Posted on

Sex, yesterday and today


by Oscar Allen 28.MAR.08

I examined with interest an essay on “Singleness” which a colleague sent to me. Now singleness is a condition in which an adult has no sexual partner and yet does not live an incomplete or unfulfilled life! The essay had a Caribbean focus and all too briefly looked at Caribbean sexuality. I found that when the author discussed the “legacy of plantation life”, the emphasis was on how the slave plantation experience remains fixated in the mentality and conduct of the Caribbean male.{{more}} For the female, no explicit plantation residue was mentioned. I think that the slave plantation experience also damaged our female sexuality. The Caribbean penis and vagina are in need of healing, and the seminal pathologies from plantation experience are not the only hurts. A look back at the Caribbean female experience during slavery could be helpful.

I choose Hilary Beckles to guide us through a short cut tour of plantation – black – woman – experience. To begin with his conclusion: For the black woman the scars of centuries of denial went deep; with the onset of free society, the raw wounds remained, sending tensions down the spine of all recuperative socio political strategies. Beckles listens when 18th century whites, especially women, speak about black women e.g. they are not women; they don’t know how to nurture children, or to be loyal and obedient to their men or to manage a home. The only woman thing in them is the sex that they have with white men. The Black woman, though, saw her main problem as “getting the slave master off her back in the daytime, and off her belly in the night time”. One estate manager used to write down his sexual acts in a diary and Beckles give us the arithmetic of his intercourse. During one year this man had 282 sexual acts with 27 of his master’s women ‘stock’. With one of his favourites, he had sex 160 times. Somewhere there may very well be a man who looks at this manager’s behaviour and says “I wish…”. The plantation legacy is strong. “I did it because I could” is what former US President Clinton explained in relation to having sex with his young female aide. At least Mr. Clinton was asked for an explanation. During slavery there was no question to answer and very little bother. Raw power activated the penis to become predator.

Yet, says Beckles, black women did not take things lying down. They resisted. He recounts with Barbara Bush how black women promoted a culture of intransigence at work; they ran away from owners, terrorised white households with chemical concoctions, refused to procreate at levels expected of them by their owners; insisted on participation in the market – economy as independent hucksters, slept with white men as part of a strategy to better their material and social condition and did whatever else was necessary in order to minimise the degree of their unfreedom. They helped sustain the spirit of resistance. Beckles also joins with Lucille Mair and Kaman Braithwaite to represent Resisting women as Queen and Priestess, and also too as ordinary everyday women. He says that when “the black woman’s inner world – her fertility, sexuality and maternity – (were placed) on the market as capital assets it produced in her a natural propensity to resist and refuse.” Beckles raises two more points that make me think. First that the enslaved black woman was very much alone – as a woman – as she faced the master’s power. Morton calls it “ultimate loneliness” since the other woman – the white woman – did not come to her black sister’s side. Further, says Beckles – slave women were the most exploited group since both white and black masculinities bore down on them and drove them to such depths that they had to build their own schemes of resistance.

We have taken a limited peep with Professor Beckles into the black woman’s slave plantation experience. Is she now freed from the chains and claims on her sexual parts? Is she an equal partner in state power, or is there truth in the charge by Beckles that our “nation states (have) … functioned essentially as boys only clubs”? Is the inner world of her consciousness, spirituality, and sexual identity a place of vibrant creativity and subversive faith? Are the oppressive economic, political and opportunistic forces of the plantations swept away by the rivers of justice? Is the black woman confident in her blackness, independent in her womanness, unbowed as citizen standing with or against power, energised to embrace challenges and confront threats? Is the black woman on an even footing with the black man, with the white woman, with the white man? Or is the damage still being done?

I felt so proud when I read how the slave masters encouraged black woman to bring their freed children back to work on the Vincentian estates (170 years ago) and not one child was reported back on the estate. The black woman had a new vision.

But I was saddened when I read Isabella Lewis’ account of how predatory males, supported by damaged and domesticated females, often stalk and dishonour the young Vincentian girl growing up today. It knocked the indignation out of me when on close reflection, I found that I too was among the predatory males. How about you?

We have a journey to restart, men, women and power structures. The comfort zone we are in is a treacherous dead end. Our women have a leading role in this recreation and the discursive and sexual autarchy on the horizon are not advances against today’s rape of our historical potential. We and our struggles must be born again.

March 18, 2008

Main source of details: Hilary McD Beckles, 1999, Centering Woman … Ian Randle Publishers