When I first read these original words in the Guardian article, I was pissed. I felt like that one little kernel of knowledge from Beyoncé’s background was somehow disrespectful of all the enslaved Black women who had not been freed by the men who raped them. I also questioned the authenticity of Beyoncé’s research. I’d wanted to see her documentation, her research–I am an anthropologist after all, and to us empirical evidence matters. [Maybe a copy of the original marriage license as proof?]
I then read the entire essay, “In Her Own Words,” featured in the September 2018 Vogue and realize that what she was trying to say was a bit deeper and was her coming to terms with beauty standards and expectations around women’s bodies, especially Black women’s bodies after pregnancy. She was also using this Vogue moment, and her star privilege to showcase the talents of the Black photographer and others who worked with her on that photo shoot. The young photographer she chose, Tyler Mitchell, was the first Black photographer, and the youngest, to do a Vogue cover in the history of the magazine. Such a statement in 2020 reveals the enduring power of whiteness.
Below is the original post, which I still stand behind, but today, I have a little more sympathy for Beyoncé, and feel if there had been a Black woman editor reading her “confession,” about this mixed-race ancestry, she might have flagged the need to provide more documentation or make clearer that she was not celebrating this racial heritage–which, by the way, most African Americans have precisely because of the rape of Black women was so rampant under slavery, and their children inherited the slave status of the Black mothers. Notwithstanding the fact that some of these children might have carried all the phenotypic traits of the man who violated their mothers–light skin, different hair texture and color, features that seemed more European than African–they were still property. Think about it, what kind of man can look at miniature image of himself and view that child as “property” to be bought, sold, traded?
These mixed-race children, often brought up in the house –e.g., “house n*gg*rs” –were subjected to the wrath of white wives of the slave masters, though working in the house was also viewed as a privileged status. These white women, who also were complicit in perpetuating slavery for their own social comfort and status, could not help but notice the resemblance between their own children and that mixed-race slave child, who might in appearance have looked more like their Master husbands, than her own children. And white women, who were also property, sometimes had little choice in the matter of deciding what to do with such offspring, though some used every opportunity to abuse them to release their anger.
Stephanie Rogers-Jones’ 2019 book, They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, reveals the complicity, violence, and investment that white women had in the slave complex. They were not the innocent by-standers and unintended beneficiaries of this economic engine of human labor and human trafficking. Indeed, many were more ruthless than than the men. Roger-Jones explains in an interview how she became interested in the topic and what she discovered.
While in graduate school, I stumbled upon a rather notorious slave-owning woman from New Orleans, Marie LaLaurie. She was well-known because she became the subject of a scandal when local members of her community discovered she was torturing and had even murdered some of the slaves she owned. She was married and the mother of two daughters at the time of the discovery. What I found remarkable was not her violence, but what was clearly a deep economic investment in slavery and the extraordinary level of control she exercised over the enslaved people in her household.
The history of what Black women, including Beyoncé’s ancestor, endured under slavery is more complicated than what two lines in a 1000 word article can convey. My hope is that Beyoncé will take the time to unpack such complexities the next times she drops that bomb on us about her ancestry. Maybe the slave master married the slave, but the question of “love” still remains, for me, an unanswered one, since the unequal power relations between Black women and white men slave owners were real.
Original Medium Post, Jun 2, 2020 (updated with images & quotes from “Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself” under the pseudonym of Linda Brent aka Harriet A. Jacobs (1813-1897).
Beyoncé, Bey Bey, Pleeze! Stop perpetuating the colorism myth of interracial “Love.” Don’t know what “myth” your family fed you, but let’s analyze the circulating story of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson. She is now referred to as his “mistress.”
That is a boldface lie. Sally Hemings was property. In a power relationship of Master and slave, can there be real “love” when the slave girl has no choice? She can’t run; she can’t hide. Your ancestor’s Master may have “fell in love” with her — but what choice did she have?
Sally Hemings was the slave of Thomas Jefferson’s wife . When his wife died, Jefferson not only inherited Sally, but he took her to his bed. She was only a child of 14 years old, though some say she was older. We call men who sexually abuse children that pedophiles today!
