Most of the African American women were brought to the United States as slaves to work for the white people in a situation of oppression. African American women feminist scholars have described their experiences in the United States citing among the exploitation of blacks womens labor, economic disparity, and social-cultural issues as some of the key oppressions or challenges that the women of color have experienced in America. This paper is going to examine how intersectionality and systematic oppression, respectively, attend to the complicated aspects of womens identities, particularly women of color based on the textual evidence from selected literary texts such as Empty Vessel by Holland-Moore, Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, The fifth Season by Jemisin, N. K, and Playing in the Back by Toni Morrison.
Oppression is defined as any unjust situation where one group is systematically and over a long period of time is denied access to privileges and opportunities by another racial group because of the race, gender, class, sexuality, nation, age, and ethnicity. However, class, gender and racial oppressions are among the key aspects or challenges that have significantly shaped the African-American womens relationship with the community, employers, and also their fellow women of color as some scholars described them (Meyers 97). An African American or women of color are exposed to double oppression. According to Crenshaw, Kimnerle in her article Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color," it is important to understand the aspect in which the African American women were treated and perceived in the society during the slavery period and even after or post-slavery period. In the text Empty Vessel, the author describes her relationship with the community and other people especially black women like her. The women of color or black women have experienced discrimination and oppression in terms of gender and race.
In the perspective of gender, women of color can be compared with their male African-American counterparts who enjoy more privileges even though they are of the same race (Crenshaw 1244). Gender disparity or inequality in terms of resource allocation and income has always been a significant issue in the social-cultural and political arenas since the abolition of slavery. The black women have been marginalized such that they are not allowed to enjoy the same rights and privileges as their male counterparts. Secondly, in the perspective of race, women of color have been exposed to oppression as compared to the white women. Black feminists explain about the experiences or challenges that black women go through in the United States right from the time they had entered into the country as slaves (Collins 4). Therefore, to understand the intersectionality and systematic oppression aspects of womens identities requires us to first understand the two or double oppression perspectives that have been highlighted above.
Holland-Moore in Empty Vessel explains the experiences of the protagonist in the story, whom she gives the first voice narration. This means that it is her experience that she tries to narrate through the first person perspective. The narrator, who is the protagonist in the story passes through various challenges including being abused and misused by the white male characters. As Morrison, Toni explains in Playing in the Dark, the fabrication of Africanist persona is reflexive; this means that characters represent the authors conscious through which the experiences of the author are passed to the audience or readers (17). Morrison argues that when early African American writers use the African characters in their texts such as Empty Vessel where the author uses a mullato character; they did not do so just because they wanted to tell the historical events, but to mediate on the uncertainties that lurked in their construction of their new world and identity as well (18). The narrator in the story Empty Vessel, who is a mullato (mixed race, black and white) explains her experience during the period of slavery in St. Francis Ville, Louisiana. Although she is born from white and black parents, she falls more on the black side. This was one of the challenges that African American women and men faced during this time. Even the children that they bore with the white male were subjected to the same kinds of nightmares that they were also experiencing. As the narrator explains, my momma was a mullato woman and they used to tell me I took after her with the dark, wavy hair and dusky brown skin (Holland-Moore 2). The wavy hair shows that she inherited some of the white characteristics from the father. However, the fact that she had dark skin makes her black. Therefore, she explains how she has been living with her aunt, Nana Tima who raised her up telling her stories of how they came to be. Slaves were subjected to total and extreme poverty such that they could not afford better services such as education and medical care. Therefore, education was offered to those that could get the opportunity. However, as the narrator explains, Nana Tima taught her some of the medicinal herbal techniques that she could use to heal (Holland-Moore 3); this implies that they depended on their natural medicine and not the advanced white medicine.
