Review: They Were Her Property

In a review of the built environment, one cannot escape the reality that people experience life differently when confronted with others. There is a current phenomenon of escalated confrontations between White women and Black women–and other people of color–which has resulted in a number of White women being referred to as “Karens.” Instead of continuing on about their lives, there are a number of individuals who believe that it is their uninhibited right to control others in the space around them, and for everyone to adhere to whatever wish is desired, whether violence or submission. After reading They Were Her Property, one has a clearer understanding that nothing has changed except for the fact that society is now viewing the expectation that some women have over others, and how that precedent was set.

One common misconception that many people have about slavery is that the slavers were men, which is interesting since the whole premise of Gone With the Wind is that Scarlett O’Hara owned a plantation. In truth, plantation owners were the gentry, and anyone who understands how wealthy people behave should know that wealthy people tend to socialize and marry each other, usually to build wealth. In fact, many men married women who had more slaves than they did, which was a curious conundrum in a patriarchal society: women were supposed to be “lesser,” but many had more than the men. However, this also allowed the false impression within the dominant narrative that White women were never to be considered a threat to anyone, and that their lots in life were somehow equal to those of people of color.

With this false impression, White women who enslaved people committed terrible acts of atrocity against their enslaved populations, most pointedly towards Black women. If it seemed as though their husbands were particularly attracted to one of the slaves, the plantation wives were notorious for violently taking away the beauty of such women. Black women’s breasts were viewed as communal property, while it was considered of utmost important to preserve the perkiness of White breasts, meaning that many Black babies were allowed to be malnourished in favor of slave owners. Brothels were also managed by White women who were looking to make yet more money from their slaves, and Black women were forced to demonstrate positive emotions to assuage any guilt that their slavers might feel. Moreover, if male slavers were considered incompetent, female slavers would take over the responsibility of managing the enslaved, establishing a foundation for the trope seen in many sitcoms with brilliant women surrounded by stupid men.

Between then and now, there has been an underlying belief that Black subjugation was the natural order for everyone, and White women were merely the extensions of their male counterparts. Many Black women have been forced to endure increasingly inappropriate behavior in public to restore the expected dominance, and even though there are several accountings from Black women who were formerly enslaved, those voices have been largely ignored and discredited by the dominant narrative. When society began to evolve in the 1800s, many White women would brutalize and imprison their enslaved in denial of emancipation; part of that was fear due to the perceived inability to control Black people, which meant a loss of status in the social hierarchy. Current society is showing a number of White women is pure shock at any form of accountability for their harassment, which is why many have attempted to transform into victims.

Whether from a historic perspective or through the lens of a camera phone, it is becoming clearer to more of society that unmitigated viciousness against women of color is not more palatable because it was initiated by other women. A cluster of catastrophes have made the behavior too obvious to ignore, especially with the refusal of many Black people to return to places where there would no longer be any protection against the emotional abuse perpetuated on a daily basis. Unfortunately, increasing incidents have made it clear that there is no changed behavior expected of many White women, who continued to manipulate freed people into doing unpaid labor once emancipation was “firmly” present. Furthermore, too many people excuse this oppression because there are no guns involved, just like plantation wives were known to inflict violence using whatever to presently available to induce harm.

In the summer of 2020, there was a focus on male offenders towards Black people that led to the murder of George Floyd, a murder so horrific that people literally took to the streets for his murderer to go to court. In the summer of 2021, the United States is consistently being exposed to the reality that female offenders have helped create a hostile society. The main solution to this problem, just like during the Reconstruction, is to recognize that combined gender and racial bias does not create safe spaces, and there is no one who is exempt from reparative behavior.

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