African women were more important to the project of constructing the Americas – both literally and symbolically – than historians have been willing to acknowledge. Four-�?fths of all women who migrated to the Americas before 1800 were African. During the same period, the numbers of enslaved forced migrants outnumbered European migrants by almost three to one (Eltis, 2000: 97; Morgan, 2007: 122). We know, of course, how this came to pass. The trans-Atlantic slave trade set in motion a massive transformation of the Atlantic world – arguably, the trade itself created the Atlantic world – setting in motion structural, material, cultural, and demographic changes with which historians continue to grapple. Recently, historians and scholars of the Atlantic have exhibited a new appreciation for the multiple ways in which the trans-Atlantic slave trade produced and mobilized gendered articulations of power. In the context of this circulation of commodi�?ed bodies, African women emerge and disappear from the historical record in ways both predictable and also startling. Racial slavery produces them as both brute and sexualized labour. Contemporaries relied upon Old World ideologies of gender and diﬀerence in order to articulate a natural order in which black women’s bodies were especially degraded. By giving birth to children, women were the natural reproducers of hereditary racial slavery. Thus women’s involvement in family life was always imbricated with the racial logic on which their enslavement rested. For women caught in the circuits of trade and exchange that characterized slavery in the Americas, family life was always problematic. As European traders put the trans-Atlantic slave trade into motion, they simultaneously constructed images of African people as enslavable in ways that situated women’s bodies and reproductive possibility as a fulcrum upon which racial diﬀerence depended.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)