- Perhaps she remembers
her great-great grandmother
who wanted to protest
but only rolled her eyes
and willed herself not to scream
when the white man
mounted her from behind.
The portrayal of Black women as lascivious by nature is an enduring stereotype. The descriptive words associated with this stereotype are singular in their focus: seductive, alluring, worldly, beguiling, tempting, and lewd. Historically, White women, as a category, were portrayed as models of self-respect, self-control, and modesty – even sexual purity, but Black women were often portrayed as innately promiscuous, even predatory. This depiction of Black women is signified by the name Jezebel.2
K. Sue Jewell, a contemporary sociologist, conceptualized the Jezebel as a tragic mulatto – “thin lips, long straight hair, slender nose, thin figure and fair complexion.”3 This conceptualization is too narrow. It is true that the “tragic mulatto” and “Jezebel” share the reputation of being sexually seductive, and both are antithetical to the desexualized “Mammy” caricature; nevertheless, it is a mistake to assume that only, or even mainly, fair-complexioned Black women were sexually objectified by the larger American society. From the early 1630s to the present, Black American women of all shades have been portrayed as hypersexual “bad-black-girls.”4
Jewell’s conceptualization is based on a kernel of historical truth. Many of the slavery-era Blacks sold into prostitution were mulattoes. Also, freeborn light-skinned Black women sometimes became the willing concubines of wealthy White southerners. This system, called placage, involved a formal arrangement for the White suitor/customer to financially support the Black woman and her children in exchange for her long-term sexual services. The White men often met the Black women at “Quadroon Balls,” a genteel sex market.
The belief that Blacks are sexually lewd predates the institution of slavery in America. European travelers to Africa found scantily clad natives. This semi nudity was misinterpreted as lewdness. White Europeans, locked into the racial ethnocentrism of the 17th century, saw African polygamy and tribal dances as proof of the African’s uncontrolled sexual lust. Europeans were fascinated by African sexuality. William Bosman described the Black women on the coast of Guinea as “fiery” and “warm” and “so much hotter than the men.”5 William Smith described African women as “hot constitution’d Ladies” who “are continually contriving stratagems how to gain a lover.”6 The genesis of anti-Black sexual arch types emerged from the writings of these and other Europeans: the Black male as brute and potential rapist; the Black woman, as Jezebel whore.
The English colonists accepted the Elizabethan image of “the lusty Moor,” and used this and similar stereotypes to justify enslaving Blacks. In part, this was accomplished by arguing that Blacks were subhumans: intellectually inferior, culturally stunted, morally underdeveloped, and animal-like sexually. Whites used racist and sexist ideologies to argue that they alone were civilized and rational, whereas Blacks, and other people of color, were barbaric and deserved to be subjugated.7
The Jezebel stereotype was used during slavery as a rationalization for sexual relations between White men and Black women, especially sexual unions involving slavers and slaves. The Jezebel was depicted as a Black woman with an insatiable appetite for sex. She was not satisfied with Black men. The slavery-era Jezebel, it was claimed, desired sexual relations with White men; therefore, White men did not have to rape Black women. James Redpath, an abolitionist no less, wrote that slave women were “gratified by the criminal advances of Saxons.”8 This view is contradicted by Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist and former slave, who claimed that the “slave woman is at the mercy of the fathers, sons or brothers of her master.”9 Douglass’s account is consistent with the accounts of other former slaves. Henry Bibb’s master forced a young slave to be his son’s concubine; later, Bibb and his wife were sold to a Kentucky trader who forced Bibb’s wife into prostitution.10
Slave women were property; therefore, legally they could not be raped. Often slavers would offer gifts or promises of reduced labor if the slave women would consent to sexual relations, and there were instances where the slaver and slave shared sexual attraction; however, “the rape of a female slave was probably the most common form of interracial sex.”11 A slave woman explained, “When he make me follow him into de bush, what use me to tell him no? He have strength to make me.”12 At the same time, Black men convicted of raping White women were usually castrated, hanged, or both.13
People make decisions based on the options they have and the options that they perceive. The objective realities of slavery and the slaves’ subjective interpretations of the institution both led female slaves to engage “voluntarily” in sexual unions with Whites, especially slavers, their sons, and their overseers. A slave who refused the sexual advances of her slaver risked being sold, beaten, raped, and having her “husband” or children sold. Many slave women conceded to sexual relations with Whites, thereby reinforcing the belief that Black women were lustful and available.
