widespread in the visual culture of slavery. Foster argues that enslaved men’s bodies were “symbols of enslaved manhood and sites of violation” that were objectified through a number of cultural forms including art and literature (12). The objectification of enslaved men depicted in paintings often resembled everyday acts of terror including the public inspection of Black men’s genitals, whippings and lashings, and bodily exposure due to lack of adequate clothing. Visual depictions of enslaved men that emphasized their genitalia and sexual prowess gave way to the prevailing myths of Black hypersexuality and the Black male rapist, an archetype that ensured the extralegal protection of white women from Black men who purportedly lacked control over their sexual urges. Foster also argues that while visual depictions of enslaved men’s bodies often highlighted their athleticism, strength, and muscularity, this same imagery eroticized enslaved men’s bodies in ways that fueled the physical abuses and sexual exploitation of enslaved men. Foster notes that these stereotypes found in eighteenth-century visual art contributed to the eventual punishment and national disenfranchisement of Black men.

Rethinking Rufus also sheds light on how enslaved men viewed marriage and family as potential avenues for maintaining independence and autonomy. Foster notes that while the possibility of establishing a household and assuming the role as guardian of the family was severely limited for enslaved men, love affairs and the ability to choose one’s own partner served as a key component for developing models of manhood. Using court records and eighteenth-century newspapers, Foster documents how enslaved men understood the importance of choosing their own partners despite the likely possibility of separation and loss. Because enslaved men and women were frequently sold to different plantations across various regions, enslaved men and women who married and attempted to establish families remained vulnerable to the interference of enslavers through sales and punishments. Foster notes that they often negotiated independence by adhering to the will of masters and mistresses in order to be granted partial autonomy in their intimate lives. Foster’s analysis provides a glimpse into how enslaved men navigated the power dynamics of enslavement in hopes of maintaining autonomy while minimizing the possibility of sexual violence as a punishment.

The latter part of Rethinking Rufus examines the role of reproduction in slavery’s sexual economy, and how sexual violations of enslaved men affected interpersonal relationships between enslaved men and women. To this end, Foster argues that coerced reproduction was a type of sexual assault against Black men in addition to Black women. Using interviews and testimonies from formerly enslaved men, Foster highlights how those who were valued for their reproductive capabilities were often singled out from their communities, relocated to different regions, and forced to couple with multiple women. Men who were forced to procreate were also excused from preforming certain types of labor that enslavers feared could negatively affect their reproductive capabilities. Foster also considers how forms of sexual violence against enslaved men were enacted by both white women and men. Foster’s use of WPA interviews and slave narratives that center the perspectives of Black men illuminates how the separation of enslaved men from their communities for the purpose of reproduction often severed intracommunal relationships that resulted in psychological pain and generational trauma.

In sum, Rethinking Rufus illuminates new dimensions of how sexual violence operated during slavery by incorporating the perspectives of Black menRethinking Rufus sheds light on how sexual assault, exploitation, objectification, and coerced reproduction affected enslaved men and their communities. Foster’s gendered analysis of sexual violence opens up new avenues for further research on the interrelatedness between masculinity, reproduction, and slave labor. Rethinking Rufus is a great contribution to the fields of Early American History, Gender Studies, and African American Studies. Rethinking Rufus should be of interest to a wide range of scholars of African American history, the history of American slavery, and the history of sexuality.

Source: Sexual Violence Against Enslaved Men – AAIHS

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868 : Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman Historical Society

Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868

Source: Scenes in the Life of Harriet Tubman by Sarah Hopkins Bradford. Rochester, August 29, 1868

Dear Harriet: I am glad to know that the story of your eventful life has been written by a kind lady, and that the same is soon to be published. You ask for what you do not need when you call upon me for a word of commendation. I need such words from you far more than you can need them from me, especially where your superior labors and devotion to the cause of the lately enslaved of our land are known as I know them. The difference between us is very marked. Most that I have done and suffered in the service of our cause has been in public, and I have received much encouragement at every step of the way.

You, on the other hand, have labored in a private way. I have wrought in the day – you in the night. I have had the applause of the crowd and the satisfaction that comes of being approved by the multitude, while the most that you have done has been witnessed by a few trembling, scarred, and foot-sore bondmen and women, whom you have led out of the house of bondage, and whose heartfelt, “God bless you,” has been your only reward. The midnight sky and the silent stars have been the witnesses of your devotion to freedom and of your heroism.

