Black Feminist Discourse on Rape and its Revisions in Black Women's Contemporary Narratives of Slavery
Swann, Dominique Nicole
In the twenty-first century, Black women writers across the African Diaspora have written neo-slave narratives to intervene in previous conversations within Black feminist literary theory and criticism. Many of them have challenged not only the literary tradition within which they are situated, but they have also sparked a renewed interest within the field's major critical conversations. Dolen Perkins-Valdez's Wench (2010) and Andrea Levy's The Long Song (2010) are two exemplary texts that take up a longstanding conversation within the field and within its object of study: sexuality. Both novels, published in the early part of the twenty-first century, are directly in conversation with critical texts on sexuality in the lives of Black female subjects. More specifically, Perkins-Valdez and Levy unsettle a rigid divide between master and slave. They consider anew Black feminist criticism's assumption: a sexual relationship between a white male and an enslaved Black woman is inherently non-consensual because of an inherent power imbalance. In other words, a master owns a slave and a slave is owned by a master; therefore, a consensual sexual relationship between a master and a slave is impossible. However, Wench and The Long Song feature enslaved Black women as protagonists who, literally and figuratively, consent to and engage in the act of sexual intercourse with their masters. Engaging in sexual relations with white males brings enslaved women sexual satisfaction and affords them opportunities to subvert their subjugation within and outside of domestic spaces. In doing so, contemporary Black women writers have exploded previous assumptions about rape once articulated in Black feminist literary criticism and theory. Wench and The Long Song critically intervene in Black feminist discourse when there has been the prevailing assumption that sex between master and slave is `always-already' an act of sexual terrorism.
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