SEXUAL POLITICS OF LIBERATION

NICOLE KALI

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 SEXUAL POLITICS OF LIBERATION

Black men and women use reclamation as power. They have subverted racist desires into exploration of their own. But reclamation cannot always be powerful, especially rooted in oppressive systems.

There have been racial hierarchies to sexism for millennia now. Misogynoir is a term that Moya Bailey created to describe race and gender intersections for Black women in particular.

Her original definition explains this in connection to American media and pop culture. This includes sociopolitical oppression as time went on. Now misogynoir is perceived as a global phenomenon-not recent in its appearance.


Street scene in Zanzibar, date unknown.


ANCIENT ANTI-BLACKNESS AND ETHNIC SUPREMACY

Anti-Blackness formed complex hierarchies in ancient Africa and the Middle East primarily. The Mother Continent has been infiltrated on racial grounds prior to Euro-Christian patriarchy.

This intrusive takeover doubles as a racial fetish where white and non-white persons attach violent, perverse views toward Black ones.

These facts are remnants of a dark past where colonizers justified dominance over their personhood and right to sexual freedom. They last from historic assaults of Africa.

This cultural trend has refused to die for more than a millennia...700 years before the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.



TRANS-SAHARAN TRADE

This notorious trade system swept Africa's western, eastern and central regions. 20 million enslaved Africans were taken across the Arabian and Mediterrean Seas, Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf Red Sea and Sahel.

This included six major inland routes, three moving through the Sahel interior.

Markets featured captives of all backgrounds from Mali, Morocco and Tunisia to the Horn of Africa's slave ports.

Approximately 10 million African women were shipped abroad.

Only one million or so Christian Europeans were taken captive in Maghrebi countries altogether (Washington Times). So race seems a decisive factor.

As Arab influence flowed across Africa, justifications for Muslim conquest over Black non-believers did too. This does not mean that Islam made every African a slave. But light must be shed on the matter.


A slave market in Khartoum, Sudan, c. 1876.

African women predominantly sold as agricultural, sexual, domestic slaves. 80 million victims in Arab slavery are estimated to have died over 1,300 years. How was Africa devastated by such long-term trafficking? A book review on King Leopold's Ghost discusses this more.

Aurora Ellis comments, "Fetishization for Black hypersexuality is reinforced by Western and Middle Eastern imperialism". This is an uncomfortable but fair obversation.

Since 650 CE, African people have been forced into sexual definitions and non-consensual roles by invaders.

"The girls, many of whom I have seen handled in the most indecent manner in the public market by their purchasers; indeed there is every reasons to believe that the slave-dealers almost universally force the young girls to submit to their lust..."

Elites, sultans, kings and other high-ranking rulers had hundreds to thousands of concubines. Many came from modern-day Ethiopia, Somalia, the Sudan, Kenya, Madagascar and Tanzania.

The Ottoman and Persian empires received immense slave populations until the 20th century. And bound Africans were given little upward mobility.

Though many entered harems as potential wives, the majority remained on call for household work and sexual labor.

African women in imperial retinues couldn't be bought or sold after bearing the master's children-a distinction historians highlight to make the brutality seem less so during the 'Islamic' trade.

 

Even in assimilation, they were vulnerable.

IMPERIAL AFRICAN SLAVE TRADE

See King Leopold's Ghost and True Africa.

TRANS-ATLANTIC SLAVE TRADE

This began in 1519 when Prince Henry of Portugal requested commercial enterprise in the Indian Ocean. The empire grew agitated with Muslim-controlled ports there and decided to make their own.

By Livingstone's day, British colonial officials and auctioneers had well-established relationships with East African or Arab slave merchants. But they still saw them as a threat to their own thriving trade. Without this source of free work, the New World's plantation system would collapse.

Royal navies patrolled the Zanzibari and Tanzanian coasts to intercept cargo aboard other ships. And though male labor served as top priority, Black women were not safe from colonial exploit. Even the famous missionary David Livingstone had his own un-Christian relations (Blantyre).

Europeans commited sexually perverse acts on indigenous African women, which spread as a norm in spite of prudish Christian values. They dehumanized and manipulated Black sexuality to their own ends. This has been terribly prolific.

European slave trade further created sexual manipulation over African people, women the most. Today we fight projected sexual deviance and interconnected personal violence.


GENDER ROLES

Several histories join together in the present for a evolving portrait of their resistance. Like the black feminist Combahee River Collective declared, "History is a weapon".

It cannot be ignored gender discrimination's absorbed and predated white racist ideology in Africa. But it still didn't erase African women's sexual power . Their strength is rooted in personal and political autonomy.

They influenced countless cultures and kingdoms, colonization aside (True Africa). Akan tribes in Ghana were traditionally matrilineal. Benin and southern African clans respected queen mothers and rain queens, the latter a matriarch who could marry women. Up until the 1860's, women chiefs reigned in the Congo.

BLACK AMERICA

There's an age-old schism in the African-American community: Black separation and intraracial oppression. This follows class and gender lines too, using the same tactics as racism to divide and conquer.

Anti-black sexism gets Black males a step above the rest while keeping them subject to white power. The gap is directly tied to social disenfranchisement.

Slave economies, respectability roles and women's erasure followed African people to America. As ever, sexual identity politics determined the direction and leadership of Black freedom.

DuBois once said "When two of these movements-women and color-combine in one, the combination has deep meaning" in 1920. Systemic prejudice is one thing.

Ongoing sexism between Black Americans is another, and Black revolutionary women still talk about it. Many "sisters" endure threats for their vocal resistance. This happened in more than a few anti-oppressive groups of the 60's and 70's.

Note Black Christian theology's prominence. Civil rights leaders and movement logistics largely centered around preconceived ideas of equality.

They emphasized male authority and Black women's subservient place while building off white patriarchal views.

RESISTANCE

 

Black women never took any of this lying down, needless to say.


Further Reading

Arab Slave Trade

Black Women's Resistance to the Legacy of the Arab Slave Trade (teleSUR, 04-10-15)

The African Diaspora in the Indian Ocean World (New York Public Library)