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Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (Revised Edition)

Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South (Revised Edition) [Kindle Edition]

Deborah Gray White
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

"This is one of those rare books that quickly became the standard work in its field. Professor White has done justice to the complexity of her subject."—Anne Firor Scott, Duke University

Living with the dual burdens of racism and sexism, slave women in the plantation South assumed roles within the family and community that contrasted sharply with traditional female roles in the larger American society. This new edition of Ar'n't I a Woman? reviews and updates the scholarship on slave women and the slave family, exploring new ways of understanding the intersection of race and gender and comparing the myths that stereotyped female slaves with the realities of their lives. Above all, this groundbreaking study shows us how black women experienced freedom in the Reconstruction South — their heroic struggle to gain their rights, hold their families together, resist economic and sexual oppression, and maintain their sense of womanhood against all odds.


This examination of women slaves of the American South demonstrates that these women made a more significant contribution to the family's economy and achieved a greater degree of equality with their men than white women.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 437 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; Revised Edition edition (12 Dec 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0068Q89H6
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #491,530 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful and brilliant 19 May 1999
By A Customer
You will note that this title is reminiscent of another incredibly brave and brilliant writer and scholar, bell hooks, who wrote 'Aint I a Woman'. This book demonstrates that white males and their heterosexist patriarchy are mostly to blame for the maltreatment of Women of Color in the south. As a white woman, I am just so impressed and filled with gratitude at this tremendous work of insightful scholarship. As we all come together to combat the white male agenda of hatred, it is books such as this that bind us together in our struggle to be heard.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It Sheds light on the truth, FAIRLY 28 Oct 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Debra Gray White has really done a fine job on this piece, she really tells the whole story of what slavery (Being a Black woman) is about. What I really liked about the author was that she wasn't one sided in writing her piece. She didn't totally demonize the white race, She just told what happened. She talks about how Black women are totally ignored when remeniscing about the act of slavery. I really liked her talk of Jezebel, Sambo, and Mammy as steroetype for Black women. After reading her piece I know see that black women were almost in a worse baot that men in the early years of the country. She talks about the things black women face like sexual harrasment they couldn't do anything about (Women were properties). She talks about a black woman (Mammy) raises a white kid, for the white kid to grow up to become a drunkered and blow off her head with a shotgun. One slaveowner said he'd rather "whip a slave woman than eat on an empty stomach". This novel really shows the intensity of negation black women faced.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Does a great deal to illminate the struggles of slave women 29 Oct 1998
By A Customer - Published on
I read this book recently for a college history class. Most interesting was the first chapter on the sterotypes of 'Jezebel' and 'Mammy'. Many works have focused on the stereotypes of male bondsmen, such as Sambo or the Nat Turner personalities, however few other works have focused on the misrepresented bondwomen. This gap in history is particullary because there seems to be a limited amount primary sources of the bondwoman's unique struggle to protect her children, herself from her master,mistress, and to assert herself as a women in a system that tended to androynize women. White tries to infer and collect as mnay relavent sources as possible.
28 of 37 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ar'n't I A Woman? 16 Oct 2006
By Cale E. Reneau - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sojourner's Truth Goes Marching On 7 Feb 2009
By Alfred Johnson - Published on
February Is Black History Month. March Is Women's History Month

I have mentioned more than once in this space, dedicated as it is to looking at material from American history and culture that may not be well-known or covered in the traditional canon, that the last couple of scholarly generations have done a great deal to enhance our knowledge of American micro-history. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the study of American slavery and its effects on subsequent history for the society and for the former slaves. The book under review represents one such effort in bringing the previously muddled and incomplete story of the triply-oppressed black women (race, gender and class) to the surface.

As the author, Deborah Gray White, has pointed out in her introduction the general subject of the American slave trade, its place in the culture and the general effects of plantation life on the slave has been covered rather fully since the 1950's and 1960's. However, she set as her task filling the gap left by the mainly male historians (Elkins, Genovese, Apteker,et. al) who tended to treat the plantation slave population as an undifferentiated mass. Ms. Gray White undertook to correct that situation with this 1985 initial attempt to amplify the historical record. Although other, later researches have expanded this field (as a sub-set of women's history, at the very least) this is definitely the place to start. I might add that copious footnotes and bibliography give plenty of ammunition for any argument that the female slave has been under-appreciated, under-studied and misunderstood within the context of the historical dispute of the effects of slavery on the structure of the black family and black cultural life.

Ms. Gray White set up a five pronged attack on the then current (up to 1985) conceptions about the role of the female slave: the always `hot button' and continuing controversy over her role as sexual "Jezebel" or asexual "Mother Earth" nurturing Mammy: her central economic role in the upkeep of the plantation and of the slave quarters: her critical role as "breeder" of children in order to maintain the laboring population and slave-owners' profits; her relationship to other females on the plantation and the division of labor among them by age, child-bearing status and health; and, the myths or misconceptions about black families, marriage and culture.

As part of Ms. Gray White's argument she has addressed the thorny issue of the female slave as a sexual object (to both white and black men) on the one hand and her critical role of 'nurturer' to the next generation of slaves on the other. This is a tension that in many ways has not been resolved even in post-slavery times and so was worthy of her attention (and ours today, as well). Moreover, this ambivalence flows over into the kinds of work the female slave was expected to perform at various stages of her life as a "breeder" and the differential treatment she received by the slave-owners at various stages of that cycle. Ms. Gray White also has some interesting things to say about female social solidarity (and rivalries) in the workplace and in the cabins. The age old question of social hierarchy between "house" and "field" slaves also gets her close attention.

Additionally, Ms. Gray covers a then relatively new topic (brought about by male historian's conception of the female slave as dominating the family structure and therefore producing the stereotypical "Sapphire"). Although she has not provided any really new information about the economic and social structure of plantation life (which drove Southern society in the ante-bellum period in everything from national politics to "correct" racial attitudes among non-slave-owning whites) her great achievement is to give voice to the differences between male and female slaves that had not been previously appreciated.

Perhaps the most important scholarly achievement in this little book however is her challenge to the orthodoxy about the female dominance of black family life on the plantation and its effects on post-slavery life. This additional `hot-button' issue gets fully outlined here. To seek further insight in this issue today look at other sources to see how the arguments have continued not only as a question of historical importance but national social policy.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Female Slaves 3 Feb 2007
By Robert W. Kellemen - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Deborah Gray White writes tellingly about the double evils faced by the Black woman of the old South: racism and sexism. Truly, they faced a lack of personhood at every turn.

The author weaves together quotes from enslaved Black women to tell her story. As other reviewers have noted, there does tend to be something of a feel of a feminist slant to the writing. I certainly would not argue against her basic premise of White male abuse of Black female slaves. However, having researched the White female slave owners, I would contend that women of the South were as guilty as the men of evil and condoning evil.

Reading firsthand accounts of these Black "sisters of the spirit" is the only way to truly gain a feel for what they endured and the larger cultural evils. Three examples include: "Behind the Scenes," "The House of Bondage," and "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl."

Reviewer: Bob Kellemen, Ph.D., is the author of Beyond the Suffering: Embracing the Legacy of African American Soul Care and Spiritual Direction , Spiritual Friends, and Soul Physicians.
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