During the last quarter of the seventeenth century, African slaves were "imported" into the Americas in unprecedented numbers. This enlargement of the slave population represented a deep commitment to, and investment in, slavery. Slavery was to become commonplace and thus demanded moral, religious, and legal justifications. Systematic colonization used European legal systems, which rationalized the existence of slavery by providing normative legitimacy. Throughout the duration of slavery, jurisprudence was a sword employed against enslaved Africans and not a shield, as it is traditionally envisioned. This contradiction of legal imperatives operated not only along racial lines, but also along sexual and gender lines. Female slaves were impacted differently and disparately. They were exploited not only because of their race; their sex could be used as a means of accumulating both wealth and property, which rendered them particularly vulnerable to the external manipulation and co-opting of their sexual and reproductive agency. This Article explores how the American legal system's endorsement of racially b(i)ased proprietary interests in female slaves, as "breeders" of property, created powerful norms of social control over the bodies of black women. These norms exacted a premium on enslaved women by facilitating dominion over their agency. If, as MacKinnon suggests, "[g]ender socialization is the process through which women come to identify themselves as sexual beings, as beings that exist for men," then the exacting of black "female sexual submission" not only reifies patriarchy, but also institutionalizes white supremacy. Therefore, while "sexuality is the linchpin of gender inequality," it is also the lynch-pin of racial injustice for black women. The systemic imperatives of reproduction reveal the centrality of American husbandry-that "[c]ontrol of black fertility became a particularly effective and degrading tool of white domination."
Camille A. Nelson,
American Husbandry: Legal Norms Impacting the Production of (Re)Productivity,
Yale J.L. & Feminism
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yjlf/vol19/iss1/2