Excepting John Brown – of sacred memory – I know of no one who has willingly encountered more perils and hardships to serve our enslaved people than you have. Much that you have done would seem improbable to those who do not know you as I know you. It is to me a great pleasure and a great privilege to bear testimony for your character and your works, and to say to those to whom you may come, that I regard you in every way truthful and trustworthy.Your friend,Frederick Douglass

Source: Letter from Frederick Douglass to Harriet Tubman, 1868 : Harriet Tubman

What Elijah Cummings Meant to Baltimore | The New Yorker I Jelani Cobb

U. S. Representative Elijah Cummings  1951- 2019

” . . . One other thing: democracy. Cummings, in his speeches, particularly those he gave in the past few years, insistently invoked it, and not in the inert way that elected officials tend to. He spoke of democracy as something vital and fragile and valuable, an inheritance that had to be safeguarded for future generations. When he spoke of HR-1, the exhaustive election-protection bill that the Democrats introduced in January, as their first piece of legislation of this Congress, he mentioned his ninety-two-year-old mother, who had died a year earlier. She was a former sharecropper, who implored him, “Do not let them take our votes away from us.” He viewed his chairmanship of the House Oversight and Reform Committee as part of the battle to protect voting rights. His death unleashes a flurry of speculation about whom the Democrats will choose to next lead the committee—Representative Carolyn Maloney, of New York, will serve as the acting chair—and how that person will oversee its portion of the impeachment inquiry. Those matters will be resolved at a future date. What remains clear is the void that Cummings’s absence leaves in his district and his country. This would have been the case at nearly any point in his quarter century in Congress. But it’s even more acute in this one. In a fiery bit of oratory delivered at the introduction of HR-1, he pledged to “fight to the death” in defense of voting and, thereby, democracy. It was a promise that he made good on.”

Source: What Elijah Cummings Meant to Baltimore | The New Yorker   

Rep. Cummings was a Baltimore native and attended Howard University, where he obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and served as student government president.

“Congressman Cummings has dedicated his life of service to uplifting and empowering the people he is sworn to represent,” his official biography says.

“He began his career of public service in the Maryland House of Delegates, where he served for 14 years and became the first African American in Maryland history to be named Speaker Pro Tem,” it says. “Since 1996, Congressman Cummings has proudly represented Maryland’s 7th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.” At the time of his death, he served as the Chair of the US House Oversight Committee.

He died on Oct.17,2019.

Jelani Cobb is a staff writer at The New Yorker and the author of “The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and the Paradox of Progress.”

A Black Mother’s Love and Fear for Her Children in a White World – The New York Times

This is a mother who has made it by most standards, yet she cannot guarantee the safety of her offspring because of the color of their skin. She stands guard at a crossroads where past is present, the political is personal and the abstract or purely hypothetical is all too real. Like any parent, she wants her children, two boys, to be able to create a decent and happy life for themselves. Yet the “terrifying specter” of the white imagination means they are often not seen as individuals but instead are judged for being black — “subject to the larger white world’s constant evaluation as to whether or not you are worthy.” (She compiles a running list of criticisms and put-downs to which her kids are subjected: “Too mobile, too slow, too fast, inattentive. Why are you still in the bathroom? It takes you too long to pee. It takes you too long to remember this algorithm, this table. You hold the pencil too tight, you do not hold it tightly enough.”)

We hear echoes of Hansberry’s fictional family in “A Raisin in the Sun” debating the merits of moving to a white community versus allowing those would-be white neighbors to buy them off in exchange for staying put. Perry chose the former for her sons, along with its consequences. “You live in some worlds that are more white than black,” she tells them. “And so, you learn, early on, that the aversion to blackness can turn perfectly lovely people grotesque.”

Source:  BREATHE
A Letter to My Sons  By Imani Perry  NYT Book Review

“Thinking through the Silence” Dr. Tommy J. Curry

Dr. Tommy J. Curry

“The scholarship surrounding male rape in war and genocides is new and perplexing for many scholars. Whereas previous scholarship simply assumed that women were rape victims and men were the perpetrators, the discovery of male victims of rape has forced many researchers to rethink the politicized nature of older paradigms. Misra for example has argued that “most of the contemporary scholarship on sexual violence in armed conflicts is not only biased towards the female gender but is heavily influenced by a feminist monopolization of that space that has sought to describe such violence as binary in nature: it is only perpetrated again the female gender by male members of the society.” This binary division of violence renders male victims of sexual violence and rape conceptually invisible. Researchers and scholars are simply unable to interpret males, even men subjugated within genocide and war, as victims because the encountering of the male rape victim in real-life conflicts with the pre-determined view of men as perpetrators of rape in theory. Misra continues, “Thanks to this biased interpretation where the feminist concern is primarily to highlight the victimization of women by men, male sufferers have simply become ‘absent victims’ in such gender analyses of conflict dynamics. Therefore, it would not be incorrect to suggest that there is a conceptual and definitional confusion over gender-based violence.” Marysia Zalewki’s “Provocations in Debates about Sexual Violence against Men” takes a similar view of how male victims of rape and sexual violence are theorized. She writes:

