So, about that breastfeeding and slavery thing….

Harriet Jacobs

I am again reading¬†Harriet Jacobs¬†— her autobiography¬†Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. If you’re unfamiliar with who she is, do a google search, visit the link above, or read her book where you’ll find she was born into slavery, taught to read and write by her mistress, which was a true rarity — one who died when Harriet was still young, and as a result “willed” her assets — her home, dishes, jewelry, and human beings, to others. Harriet was willed to a family, where the Master Dr. flint began making sexual advances at her when she was young.

One of the many things things that makes this story remarkable (and I use the word ‘remarkable’ in a f’d up, and resistive sort of way — not as glorifying) is how she escaped this — becoming pregnant by another white man, then living in what the writer of the book’s introduction calls a ‘large coffin’ — a nine foot long by seven foot wide, by three feet high area attached to her grandmother’s porch — for seven years!

The quote stuck out! And I think of the time I recently talked about slavery and breastfeeding while out to lunch with some (older, white) friends — wondering if that’s the culprit for our numbers and all — an idea questioned by many others, but generated laughs when I mentioned it that day. I don’t know if I have anything conclusive to say about this — yet, or if there will ever be anything to conclude. Of course I can’t say I do not believe there has been some legacy at the bottom of this by being made to feed a slaver’s baby, neglecting your own. But at this point I have more questions than answers, and I can’t keep from wondering.

‘When I was six years old, my mother died; and then, for the first time, I learned by the talk around me, that I was a slave. My mother’s mistress was the daughter of my grandmother’s mistress. She was the foster sister of my mother; they were both nourished at my grandmother’s breast. In fact, my mother had been weaned at three months old that the babe of the mistress might obtain sufficient food.’

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