The idea that Black women were naturally and inevitably sexually promiscuous was reinforced by several features of the slavery institution. Slaves, whether on the auction block or offered privately for sale, were often stripped naked and physically examined. In theory, this was done to insure that they were healthy, able to reproduce, and, equally important, to look for whipping scars – the presence of which implied that the slave was rebellious. In practice, the stripping and touching of slaves had a sexually exploitative,14 sometimes sadistic function. Nakedness, especially among women in the 18th and 19th centuries, implied lack of civility, morality, and sexual restraint even when the nakedness was forced. Slaves, of both sexes and all ages, often wore few clothes or clothes so ragged that their legs, thighs, and chests were exposed. Conversely, Whites, especially women, wore clothing over most of their bodies. The contrast between the clothing reinforced the beliefs that White women were civilized, modest, and sexually pure, whereas Black women were uncivilized, immodest, and sexually aberrant.
Black slave women were also frequently pregnant. The institution of slavery depended on Black women to supply future slaves. By every method imaginable, slave women were “encouraged” to reproduce. Some slavers, for example, offered a new pig for each child born to a slave family, a new dress to the slave woman for each surviving infant, or no work on Saturdays to Black women who produced six children.15 Young Black girls were encouraged to have sex as “anticipatory socialization” for their later status as “breeders.” When they did reproduce, their fecundity was seen, as proof of their insatiable sexual appetites. Deborah Gray White, a contemporary historian, wrote:
- Major periodicals carried articles detailing optimal conditions under which bonded women were known to reproduce, and the merits of a particular “breeder” were often the topic of parlor or dinner table conversations. The fact that something so personal and private became a matter of public discussion prompted one ex-slave to declare that “women wasn’t nothing but cattle.” Once reproduction became a topic of public conversation, so did the slave woman’s sexual activities.16
The Jezebel stereotype is contradicted by several historical facts. Although Black women, especially those with brown or tan skin and “European features,” were sometimes forced into prostitution for White men, “slaves had no prostitution and very little venereal disease within their communities.”17 Slaves rarely chose spouses from among their blood relatives. Slavers often encouraged, and sometimes mandated, sexual promiscuity among their slaves; nevertheless, most slaves sought long-term, monogamous relationships. Slaves “married” when allowed, and adultery was frowned upon in most Black “communities.” During Reconstruction “slaves eagerly legitimated their unions, holding mass-marriage ceremonies and individual weddings.”18
Unfortunately for Black women, Emancipation and Reconstruction did not stop their sexual victimization. From the end of the Civil War to the mid-1960s, no Southern White male was convicted of raping or attempting to rape a Black woman; yet, the crime was common.19 Black women, especially in the South or border states, had little legal recourse when raped by White men, and many Black women were reluctant to report their sexual victimization by Black men for fear that the Black men would be lynched.20
Jezebel in the 20th Century
The portrayal of Black women as Jezebel whores began in slavery, extended through the Jim Crow period, and continues today. Although the Mammy caricature was the dominant popular cultural image of Black women from slavery to the 1950s, the depiction of Black women as Jezebels was common in American material culture. Everyday items – such as ashtrays, postcards, sheet music, fishing lures, drinking glasses, and so forth – depicted naked or scantily dressed Black women, lacking modesty and sexual restraint. For example, a metal nutcracker (circa 1930s) depicts a topless Black woman. The nut is placed under her skirt, in her crotch, and crushed.21 Items like this one reflected and shaped White attitudes toward Black female sexuality. An analysis of the Jezebel images in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia reveals several patterns.