Tommy J. Curry’s provocative book The Man-Not is a justification for Black Male Studies. He posits that we should conceptualize the Black male as a victim, oppressed by his sex. The Man-Not, therefore,is a corrective of sorts, offering a concept of Black males that could challenge the existing accounts of Black men and boys desiring the power of white men who oppress them that has been proliferated throughout academic research across disciplines.
Curry argues that Black men struggle with death and suicide, as well as abuse and rape, and their genred existence deserves study and theorization. This book offers intellectual, historical, sociological, and psychological evidence that the analysis of patriarchy offered by mainstream feminism (including Black feminism) does not yet fully understand the role that homoeroticism, sexual violence, and vulnerability play in the deaths and lives of Black males. Curry challenges how we think of and perceive the conditions that actually affect all Black males.

it can be argued that the putative innocence of feminist scholarship, traditionally presented as an emancipatory justice project, works to conceptually conceal not only women’s proclivities to violence, including sexual violence, but also to conceal the ‘truth’ of male victimhood. The veracity of all of these claims might easily be challenged (or confirmed), yet there is surely something about the gendered focus on women and all her epistemological, ethical, ontological scaffolding that might go some way in explaining why there has been so little attention to sexual violence against men, at least until very recently.

Dr. Tommy J. Curry
Chair of Africana Philosophy & Black Male Studies @ University of Edinburgh. 2018 American Book Award. Editor of Black Male Studies Series on Temple Univ Press.

How we come to understand victimization, specifically what kind of violence creates victims, is of the utmost importance in our interpretation of Jewish male victims and their suffering. Jewish male rape cannot be truly understood if it is thought to be exceptional or a lesser form of violence endlessly compared to death. These young men and boys understood themselves—as males—being raped. Said differently, Jewish men are not simply analogous of female sexual experience. Scholars cannot hear the stories and accounts of Jewish males and imagine them to be females to understand how they could suffer rape. Inevitably one is drawn back to their socialized idea of a rape victim who is often a girl or woman. In doing so the researcher asks: “How do women or girls who are raped react?” This is not the proper question to ask in the listening to or reading of Jewish male survivor stories. Jewish men and boys suffered within their male body. They utilized their male bodies to attain food, clothes, and protection. These young accepted the violence of rape and the excruciating pain of anal penetration to escape death themselves or to help spare the lives of their friends.”

About Dr. Tommy J. Curry

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Dr. Curry has been an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice and OCG Incolocotur since 2013.

Tommy J. Curry is an Black-American author and professor of Philosophy. He currently holds a Personal Chair in Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies at the University of Edinburgh. In 2018, he won an American Book Award for The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood. He has been an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice and OCG Incolocotur since 2013.

He is arguably one of the nation’s most prolific philosophers of race, whose research focuses on the Black male experience— is leaving the United States to become the Chair of Africana Philosophy and Black Male Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

Curry, 39, who currently holds a full, tenured professorship in the Department of Philosophy at Texas A&M University  is an expert on Critical Race Theory, Africana Philosophy, Black Male Studies and Social Political Thought and was recognized by Diverse as a 2018 Emerging Scholar.

“The political climate in the United States has made the study of racism a dangerous option for Black scholars,” said Curry, in an interview with Diverse. “Identifying the violence of White supremacy has now become equated to anti-Whiteness. In Europe, there is an effort to understand the Black experience, particularly the Black male experience.”

In announcing Curry’s appointment, Dr. Holly Branigan, head of the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences at the University of Edinburgh said that the hiring of Curry amounted to a real game changer for the institution founded in 1582.

Associate Professor at Texas A&M UniversityPast: Penn State and Southern Illinois University Carbondale

Studied Critical Race Theory at Southern Illinois University Carbondale Attended from 2005 to 2008

More about Dr. Curry and his current scholarship and research.

Tommy Curry on Facebook On Twitter:

‘When They See Us’ Shows a Case’s Impact on U.S. Policy – The Atlantic

When They See Us is primarily focused on the racist logic of the policing, court, and prison systems that cost the five defendants their childhood. The series also profoundly illuminates some inherent problems in American criminal justice from a range of perspectives. Viewers get an intimate glimpse of mothers, fathers, and siblings fighting for the freedom of their loved ones; law-enforcement authorities classifying these same boys as “animals”; and protesters on both sides holding signs, declaring “it’s not open season on women” or the real rapist in court today is the New York police and the D.A.

