Black Women's Empowerment

Jamila on Why Some Women Who Leave ‘The Plantation’ Get Skewered

Some detractors of BWE/BWIP bloggers refer to them as ‘sellouts’ for encouraging black women to date interracially and leave the confines of dangerous communities. But I’ve not noticed that among those who sling the word sellout at black women, not all black women who date interracially and travel internationally are considered sellouts—just those black women who actively encourage and tell other black women that they can do the same.

Imagine you are the owner of a plantation and you have one hundred slaves. One of your slaves is always talking about sedition, freedom, and how messed up slavery is; this slave not only makes it known that he/she wants freedom, but actively explains his or her philosophy to other slaves and consistently tries to foment rebellions. If you were a slave master, you would consider this one slave to be extremely dangerous; in fact, you would probably have trouble sleeping at night with this one slave on the grounds on the plantation because your worst fear that might be that one night she’ll sneek into your home and kill you, your wife, and kids. There are a couple of ways you could handle your problem: (1) you could kill the slave or seriously maim her in front of the other slaves in order to send a message or, (2) you could sell that slave away from the plantation. While in the process of considering these options, you wake up one morning to be informed by your overseer that the onerous slave who constantly sows the seeds of dissatisfaction amongst the other slaves has run away! Your first thought is to be angered because you feel that the money you could have earned from your lost chattel has been lost. But, the longer you think about the situation, the better you feel, because now you don’t have to make a decision as to what to do with the slave and the slave is no longer around to whisper about freedom in the ears of the other slaves. Yeah, you lost a little bit of money, but now you’ll just make the other slaves work a little bit harder. The longer you think about your misfortune the more you start to realize that the slave being gone is actually a win-win situation!

Weeks go by and all is peaceful on the plantation. The slaves are working as hard as ever now that the ‘problem child’ is gone. Unfortunately for you, the slave master, the peace doesn’t last. One day you wake up to find that a couple of trees on the outskirts of the fields have been plastered with posters; the posters show pictures of the slave that ran away weeks in various poses, in various locales, enjoying her free freedom. In one pose, she’s in front of a school she enrolled in to learn how to read (and you never let any of your slaves learn how to read, of course); in another pose, she’s sitting on a boat on the river, smiling (and you know you never let any of your slaves off the plantation so they have no idea that at river is nearby); in another pose, you slave is hugged up with a man of her own choosing, a better looking man than any of the slaves you were trying to force her to mate with (and this is bad because you don’t want the women on the plantation to start thinking they can choose their own mates at will—whether you like their mate or not). What a travesty! Oh, the horror! Other slaves had already seen the posters before you had a chance to rip them down and now those slaves are speaking in hushed tones, telling other slaves about the pictures of your runaway slave!

You have to think fast to mitigate the damage. You call a gathering and tell all the slaves that the pictures are fakes—there is no way that your runaway slave is living that well; they should not take these posters seriously. You think that a major uprising has been avoided by your speech, but it hasn’t been–you can see a glint in the eyes of the slaves that wasn’t there before, and it leaves you feeling worried.

You wake up the next morning and not only are there more posters on the trees where you already ripped them down, but now the posters are on a couple of trees even closer to the Big House, which means even more slaves have seen these posters than the ones who saw the posters you ripped down yesterday!

You move into full-scale counterattack mode. You want to do everything you can to avoid a rebellion. Now you are making announcements everyday about that runaway—how she was a liar, a cheater, lazy, or perhaps she’s just bitter that you never tried to seduce her while you’re your wife was away visiting her sister. Who knows? All you know that is you must continually attack that runaway slave in any form or fashion so that you can discourage the slaves that are still toiling in the fields from thinking that running away might be a good idea after all.

The BWE/BWIP bloggers and all black female bloggers who not only ‘left the plantation’ and now live good lives outside of all-black constructs but are actively speaking out and telling other black women that they can do the same are like that one runaway slave. All the people who are calling black women sellouts for choosing to come back to the plantation and put up posters are like that slave master who is deathly afraid that more and more of his slaves will want to abscond from the fields.

A black woman who leaves the fields (i.e., leaves all-black everything constructs) isn’t really a danger to the existing paradigm until she starts actively finding ways to tell other black women that they can do the same. The slave masters (i.e., the folks who call black women sellouts) know that in other for their plantation to keep on running they need some slaves to stick around and work the fields. Slave masters need grist for their mills in the form of human capital, they need a certain number of people to stay and work the fields or else slavery would soon be on its deathbed and life as they know it would come to an end.

My hope is that black women who have managed to leave slavery behind will continue to speak out about their experiences—and about the truth of life on the plantation—so that they can provide encouragement to other black women who are still on the fence about their decision to flee for a better life or to stay and till the soil.

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