Also, Sally was the half sister of Jefferson’s wife. Yet her father (who raped Sally’s enslaved mother) and her half sister (Jefferson’s wife) both kept her enslaved! Thomas Jefferson, a president of the United States for whom Hemings bore several children, did free them, though after “several decades” according to the Monticello website. However, Sally remained a slave, even after Jefferson’s death. Now what’s love got to do with it?
Sally Hemings was the child of an enslaved woman and her owner, as were five of her siblings. At least two of her sisters bore children fathered by white men. Mixed-race children were present at Monticello, in the surrounding county, across Virginia, and throughout the United States. Regardless of their white paternity, children born to enslaved women inherited their mothers’ status as slaves. (derived from the words of Sally Hemings’ son – Madison Hemings)
Newsflash! The majority of Black women under slavery were not the recipients of “love.” Female slaves had no legal right to refuse unwanted sexual advances.” (“The Life of Sally Hemings) They were the victims of rape & abuse. They were made to mate with any Black man, including their own sons, if the master thought the offspring would have value. Where do you think the term mutha*ker (motherfu*ker) came from in the American lexicon?
I LUV you Beyoncé, but girrlfriend, please… stop romanticizing mixed-race sex! It may have worked for your ancestor — but people do lie.
If true, your ancestor is the exception and not the rule. Read the slave narrative (“Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl: Written by Herself”) of Linda Brent — aka Harriet Jacob — who hid in a cellar for years to escape the “love” (e.g., sexual harassment) of her master.
That ain’t love! And let us not forget Sally Hemings ! I suggest you interrogate whether that “love story” you been fed passed down for generations a cover up? And, please my sistah, do not let dominant media use it to sanitize the sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against Black women in slavery that continues today!
The Monticello Museum denied Hemings up until DNA proved that she fathered children for the great Thomas Jefferson; and those descendants still live in Charlottesville, VA! And they also have experienced the historical inequality of white CVille that uses proximity to Jefferson and his found of the University of Virginia as its legacy. Yet NONE of Jefferson’s descendants have benefited.
I love you Beyoncé. You a “BadMammaJamma”, but I have 18% European DNA. Less than yours I suspect, but proof positive that the majority of Native-born Black people in America (#ADOS or African descendants of slaves) are a hybrid people who CHOOSE to be BLACK!
The old “one-drop ” or “hypodescent” rule ensured that children born of a union between a slave woman and a white man would always be slaves — hypo, meaning subordinate, inscribed a child’s descent to that of the lesser class, even though the baby was 50% Black and 50% white. And, regardless of whether she carried her father’s feature of blond hair, white skin, and blue eyes — still a slave because her mother was one.
As Harriet Jacobs tells us in one of the few enslaved slave narratives written by a Black woman, who hid for 7 years in an attic, she was sexually abused by the Master and then physically punished by his wife because of his attraction to her. Love had nothing to do with sexual relations under slavery.
If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. I know that some are too much brutalized by slavery to feel the humiliation of their position; but many slaves feel it most acutely, and shrink from the memory of it. I cannot tell how much I suffered in the presence of these wrongs, nor how I am still pained by the retrospect. My master met me at every turn, reminding me that I belonged to him, and swearing by heaven and earth that he would compel me to submit to him. If I went out for a breath of fresh air, after a day of unwearied toil, his footsteps dogged me. If I knelt by my mother’s grave, his dark shadow fell on me even there. (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, p. 46)
So get a grip #Beyonce! Stop buying into white America’s race mixing fantasy, as if your story will make all the majority stories of violence against Black women then and now–police violence against Black people, the history of lynching, the reality of slavery , and the generational persistence of racism— disappear.
It ain’t gonna happen!
Move your ass; be biracial, if it rocks your boat.
But do not delude yourself that racism in America is better because you choose to elevate your whiteness. The rest of us, even with some white DNA coursing through our veins, do not have your light-skinned privilege, so we must contend with being told “…you’re pretty for a Black girl,” or “my dick is not attracted to Black girls,” or being asked “is that your real hair,” if it is straight or curly-kinky.
You are promoting magical white thinking. And, you have become a sterling example of what 21stC colorism looks like. Stop It.
Get a grip Beyoncé-you Black and yo kids be BLACK!!