The Myth of the White Whore

There is a pocket of racism — a cornerstone in the development of hereditary slavery and institutionalized racism — that is, to date, largely unchallenged and in many ways, still in effect.   It has survived so tenaciously because it effects only a tiny segment of the population directly, but its effects are far-reaching nonetheless.  Let me explain the history.

The Free Persons of Color

There was a curious class of people in the antebellum South – the Free Persons of Color  (often termed FPC). They were mostly the children of White mothers and Black fathers, both usually servants. They came into existence in that period of time when the institution of slavery was still unformed and unsettled, when there was a degree of fluidity of status for Black people and their status might differ little from many Whites.

But things changed.

mom-baby

 

These mothers were disastrously effected by this change. Legislature deemed their marriages to be invalid. They were then hauled into court and prosecuted as whores. They would be sentenced with a term of servitude (enslavement), as would their children – for up to thirty years.  Nonetheless, those children ultimately would live as free persons. Some prospered. Some were accepted by the White community in which they lived.  (See Paul Heinegg, Free African Americans of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland and Delaware.)

These White mothers were persecuted because they posed a threat to the development of the institution of racism and hereditary slavery that became the economic engine empowering a growing nation. As a White mother who raised a brood of color myself I was viscerally aware of an interesting phenomenon in human psychology. People can easily objectify their son’s bastards, but they are far less likely to objectify their daughter’s children.

If that’s your daughter, her child is your flesh and blood. If she is your neighbor, her child is your neighbor. It is difficult to objectify that child into a subhuman ‘other.’  You can’t relegate him to a state of hereditary slavery. You can’t even use his race as an excuse not to vote for him if he decides to run for president.

One White woman in an early American village could ruin the entire village for racism by presenting it with just one adorable bi-racial child, which brings up another curious phenomenon. Bi-racial children tend to be strikingly better looking, more intelligent and well-adjusted than either of their parents. They tend to be exceptional, as in Fredrick Douglass or Booker T. Washington — the kind of people who change the world.

The wealthy class perceived this threat to their bottom line immediately. And as the system matured and all classes of Whites became complicit in the economic engine of chattel slavery, the law morphed into custom and no longer needed to be enforced.

An American taboo was born.

JimcrowFrom my viewpoint, based on my experience of a lifetime, I would have to say it’s alive and well. Unchallenged. Primal. Like Al Jolson in black face. It should shock, but it doesn’t. The culture is still inured to it. It’s unlikely to be challenged since those punished by it, those non-compliant White women, are isolated and few in number. Since it’s difficult for a woman to tell her man that she’s having to be brave for him, she’s unlikely to even tell him what she’s experiencing. She is on her own. What she experiences she experiences in isolation.

What I intend to argue is that the persecution of these women is the tip of an iceberg. The culture is oblivious to it, since only a tiny, scattered population is directly harmed by it, but that berg is ripping the hull out of many a ship. It’s part of the reason we are still stuck, that the true normalization of relations between the races has failed to progress as it ought.

More later.

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