Many of the Jezebel objects caricature and mock African women. For example, in the 1950s “ZULU LULU” was a popular set of swizzle sticks used for stirring drinks. There were several versions of this product but all show silhouettes of naked African women of various ages. One version read: “Nifty at 15, spiffy at 20, sizzling at 25, perky at 30, declining at 35, droopy at 40.” There were versions that included depictions of African women at fifty and sixty years of age. ZULU LULU was billed as a party gag as illustrated by this advertisement on the product:
- Don’t pity Lulu – you’re not getting younger yourself…laugh with your guests when they find these hilarious swizzle sticks in their drinks. ZULU-LULU will be the most popular girl at your party.
The Jezebel images which defame African women may be viewed in two broad categories: pathetic others and exotic others. Pathetic others include those depictions of African women as physically unattractive, unintelligent, and uncivilized. These images suggest that African women in particular and Black women in general possess aberrant physical, social, and cultural traits. The African woman’s features are distorted – her lips are exaggerated, her breasts sag, she is often inebriated. The pathetic other, like the Mammy caricature before her, is drawn to refute the claim that White men find Black women sexually appealing. Yet, this depiction of the African woman has an obvious sexual component: she is often placed in a sexual setting, naked or near naked, inebriated or holding a drink, her eyes suggesting a sexual longing. She is a sexual being, but not one that White men would consider.
An example of the pathetic other is a banner (circa 1930s) showing a drunken African woman with the caption, “Martini Anyone?”22 The message is clear: this pathetic other is too ugly, too stupid, and too different to elicit sexual attraction from reasonable men; instead, she is a source of pity, laughter, and derision.
The material objects which depict African and Black women as exotic others do not portray them as physically unattractive, although they are sometimes portrayed as being socially and culturally deficient. During the first half of the twentieth century images of topless or completely nude African women were often placed in magazines and on souvenir items, planters, drinking glasses, figurines, ashtrays, and novelty items.
It must be emphasized that the items that depict African and African American women as one-dimensional sexual beings are often everyday items – found in the homes, garages, automobiles, and offices of “mainstream” Americans. These items are functional – in addition to promoting anti-Black stereotypes, they also have practical utility. For example, a topless bust of a Black woman with a fishing hook attached functions as an object of racial stereotyping and as a fishing lure. One such object was the “Virgin Fishing Lucky Lure (circa 1950s).” It has become a highly sought after collectible nationwide.
An analysis of Jezebel images also reveals that Black female children are sexually objectified. Black girls, with the faces of pre-teenagers, are drawn with adult sized buttocks, which are exposed. They are naked, scantily clad, or hiding seductively behind towels, blankets, trees, or other objects. A 1949 postcard shows a naked Black girl hiding her genitals with a paper fan. Although she has the appearance of a small child she has noticeable breasts. The accompanying caption reads: “Honey, I’se Waitin’ Fo’ You Down South.”23 The sexual innuendo is obvious.
Another postcard (circa 1950s) shows a Black girl, approximately eight years old, standing in a watermelon patch. She has a protruding stomach. The caption reads: “Oh-I is Not!…It Must Be Sumthin’ I Et!!” Her exposed right shoulder and the churlish grin suggest that the protruding stomach resulted from a sexual experience, not overeating. The portrayal of this prepubescent girl as pregnant suggests that Black females are sexually active and sexually irresponsible even as small children.
The belief that Black women are sexually promiscuous is propagated by innumerable images of pregnant Black women and Black women with large numbers of children. A 1947 greeting card depicting a Black Mammy bears the caption: “Ah keeps right on sendin’ em!” Inside is a young Black woman with eight small children. The inside caption reads: “As long as you keeps on havin’ em.”
In the 1964 presidential election between Lyndon Johnson and Barry Goldwater, Johnson used the political slogan, “All the way with LBJ.” A mid-1960s license plate shows a caricatured Black woman, pregnant, with these words, “Ah went all de way wib LBJ.” Johnson received overwhelming support from Black voters. The image on the license plate, which also appeared on posters and smaller prints, insults Blacks generally, Black Democrats, and Black women.
