In the book Ar'n't I a Woman?, by Deborah Gray White, the reader is challenged by the author to set previous notions regarding American slave women aside to understand the truth, which has long been elusive to the majority of Americans. Over the course of the work, White shocks and appalls the reader in an attempt to inform her readers about the horrors and injustices that slave women were forced to deal with on a regular basis. In doing so, the author makes her point abundantly clear and leaves little question as to the authenticity of her research and work.
White begins her work quite firmly. She discusses two of the great myths of female slavery: Jezebel and Mammy. The author promptly exposes the lie that slave women were promiscuous, dirty women with an unquenchable lust for white men. She asserts, "The choice put before many slave women was between miscegenation and the worst experiences that slavery had to offer. Not surprisingly, many chose the former" (34). As a result, the act of the slave woman giving in to the sexual advances of her white owner branded her as unchaste, a Jezebel. The second stereotype discussed is that of mammy, the nurturing black woman who cares for the white children. Both of these stereotypes are important to note, not only because of their historical significance and their supreme effect on Caucasian beliefs, but also because White ties these ideas through the rest of her work.
After successfully debunking the myths regarding female slaves in America in the first chapter, White goes into great depth regarding the actual lives and hardships that slave women faced daily. For example, White paints a portrait of the female slave that depicts her as just as hard working, if not moreso, than her male counterparts. However, though her work in the fields was important, her true value was placed in keeping the male slaves sexually satisfied and reproducing new generations of slaves. As a result, most female slaves had families, though more disconnected than those of the American whites. The main reason for slave marriages, according to the author, was "to add to the comfort, happiness, and health of those entering upon it" (99). Indeed, even the supposedly sacred act of marriage was not off limits to Caucasian exploitation. As a result, the female slave trade did not highlight the hard-working nature of the slave, but rather her physical attractiveness, for the benefit of both the male slave and the slave owner. While all slaves were considered products, female slaves in particular were, quite literally, viewed as little more than sexual objects. This stigma did not immediately escape the black woman at emancipation either. White states, "From emancipation through more than two-thirds of the twentieth century, no Southern white male was convicted of raping or attempting to rape a black woman. Yet the crime was widespread" (188). Due to these injustices, the American people are too often subjected to an inaccurate portrait of the female slave and her female descendants, and therefore miss out on a truly inspiring individual.
In her work, Deborah Gray White tears apart the common misconceptions of female slaves and depicts a person that is loving, family-oriented, and hard-working. However, the book, though relatively brief in length can be a tedious read at times. Though White validates her assertions with just a few sources and anecdotes, she relentlessly re-asserts with numerous additional examples which come across as both unnecessary and excessive. As a result, Ar'n't I a Woman at times seems distractingly repetitive for the majority of its pages. In addition, the book could also present itself as an overtly feminist text, which has the potential to turn off many of today's readers of both genders. Though White places some of the blame for conditions and roles of slave women on Caucasian females, she undoubtedly places the majority of the blame on white men. However, it perhaps would have been more accurate and beneficial for her to blame Southern, and American, society as a whole, as Caucasian men were just a product of a long-standing tradition. Despite these obstacles, however, White cannot be discredited for her tireless pursuit to uncover the truth and discredit the myths that have haunted African-American women for centuries. Indeed, if she has accomplished anything, it is the true emancipation of America's most discriminated class.