Study Guide

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Race

By Harriet Jacobs

Race

If God has bestowed beauty upon her, it will prove her greatest curse. That which commands admiration in the white woman only hastens the degradation of the female slave. (5.2)

Slavery turns everything upside down, including the value of beauty. Beautiful slave girls are more likely to become victims.

How had those years dealt with her slave sister, the little playmate of her childhood? She, also, was very beautiful; but the flowers and sunshine of love were not for her. She drank the cup of sin, and shame, and misery, whereof her persecuted race are compelled to drink. (5.6)

Here's another reason you can't blame Jacobs for her premarital sex: the major difference between black and white women is sexual autonomy. While the white child will go on to marry, have children, and live in a peaceful home, her black friend will likely be sexually pursued and enslaved her entire life.

They seem to satisfy their consciences with the doctrine that God created the Africans to be slaves. What a libel upon the heavenly Father, who "made of one blood all nations of men!" And then who are Africans? Who can measure the amount of Anglo-Saxon blood coursing in the veins of American slaves? (8.6)

Linda challenges ideas about racial purity by arguing that there is so much miscegenation (a fancy word for interracial sex) happening in America that it’s hard to tell white people from black people.

It was a grand opportunity for the low whites, who had no n****es of their own to scourge. They exulted in such a chance to exercise a little brief authority, and show their subservience to the slaveholders; not reflecting that the power which trampled on the colored people also kept themselves in poverty, ignorance, and moral degradation. (12.4)

Here's an example of voting against your interests: poor whites were totally oppressed but still taught that they were superior to black people. In reality, poor slaves and poor whites had a great deal in common, since wealthy white landowners stomped on them both.

No two people that had the slightest tinge of color in their faces dared to be seen talking together. (12.4)

Thanks, Nat Turner. After the bloody Nat Turner rebellion, merely talking to another slave could get you into huge trouble.

“O, no. […] They don’t allow colored people to go in the first-class cars.” (31.11)

So, the North isn't a promised land after all. Here, Linda blasts its legal manifestations of racism. Not as bad as slavery, sure, but not exactly awesome.

O, the hypocrisy of slaveholders! Did the old fox [Dr Flint] suppose I was goose enough to go into such a stupid trap? Verily, he relied too much on "the stupidity of the African race." (34.3)

Ideas about racial superiority backfire when they make you underestimate your slaves. Over and over, Linda proves herself to be smarter than Dr. Flint.

[B]ut everywhere I found the same manifestations of that cruel prejudice, which so discourages the feelings, and represses the energies of the colored people. (35.5)

Northern prejudice oppresses the spirits and energies of black people—just like slavery oppresses their bodies.

[T]he colored servants ought to be dissatisfied with themselves, for not having too much self-respect to submit to such treatment; that there was no difference in the price of board for colored and white servants, and there was no justification for difference of treatment. (35.7)

It was true in 1850, and it's true now: you have to stand up for your rights.

During all that time [in England], I never saw the slightest symptom of prejudice against color. (37.7)

Here's a new tactic: an appeal to American nationalism. She seems to be provoking her readers into thinking that England might be the more moral of the two countries.

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