As a slave and woman of color, the narrator explains her encounter with the white male dominated community. Slaves were subjects and properties of the white masters; they could use them anyhow they want. The narrator explains about her unpleasant encounter with Judge, a white master. The kinds of punishments that he uses on slaves show the kinds of tribulations and oppression that the women of color were going through during the slavery period. The two perspectives of oppression that were highlighted in the previous section are evident in this text. The narrator is oppressed first as a female and again, as a black or mixed color race. The fact that she is a black woman makes her a slave and she has to perform all the kinds of duties that slaves do. Again, as a slave, she is made to work for the master just like her mother used to. Secondly, she is oppressed because she is a female. She does not have the energy to fight the masculine figure like Judge who ties her up on a chair. She is dragged down and she is helpless as she tries to cry for help. The narrator explains that before I knew it, he struck me so hard across my face that I fell to the floor, stunned (Holland-Moore 7-8).She is even abused and threatened; for example after Judge tells her that she should stop struggling or else he will kill her (Holland-Moore 8). The worst part is when her ears are cut and she is left to bear the embarrassment and pain. Women of color are misused and nothing they can do because they do not have the power or energy to fight their masculine white oppressors like Judge. Women are subjects of the masters or employers; they are always second in everything. The identity of a woman of color needs to be understood in terms of the two perspectives that have been explained previously; double oppression.
Other stories like Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, black female characters are also exposed to the same predicaments that the character in Empty Vessel is exposed to. For example, Anyanwu, who is the female immortal in the story Wild Seed, is forced to comply with the demands of the other black male immortal, Doro who feeds on other peoples souls. He has lived for the past 3,500 years stealing and feeding on other peoples bodies (11). Although she is also immortal like Doro, Anyanwu does not compare with Doro, a male figure. Doro forces her to travel with him from her village to the new world where he expects to breed his new race of immortals like him. Therefore, Anyanwu has used a tool of breeding. Doro, who calls the children he sires everywhere he goes seeds forces Anyanwu to bear him children that will form the new race of immortals.
The same tragic experiences are faced with other female characters in the other texts; for example, in the story Fifth Season, Essun, a woman with ordinary life is forced to bear the pain of losing her son who has been brutally murdered by the husband and has also kidnapped her daughter. Women are subjects of male figures in the society; however, how much they try to come out of it, they find themselves in situations where their fates are in the hands of the male figures who subject them to extreme oppression. Essun in Fifth Season has to go through the challenges of walking in long dark nights and passing through the areas prone to war so as to find her daughter. Her fate of going through these challenges is determined by her husband who has killed her only son and took her daughter hostage. She will break through the challenges and obstacles of long dark nights if she must find her daughter and probably save her. Although, there is no hopelessness in this text, but the author describes the situations that the female characters go through that the readers can identify and sympathize with the characters. The young girl, Damaya is taken to serve the empire, to be a subject like a narrator in Empty Vessel. These women have their fates determined by other people other than themselves. They are not allowed to make decisions or choices of what they want.
As feminists scholars such as Collins, Patricia in Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment explains, women of color or black women are oppressed with the system of social control designed specifically for the male figures in the society to bar them from pursuing intellectual enlightenment and to keep them in a subordinate place (Collins 5). The kinds of roles that African American or women of color have been assigned in the selected texts in this study depict the societal social system structured and designed to prevent women of color from getting enlightenment.
Although in some cases, the roles have been used to fulfill the artistic functions as Morrison tries to refute in Playing in the Dark, but in most cases, they show the societal systems that the male figure uses to dominate and control the women. The women of color are kept in a confined environment where they are expected to conform to every societal arrangement (Smith 8-9). The intersectionality that is created by the social structure or system designed specifically to control women lies in its recognition that multiple oppressions that women of color pass through are suffered in a synthesized experience. This can be explained by the experiences that characters in the selected texts that have been explained previously in this study.
A section of women is exposed to trauma like Essun in the story The Fifth Season when her husband murders her son and kidnaps the daughter. Women are said to be fragile and passive and yet black women or women of color are treated as mules and assigned heavy cleaning responsibilities like what we see in the story Empty Vessel where the narrator explains how she and Nana Tima and the other slaves work for the white male, master Judge who has no pity or human features. Black feminists try to explain how intersection oppression of race and gender could be used to understand the collectively shared black womens oppression and inequality that has long existed. As Morrison in Playing in the Dark explains, race has become a metaphor in which people refer to the forces and events of social decay, human panic, and economic disparity (63). However, female characters in the selected stories have tried to live within the confined social set ups created by the male features to bar them from enjoying the same privileges that they, male enjoy. In the story Wild Seed...
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