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Ar'n't I a woman?: Female slaves in the plantation South Paperback – 1985

3.9 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book challenges the myth of the Southern mammy and other myths and attempts a richer, more complex pic ture of the lives of black women in slav ery. Drawing on historical evidence, in cluding slave narratives and the diaries and autobiographies of white Southern ers, as well as on recent scholarship on the black family, the author examines slave women's daily life, occupations, family roles, and female networks. She finds strength and resourcefulness, but denies that female slaves played a dom ineering role in their families. Her view will be of interest to scholars, especial ly those studying comparative female social roles. For most readers, howev er, the story of slave women is better told in Jacqueline Jones's comprehen sive work on black women, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow (LJ 3/1/85). Mary Drake McFeely, Smith Coll. Lib., Northampton, Mass.
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc.


Original and balanced. . . . [A] splendidly written book. -- Carl N. Degler, Stanford University

This is one of those rare books that quickly became the standard work in its field. Professor White has done justice to the complexity of her subject. -- Anne Firor Scott, Duke University --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Norton; 1st edition (1985)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039302217X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393022179
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,144,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I read this book recently for a college history class. Most interesting was the first chapter on the sterotypes of 'Jezebel' and 'Mammy'. Many works have focused on the stereotypes of male bondsmen, such as Sambo or the Nat Turner personalities, however few other works have focused on the misrepresented bondwomen. This gap in history is particullary because there seems to be a limited amount primary sources of the bondwoman's unique struggle to protect her children, herself from her master,mistress, and to assert herself as a women in a system that tended to androynize women. White tries to infer and collect as mnay relavent sources as possible.
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Format: Paperback
Debra Gray White has really done a fine job on this piece, she really tells the whole story of what slavery (Being a Black woman) is about. What I really liked about the author was that she wasn't one sided in writing her piece. She didn't totally demonize the white race, She just told what happened. She talks about how Black women are totally ignored when remeniscing about the act of slavery. I really liked her talk of Jezebel, Sambo, and Mammy as steroetype for Black women. After reading her piece I know see that black women were almost in a worse baot that men in the early years of the country. She talks about the things black women face like sexual harrasment they couldn't do anything about (Women were properties). She talks about a black woman (Mammy) raises a white kid, for the white kid to grow up to become a drunkered and blow off her head with a shotgun. One slaveowner said he'd rather "whip a slave woman than eat on an empty stomach". This novel really shows the intensity of negation black women faced.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In the book Ar'n't I a Woman?, by Deborah Gray White, the reader is challenged by the author to set previous notions regarding American slave women aside to understand the truth, which has long been elusive to the majority of Americans. Over the course of the work, White shocks and appalls the reader in an attempt to inform her readers about the horrors and injustices that slave women were forced to deal with on a regular basis. In doing so, the author makes her point abundantly clear and leaves little question as to the authenticity of her research and work.

White begins her work quite firmly. She discusses two of the great myths of female slavery: Jezebel and Mammy. The author promptly exposes the lie that slave women were promiscuous, dirty women with an unquenchable lust for white men. She asserts, "The choice put before many slave women was between miscegenation and the worst experiences that slavery had to offer. Not surprisingly, many chose the former" (34). As a result, the act of the slave woman giving in to the sexual advances of her white owner branded her as unchaste, a Jezebel. The second stereotype discussed is that of mammy, the nurturing black woman who cares for the white children. Both of these stereotypes are important to note, not only because of their historical significance and their supreme effect on Caucasian beliefs, but also because White ties these ideas through the rest of her work.

After successfully debunking the myths regarding female slaves in America in the first chapter, White goes into great depth regarding the actual lives and hardships that slave women faced daily. For example, White paints a portrait of the female slave that depicts her as just as hard working, if not moreso, than her male counterparts.
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Format: Paperback
February Is Black History Month. March Is Women's History Month

I have mentioned more than once in this space, dedicated as it is to looking at material from American history and culture that may not be well-known or covered in the traditional canon, that the last couple of scholarly generations have done a great deal to enhance our knowledge of American micro-history. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the study of American slavery and its effects on subsequent history for the society and for the former slaves. The book under review represents one such effort in bringing the previously muddled and incomplete story of the triply-oppressed black women (race, gender and class) to the surface.

As the author, Deborah Gray White, has pointed out in her introduction the general subject of the American slave trade, its place in the culture and the general effects of plantation life on the slave has been covered rather fully since the 1950's and 1960's. However, she set as her task filling the gap left by the mainly male historians (Elkins, Genovese, Apteker,et. al) who tended to treat the plantation slave population as an undifferentiated mass. Ms. Gray White undertook to correct that situation with this 1985 initial attempt to amplify the historical record. Although other, later researches have expanded this field (as a sub-set of women's history, at the very least) this is definitely the place to start. I might add that copious footnotes and bibliography give plenty of ammunition for any argument that the female slave has been under-appreciated, under-studied and misunderstood within the context of the historical dispute of the effects of slavery on the structure of the black family and black cultural life.

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