Black Jezebels in American Cinema
In the 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation, Lydia Brown is a mulatto character. She is the mistress of the White character Senator Stoneman. Lydia is savage, corrupt, and lascivious. She is portrayed as overtly sexual, and she uses her “feminine wiles” to deceive the formerly good White man. Lydia’s characterization was rare in early American cinema. There was a splattering of Black “loose women” and “fallen women” on the big screen, but it would be another half century before the depiction of cinematic Black women as sexually promiscuous would become commonplace.
By the 1970s Black moviegoers had tired of cinematic portrayals of Blacks as Mammies, Toms, Tragic Mulattoes, and Picaninnies. In the 1970s Blacks willingly, though unwittingly, exchanged the old negative caricatures for new ones: Brutes, Bucks, and Jezebels. These new caricatures were popularized by the two hundred mostly B-grade films now labeled blaxploitation movies.
These movies supposedly depicted realistic Black experiences; however, many were produced and directed by Whites. Daniel J. Leab, the movie historian, noted, “Whites packaged, financed, and sold these films, and they received the bulk of the big money.”24 The world depicted in blaxploitation movies included corrupt police and politicians, pimps, drug dealers, violent criminals, prostitutes, and whores. In the main, these movies were low-budget, formulaic interpretations of Black life by White producers, directors, and distributors. Black actors and actresses, many unable to find work in mainstream movies, found work in blaxploitation movies. Black patrons supported these movies because they showed Blacks fighting the “White establishment,” resisting police corruption, acting assertively, and having sex lives.
The film which ushered in the blaxploitation period was Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), written, directed, produced, and starred in by Melvin Van Peebles. The story centers on Sweet, an amoral and hedonistic hustler and pimp, who kills two White cops who were attacking a young Black radical. He spends the rest of the movie on the lam, running from racist cops and to pimps, gangsters, bikers, and whores. Sweet’s “revolutionary consciousness” is heightened because of his first hand experience with police corruption, and by the movie’s end he has become a heroic, almost mythical, Black revolutionary. The film ended with the message: “A BAADASSSSS NIGGER IS COMING BACK TO COLLECT SOME DUES.”
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song was originally rated X. After decades of asexual and desexualized Black Tom characters, Black audiences were ready for a sexually assertive Black male movie character. Sweet was reared in a brothel. In one flashback scene, a ten-year-old Sweet (played by Van Peeples’ real life son, Mario) is graphically taught how to make love by an older prostitute. Sweetback is slang for “large penis” and “great lovemaking ability.” Much of the movie centers on Sweet’s lovemaking abilities, and this movie helped promote the “Black sex machine” characterization of Black men common in later movies. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song also gave impetus to cinematic portrayals of Black women as Jezebel whores. According to Donald Bogle, a film historian:
- With the glamorization of the ghetto, however, came also the elevation of the Pimp/outlaw/rebel as folk hero. Van Peeples played up this new sensibility, and his film was the first to glorify the pimp. It failed, however, to explain the social conditions that made the pimp such an important figure. At the same time, the movie debased the black woman, depicting her as little more than a whore.25
The commercial success of Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song inspired many imitators. A formula for these “Black action” movies emerged: a justifiably angry Black male seeks revenge on corrupt White police officers, politicians, or drug dealers. In the process of extracting revenge his political consciousness is raised and he has numerous sexual exploits. Although this formula was aided by Van Peeples, a Black man, it served as the template for the Whites who wrote, directed, and produced blaxploitation movies.
The movies that followed Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song increasingly limited Black actresses to Jezebel type roles. Lynn Hamilton, a Black actress, auditioned for the role of a “strong Angela Davis type.” At the beginning of the audition she was asked if she would play nude scenes. She said of the role and character: “Here is this woman who holds all kinds of academic degrees and has a high position opening the door totally nude to admit her boyfriend, a policeman. The first thing he says is, ‘Fix me some breakfast.”26 She fries bacon, grease splattering, while her boyfriend fondles her breasts and buttocks.
