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Engendering Blackness: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the Tales of Slavery


This dissertation project interrogates the mundane and pervasive practice of sexual violence under slavery at the level of ontological relations, as a mechanism of deracinating violence that produces Blackness in a contradictory relation with the political and social renderings of gender and sexuality. It holds sexual violence through history and political allegory as the essential violence of slavery. The concern woven throughout this project is with the incapacity of political theory proper to mediate on the contexts of sexual violation as a centralizing and absolute force wagered against the formulation of Black gendered subjectivity. Thus I argue that sexual violence places Blackness within a double exposure, marking the body as open to gratuitous violence and also subsequently culpable for the violence it endures. While the experience of sexualized violence under slavery provides purview to this project, my engagement with the term attempts to broaden its scope to reveal how its logics condition the full exposure of blackness to varying arrays of violence.

Using literary works from Octavia Butler, Toni Cade Bambara, Gayl Jones, and Toni Morrison in a cross historical conversation with legal histories of slavery, I argue Black women’s writing and Black feminist thought provide a space to begin imagining the political and social implications of slavery as an institution built on sexual violence, in a manner in which the law denies through the crowding out of slave injury in the historical record. As such I content that sexual violence reaches beyond the slave quarters, and the plantation, appearing in everything that is present or absent in the potentials of the world. Thus this project demonstrates how political identifications are authorized through the structural barring of Blackness to articulate through difference. Furthermore, this project maintains that the engendering of Blackness holds Black gender as recognition for the captor.

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