Ultimately, the hysteria surrounding the Central Park Jogger case gave rise to new language about black-youth crime, and to new laws that caused more children to stand trial as adults than at any other time in American history.

When They See Us gets the audience closer to understanding why juvenile and adult prison populations exploded through the 1990s, and how the United States became home to the largest incarceration system in the world.

Source: ‘When They See Us’ Shows a Case’s Impact on U.S. Policy – The Atlantic

Read: Ava DuVernay does true crime differently in ‘When They See Us’

The conditioning that fuels the mental health epidemic for Black men, and how to stop it – The Black Youth Project

“Gender, through the lens of white supremacy, prescribes how we should be, instead of accepting us how we are. It tells boys they’re not supposed to cry (or even feel emotion), and it tells girls they’re supposed to be good at cooking and play with Barbies. Those are small examples of a much larger issue, and these gendered lessons exist at every turn, are all-consuming and ripple across our lives.There are people in bodies deemed masculine who have been told they are a boy time and time again, even though that’s not how they feel inside. They are told their feelings are unnatural and irrelevant. Boys are told over and over again that they must follow certain rules, their lives must be a certain way, their dreams must be a certain thing.Gender also tells us that we are not whole and are only one part of a whole; the whole being a man and a woman. This is incredibly anti-queer and an unhealthy way to view yourself and a relationship.

Viewing yourself as less than a whole being who possesses the capacity to be masculine and feminine, and perform a variety of roles or possess skills that are deemed feminine, is illogical.It is terrifying to think that so many of us internalize these messages on a deep, subconscious level, a message that exposes men to constant emotional isolation and violence if they exist outside of these preset parameters. It is alarming that many men move through life seeing themselves as incomplete because they will never be with a woman or because they have yet to marry their “soulmate.” It’s alarming that people will not teach their boys how to cook, robbing them of that  that necessary survival skill. It is alarming how many people feel uncomfortable seeing men cry.”

Source: The conditioning that fuels the mental health epidemic for Black men, and how to stop it – The Black Youth Project

Black Men Still Incarcerated at Disproportionate Levels | BlackPressUSA | BlackPressUSA

” . . . the report’s authors said the local government should be doing more to support those who are justice-involved, including those who are formerly incarcerated and those with parole, probation, and community supervision.These individuals and their families struggle with access to housing, employment, educational opportunities, and meeting health and mental health needs and experience a patchwork of services that are under-resourced and not targeted to meet the complex challenges that come before, during, and after justice involvement, FPWA officials said.The result is a continuing cycle of poverty and incarceration that has a devastating impact on families for generations, they said.“If we are serious about ending mass incarceration, if we want to disrupt systems that criminalize the poor, we must better utilize and resource the organizations that are already providing critical services in these communities,” Jennifer Jones Austin, FPWA CEO and Executive Director, said in a news release.“Systemic racism drives both poverty and the mass incarceration of low-income people, especially people of color. This cycle of poverty and criminal justice involvement feeds on itself and creates herculean barriers to achieving economic and social advancement, for those who have been justice involved and for their loved ones,” Jones said.“There are proven ways to support communities experiencing high levels of poverty, income insecurity and incarceration. Human services organizations are a key part of those solutions,” she said.”

Source: Black Men Still Incarcerated at Disproportionate Levels | BlackPressUSA | BlackPressUSA

The Central Park Five, Criminal Justice, and Donald Trump | The New Yorker

In two trials, in 1990, Santana, Wise, Richardson, McCray, and Salaam were convicted of the attack, even though there was no physical evidence tying them to it, only their supposed confessions, which contradicted one another. They were sentenced to terms of between five and fifteen years. The accused came to be known as the Central Park Five, but that, too, was a linguistic dodge. Better to identify them by their number and the scene of their alleged crime than by the brutality visited upon them by an arbitrary justice system and the public opinion that abetted it. In 2002, Matias Reyes, a convicted rapist, confessed to the crime, and, based on DNA evidence, the charges against the five were vacated. In 2014, the city paid them forty-one million dollars, to settle a federal civil-rights lawsuit.

Source: The Central Park Five, Criminal Justice, and Donald Trump | The New Yorker

Du Boisian Double Consciousness and the Appropriation of Black Male Bodies in Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ | The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA)

Du Boisian Double Consciousness and the Appropriation of Black Male Bodies in Jordan Peele’s Get OutCivil American, Volume 4, Article 1 (April 16, 2019).

By Darrius Hills and Seth Vannatta |

The Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,—a world which yields him not true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. ~ W. E. B. Du Bois [1]

Source: Du Boisian Double Consciousness and the Appropriation of Black Male Bodies in Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ | The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA)