Since beginning the new quarter, my humanities core class has taken a slight twist in terms of how it is being outlined. Instead of reading a novel and relating certain parts to history and empire in lecture, Professor Block has taken a different approach. We are assigned minimal reading, which usually involves something about the suffrages of African Americans, and focuses on other subjects in lecture. Out of all the subjects we have touched upon in lecture, the most intriguing to me was the emphasis on gender and sexuality when determining the status of certain races. To be more elaborate, Europeans would make assumptions such as the slaves having easy childbirth and relating them to animals so that they are viewed less as humans and more as some other type of species. Within this blog, I would like to touch upon these subjects and elaborate more on my thoughts.
Many of the accusations made against slaves throughout history included the idea of comparing their characteristics to those of animals and making them seem “beastly”. In doing this, the Europeans focused a lot on women and how their childbirth occurred. Furthermore, the Europeans said that the slaves had an easy, unpainful childbirth similar to that of animals in which they would give birth to the child by themselves and then continue to go about their day as if nothing had happened. With this idea in mind, the Europeans accused the slaves of not being of Christian descent. Why, you may ask. In the famous story of Adam and Eve, Eve was cursed with painful childbirth for taking the apple from the Garden of Eden. Since the Europeans believed that the slaves had easy childbirth, they could account this as being a sign of savagery and barbarism. While there was little to no evidence about this easy childbirth among slaves, I think the Europeans used this idea as a way to make them appear more uncivilized than them and therefore, justify their reasons for enslaving them.
Another accusation that was placed on the slaves had to do solely with the women once again in that they were seen as uncivilized because they usually did not wear any tops to cover their breasts. Once again, these women were compared to animals when their breasts were related to being like the “utters of goats”. Through this comparison, the Europeans were once again able to succeed in making the slaves seem like savages and therefore, justifying their enslavement. However, for my personal viewpoint, not wearing a top was what these indigenous people have always known. Within their society, it is normal and natural for the women not to cover up their breasts and they should not be judged based off of what their own culture is telling them to do. This reminds me of a term I learned in my Anthropology class, cultural relativism, which is the idea that an individual’s beliefs should be able to be viewed based on that person’s own culture rather than viewing it from your own individual culture. With this idea in mind, the Europeans should have recognized the differences between their culture and the slaves’ cultures before judging them and viewing them as inferior to themselves.
Thanks for reading!