Many Black women in these blaxploitation movies functioned as “sexual fodder,” legitimizing the street credentials of the Black male superhero. Even when Black women were the central characters of the movies, they were still portrayed as sexually aggressive, often deviants. Black actresses such as Pam Grier and Tamara Dobson built their acting careers starring in blaxploitation movies. Their characters resembled those of the male superheroes: they were physically attractive and aggressive rebels, willing and able to gain revenge against corrupt officials, drug dealers, and violent criminals. According to Donald Bogle:
- Like the old-style mammies, they ran not simply a household but a universe unto itself. Often they were out to clean up the ghetto of drug pushers, protecting the black hearth and home from corrupt infiltrators. Dobson and Grier represented Woman as Protector, Nurturer, Communal Mother Surrogate. Yet, these women also had the look and manner of old-style mulattoes. They were often perceived as being exotic sex objects (Grier’s raw sexuality was always exploited) – yet with a twist. Although men manhandle them, Grier and Dobson also took liberties with men, at times using them as playful, comic toys.27
The portrayal of Black women as sexually lascivious became commonplace in American movies. Grier, for example, in Coffy (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974) goes undercover as a “whore” to get revenge on Whites who have victimized her loved ones. In The Big Bird Cage (1972), Carol Speed plays a spunky Black hooker inmate. The 1973 movie Black Hooker is a movie about a “White” boy whose mother is an uncaring Black whore. In the made-for-television movie, Dummy (1979), Irma Riley plays a Black prostitute. Lisa Bonet, one of the daughters on the Cosby show, plays a voodoo priestess in Angel Heart (1987). Her character, Epiphany Proudfoot, has a sexual episode with Harry Angel (Mickey Rourke) that was so graphic that the movie almost received an X rating. In Harlem Nights (1989), Sunshine (played by Lela Rochon) is a prostitute so skilled that a White lover calls his wife on the telephone to tell her that he is never returning home.
The obligatory “Black whore” is added to urban-themed movies, apparently to give “real life” authenticity. In the classic movie Taxi Driver (1976), a Black hooker (Copper Cunningham) has sex with a White businessman in the backseat of the taxi driven by Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). The sex act is offered as evidence of the moral decline and decadence of America. Bickle washes his taxi after the sex act. Hazelle Goodman plays Cookie, a hooker in Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry (1997). When Cookie is asked if she knows what a black hole is, she replies, “what I make my living with.” In the credits listed for In Dangerous Ground (1997), Temsie Times is listed as “Black Hooker.” Cathy Tyson, the niece of actress Cicely Tyson, got her first major role as a sophisticated call girl in Mona Lisa (2001). The racial and sexual stereotypes depicted in these and similar movies find their fuller, clearer expression in low-budget pornographic movies.
The pornography industry remains a bastion of explicit anti-Black stereotyping – raw, obscene, and increasing mainstreamed. Many of the heterosexual themed movies in the American pornographic market have White actresses; however, there are hundreds of pornographic movies that also depict Black women as “sexual things” – and as “sexual animals.” Internet “stores” sell videos with titles like Black Chicks in Heat, Black Bitches, Hoochie Mamas, Video Sto’ Ho, Black and Nasty, South Central Hookers, and Git Yo’ Ass On Da Bus! In the privacy of their homes or hotel rooms, Americans can watch Black actresses – Purple Passion, Jamaica, Toy, Chocolate Tye, Juicy, Jazz, Spontaneeus Xtasy, and others – “validate” the belief that Black women are whores. Most of the Black actresses in mainstream movies who play Jezebel roles – especially those with interracial sex scenes – are light skinned or brown skinned women; however, most of the Black women in pornographic movies are brown skinned and dark skinned women.
