The Root: What was your reaction to Toure’s comments?
Dolen Perkins-Valdez: My initial reaction was ‘here we go again with the stereotypes.’ [During slavery] black women were portrayed as seducing men. The ‘wenches’ were so sexual that the white men couldn’t resist them.
The use of the phrase “good-good” objectifies women in the same way that slavery objectified women. It reinforces the idea that women were just bodies to be used in any way. The last line in my book was, “She was more than eyes, ears, lips, and thigh. She was a heart. She was a mind.” The sort of flip-ness of the comment was unfortunate. My feeling is we need to educate ourselves about what really happened.
TR: But Lizzie, one of the main characters, does love her master and specifically use sex to curry favors for her children and other slaves.
DPV: I think there was a lot of gray. Yes, surely women who were favored by the master used whatever little power they could gain from that favor. I think it is a little bit reckless to say that black women intentionally seduced masters. The power they gained was still so small. To call Lizzie a seductress, fooling Massa with her ‘good-good’ is not accurate. He seduced her when she was a 13-year-old orphan. [...]
[Public rapes] definitely happened in the slave quarters in broad daylight. It happens in Toni Morrison’s Beloved. The men are made to give oral sex to the overseer. The way she writes it is very oblique. [In the rape scene in Wench] these two Northern women thought they were coming to see a beating and the master got carried away in the frenzy of the moment. But the master wasn’t doing it for them, he was doing it for the other slaves as a warning.
by Guest Contributor SLB, originally published at PostBourgie
In an effort to eradicate the myth of the “seductive/sexually-empowered slave mistress” (most recently perpetuated by Touré on Twitter, apparently), new novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez has penned a work of historical fiction set in a real location: Tawawa House, a summer resort that catered to white slaveholders and their enslaved “lovers,” in the free state of Ohio.
Wench chronicles the lives of four slave women: Mawu, Sweet, Reenie, and Lizzie (the central protagonist) whose masters annually “whisk them away” from the hardship of their plantation lives and put them up in cottages for a few weeks in summer.
For the women, few things have changed, other than their location: they’re still monitored, chained on a whim, and systematically raped. Only now, they’re also given once-lovely ball gowns—years-old cast-offs left behind by the resort’s previous white patrons—and encouraged to doll themselves up for a semi-public dinner and dance. Continue reading