My newest listen, the podcast: In Search of Black History by Bonnie Greer

I am on the final of this eight part podcast, which I hope continues on for ad infinitum: In Search of Black History by Bonnie Greer.  At the onset, I was not familiar with Bonnie Greer but, here is a quick bio on this remarkable woman. 

Trustee of the British Museum (former), award winning playwright, novelist, and critic. Greer has embarked on a new journey, an Era of Reclamation. I love that word - reclamation. I've linked her blog, please read on to see what this means in better detail. In summary, Greer is looking to spark a new dialog about ownership and identity of black, African history. 

As we know - or should know - virtually all of the history we (when I say 'we', I mean it to include white people, those who identify as westerners, and with a traditional western education) have been taught, has been told from the viewpoint of one. The viewpoint of the white male. That viewpoint may have various outfits on, such as colonialism, postcolonialism, antebellum, and so on but, the view is always of that one. 

I would say that I am well read; a history nerd for sure. My undergrad and graduate work (for two masters programs), were all centered on African American history. I don't like the term 'woke', it sounds goofy to me, but I would say that I am woke. 

But this podcast... this podcast!! I cannot recall the last time I had to stop and write so many things down to google later. Each episode is a jam packed onslaught of information, a rush of emotions, and somehow only 45 minutes or so. It passes in a flash. 

I cannot possibly share all the mind blowing bits of history Greer and her guests shed light on but, I will mention two. 

The story of Sarah Baartman: Believed to have been born in South Africa in 1789. Not long after she was sold into slavery, she became known as the Hottentot Venus and toured Paris and London to large crowds. But these shows were horrifying. Sarah was endowed with some serious curves - large, round buttocks and this completely hypnotized a certain doctor. She was forced to go on display. She would stand, nude, half nude in front of crowds who paid to stare at her. Those who payed extra could physically touch and inspect her body. Women and men - all white of course - would go to these shows to see the black Venus.

The attendees discussed her 'primitive' body shape and would try to scientifically understand why black women had this or that kind of body, kind of buttock, kind of labia, kind of breasts. Her life was one of endurance, violation, and sadness. The fight over her remains is one more horrible tale in her life. I encourage you to take the time to read about her. The more obvious lesson from her life and a supposed primitiveness of black, African women's physique is how long lasting this obsession has been, and at great cost. That in itself is a whole other blog post, the oversexualization of girls and women of color among whites. Her life is one that was so documented that we can sadly pinpoint when white people, to great cost to people of color, abused/used and coveted/imitated certain "African" features. 

Dr. Rebecca Hall: A guest on an episode, Dr. Hall had me pausing and taking notes left and right. She is a historian, a descendant of slaves, and someone who is bringing light to the lost women of the slave trade. For a decade, Dr. Hall combed through British archives looking at old captain logs from slave ships, court records, and even bones. Yes, captain's logs from slave ships are still around in archives.. they were kept for insurance purposes due to the 'inventory' on the ships, and well, over time, they just get lost and forgotten. 

Dr. Hall read hundreds of these logs and, spoiler alert, these rides were not what we thought they were. We all have the image of a slave ship where people are all chained together, crammed tight with no room to move or breathe. Yes, this was true...for the men. It seems the whites running the ships didn't see the need to chain up the women. Women were not seen as a threat, and a black woman sure was no threat, they assumed. They also didn't want to have the women chained up because it made them harder to access. They wanted the women easily accessible and available for rape. The logs Dr. Hall reads tell us that time and time again, the white men running these ships kept underestimating African women.

Let us think about who these African women were...often they were sold by conquering tribes. Some tribes kept the women in communities they captured but, get this, they sold (or killed) all the men and they sold the women who fought the hardest. They sold the ones who were the most fierce, the strongest of warriors. These fighters were not the kind of women that conquering kings believed they could incorporate. No no, these women were trouble and they got sold. Little did the white men on the slave ships know. 

While they chained up the men, they let these warrior women loose. Time and time again, the captain's logs document revolt, uprising, insurrection, disobedience... all by the African women. The women fought back, often, and hard. We don't think of slave revolts as being led by women but, that story needs to change because these women led the way. Sadly, we do not know the fate of most of the women once the ships dock into trading ports. Most of their names are lost to us but, not all. Not all the names are lost. Please take some time to read more about Dr. Rebecca Hall's work. It is revolutionary, gender role breaking, and empowering. 

Note: This blog is a casual draft. I may have missed a comma here and there, and more, due to lack of free time because of two young boys. 

1 comment

Thanks for sharing. Great post and will definitely check out the podcast.

Britta Berge February 12, 2021

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