Halle Berry won an academy award for the role of Leticia Musgrove in Monster’s Ball (2001), a complex and haunting drama. Leticia had a sexual relationship with Hank Grotowski (Billy Bob Thornton), a racist jailer who supervised the execution of her husband. The link between Leticia’s Black husband’s execution and her White lover was not revealed to her until the movie’s end, by then she and Hank were bonded together – self-loathers, angry, defeated, drunk, grieving the loss of relatives, trying frantically to find redemption, and failing that, someone to share the emotional pain. Their initial sexual encounter followed a drunken lamentation of their failures as parents. She lost her husband, and then her son was killed. His son committed suicide, in his presence. Writhing in emotional pain, she begged, “Make me feel better.” There followed one of the rawest, most intense sexual scenes in American cinematic history. Later, he gave her a truck. He named his new business venture, a service station, Leticia. He readied a room in his home, moved his racist father to a convalescent home, and after Leticia was evicted from her home he moved her into his house.
The relationship between Hank and Leticia was an updated version of the placage arrangements common in the 1800s. The first night after she moved into his home they lie in bed. He said, “I’m gonna take care of you.” Leticia replied, “Good, ’cause I really need to be taken care of.” In a tender moment, he went to a store to get ice cream. While he was gone she found evidence that he was involved in her husband’s execution. She cried, wailed, gripped with gut-wrenching pain. He returned. She had a dazed look. He told her, “You look real pretty. Let’s go out on the steps, if you want to.” She followed him. Outside, she accepted a spoon, stared at his son’s tombstone, and then accepted ice cream from his spoon. His last words were, “I think we gonna be alright.” Angela Bassett, nominated for an academy award in 1993 (Tina Turner in What’s Love Got To Do With It), rejected the role of Leticia. In an interview with Newsweek, she said: “It’s about character, darling. I wasn’t going to be a prostitute on film. I couldn’t do that because it’s such a stereotype about black women and sexuality.”28 Bassett’s assessment was harsh and probably overstated. Leticia was portrayed as a “loose woman:” drinking from a bottle, slouched, legs open, later initiating sex with a man she barely knew. She ended the movie as a “kept woman,” not a prostitute – her status is a function of the harsh realities of being a poor, Black woman in a society that devalues the poor, the Black, and women. Bassett insisted that she was not criticizing Berry so much as she was criticizing the Hollywood system for continuing to typecast black women in demeaning roles. This was a reasonable criticism. Only a handful of Black actresses and actors have won academy awards, and most won because they brought depth and complexity to otherwise one-dimensional stereotypical roles: Hattie McDaniel played a Mammy in Gone With the Wind (1939); Sidney Poitier played a Tom, albeit a dignified one, in Lilies of the Field (1964), and Denzell Washington was a rogue cop, a variant of the Brute in Training Day (2000).
The Jezebel has replaced the Mammy as the dominant image of Black women in American popular culture. The Black woman as prostitute, for example, is a staple in mainstream movies, especially those with urban settings. The Black prostitute and the Black pimp supposedly give these movies cutting edge realism. Small budget pornographic movies reinforce vile sexual stereotypes of Black women. These women are willing, sometimes predatory, sexual deviants who will fulfill any and all sexual fantasies. Their sexual performances tap into centuries-old images of Black women as uninhibited whores. Televised music videos, especially those by gangsta rap performers, portray scantily clad, nubile Black women who thrust their hips to lyrics which often depict them as ‘hos, skeezers, and bitches. A half century after the American civil rights movement, it is increasingly easy to find Black women, especially young ones, depicted as Jezebels whose only value is as sexual commodities.
- © Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology, Ferris State University.
(Curator’s Note: Thanks to the following Ferris State University faculty and staff who read drafts of this essay and offered suggestions: Michael Berghoef, Raymond Gant, Douglas Haneline, Eunice Merwin, Susan Morris, Mary Murnik, David Russell, John Thorp and Lee Ann Westman).
In addition to those writings quoted in the endnotes, the author recommends the following resources:
- Amoah, Jewel D. “Back on the auction block: A discussion of black women and pornography.” National Black Law Journal. V.14. N.2 (Spring 1997): 204-221.
- Anderson, Lisa M. Mammies No More: The Changing Image of Black Women on Stage and Screen. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1997.
- Gilman, Sander. “Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth Century Art, Medicine, and Literature,” in Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Race, Writing, and Difference, University of Chicago Press, 1986, pp. 223-261.
- Sharpley-Whiting, Denean T. Black Venus: Sexualized Savages, Primal Fears, and Primitive Narratives in French. North Carolina: Duke University Press.
- West, Carolyn M. “Mammy, Sapphire, and Jezebel: Historical Images of Black Women and Their Implications for Psychotherapy.” Psychotherapy. V.32, No. 3, (1995): 458 (9 pages).
- Wyatt, Gail Elizabeth. Stolen Women: Reclaiming Our Sexuality, Taking Back Our Lives. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1997.
1. This excerpt is taken from Andrea Williams’ poem, “Something to Talk About,” Sauti Mpya (Winter 2001), Vol.9, p. 30. This literary magazine is produced at the Sonja Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center at North Carolina University at Chapel Hill.
2. The most infamous Jezebel was a Phoenician princess who married Ahab, king of Israel, in the 9th century B.C. As queen she introduced the worship of Baal and sought to suppress the worship of Yahweh (Jehovah), the Hebrew God. She persecuted the prophets of Jehovah, many of whom she ordered to be killed. Her disregard for Jewish custom and her ruthless use of royal power are illustrated in the story involving Naboth, a Jezreelite. Jezebel falsely accused Naboth of treason. He was stoned to death. Then, she and Ahab took possession of Naboth’s vineyard. Her reign as queen was marked by similarly deceitful actions. The name Jezebel came to signify a deceitful and immoral woman. Her story is told in First Kings 18 and 19, and in Second Kings 9. In the New Testament book Revelations (2:20) the name Jezebel is used as a byword for apostasy.
3. K. Sue Jewell, From Mammy To Miss America And Beyond: Cultural Images & the Shaping of US Social Policy (London: Routledge, 1993), 46.
4. Jewell uses “bad-black-girls” as a synonym for Black Jezebels. See, Ibid.
5. See, Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman? Female Slaves In The Plantation South (New York: Norton, 1985/1999), p. 29. White’s book is an excellent historical examination of the Jezebel portrayal, especially chapter one, “Jezebel and Mammy,” pp. 27-61.
7. In British North America, what we call racism does not really flower until the 18th century. In the 17th century, attitudes toward Blacks and other non-Whites tended to be more run-of-the-mill xenophobia. In the 18th century, this exploitation received ideological and “scientific” basis.
8. James Redpath, The Roving Editor, or Talks With Slaves in Southern States (New York: Burdick, 1859), p. 141.
9. Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom (New York, 1968), original 1855, p.60.
10. Henry Bibb, Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave (New York, 1849), pp. 98-99, 112-116.
11. John D’Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A Sexual History of Sexuality In America (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), p. 102.
12. Ibid. p. 101.
13. Winthrop D. Jordan, White over Black: American Attitudes Towards the Negro, 1550-1812 (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 157 and n44.
14. I considered using the word pornographic to describe the stripping and touching of slaves; however, pornography is more often associated with representations of people, and not the people themselves.
15. George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1972), vol. 12 (Georgia), pp. 228. Also see, Herbert Gutman, The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925 (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976), p. 77.
16. Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, p. 31.
17. John D’Emilia and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters, p. 98.
18. Ibid, p. 104.
19. Deborah Gray White, Ar’n’t I a Woman?, p. 188.
20. Ibid, p. 189.
21. There is no date or manufacturer listed on the item or the cardboard box.
22. There is no date or manufacturer on the banner. Interestingly, there is a cloth flap covering her genital area; however, when lifted there is nothing there.
23. This postcard was produced by E.C. Kropp Company of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is a popular postcard as evidenced by its history of being reproduced. Reproductions began in the 1950s and continued into the 21st century.
24. Daniel J. Loeb, From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1976), 259.
25. Donald Bogle, Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies, & Bucks: An Interpretive History of Blacks in American Films (New York: Continuum, 1973/1994), p. 236.
26. Lynn Hamilton quoted in Arthur Knight, “Sex Stars,” Playboy’s Sex In Cinema (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974), p. 142.
27. Ibid, p. 251.
28. Allison Samuels, “Angela’s Fire.” Newsweek (July 1, 2002), p. 55.