As a Black American woman born from people who were enslaved or sold into lifelong arranged concubinage, I often think of how my family’s history has impacted how much I value myself.
Self-worth is something that all women struggle with, but Black women have a unique experience with their worth because we were literally sold as goods for hundreds of years. For Black women, worth was synonymous with price.
Our ancestors arrived in North America as slaves who crossed the Atlantic Ocean aka The Middle Passage. Millions of kidnapped Africans would not survive the journey. Death filled the ships and the Africans were intentionally separated from their families and tribes. This act of division was meant to weaken the African’s ability to defend himself. Chained, naked, and packed like sardines, the stolen people could be at sea for months before arriving to America.
Once in America, the slaves were sold and bred like livestock. It was much more lucrative to breed new slaves than to ship them from Africa. This breeding drastically increased the population of Blacks in America over the next 200+ years of slavery.
The business of slavery was profitable and the price of the slave fluctuated with normal economic factors like supply and demand. Because young slave girls could have children, they cost more than their male counterparts. However, the most valuable (and expensive) slave was a man in his mid-twenties. These young men went for top dollar because of the amount of labor they yielded and their ability to make more slave children.
The more desirable the black slave woman was, the more likely she would become pregnant. More children meant more money for the slave owner. There was a direct link between the Black woman’s worth and her sexuality and desirability.
This desirability also manifested in the practice of plaçage. If you were a “free” black or brown woman in Louisiana in the 1700’s, you may have found yourself placed as a concubine to a European man. Your mother would negotiate an unenforceable contract that exchanged you for money, freedom, a home, or possibly an education.
My family has a long history of slavery and plaçage dating back to the 1700’s.
For hundreds of years in America, a black woman’s worth was determined by someone other than herself-slave traders, her master, her white “left-handed husband”-decided how much she was worth. It’s no wonder why today we struggle to determine our worth. We are not only fighting against long term historical practices, we are also fighting against the deeply ingrained sexual stereotypes that were forced on us during slavery.
Some may argue that since slavery ended over a hundred years ago the onus for the Black woman’s self-worth lies solely with her and her family. This thinking is flawed when considering how little generational time has passed since slavery ended. To put it in perspective, I am only four generations removed from slavery. Both my grandfather’s grandmothers were born into slavery or plaçage.
Although the task of determining and building self-worth for a whole people may seem insurmountable, it is still possible. We can begin to strategically build our own positive image of self by focusing on three key things:
3. Personal Integrity
Our mindset is how we see things, what we believe, our “programming”. It is important to understand that for centuries, we were taught to believe certain things about ourselves because those beliefs helped to maintain slavery.
For example, despite it being illegal for slaves to learn how to read, they were also told that they were too stupid to learn even if it were allowed. An illiterate slave was less likely to seek freedom or revenge. Where would they go? How would they know how to get there? What work would they do once free? Slaves who believed they were unable to learn were also less likely to try to do so. This resulted in a people who were not equipped to meet their basic human needs. Eventually slaves believed they too could learn and began to read. Their minds opened to many possibilities including freedom and the abolition of slavery. This is evidence of what can be done with a change of mindset.
We must function daily in purpose. Purpose is what gets us out of bed each morning. It is unique to each individual and cannot be duplicated or transferred. How do we know our purpose? We can find our purpose by asking ourselves, “When do I feel most happy, alive, and connected to my family and community”?
Identifying what lights your soul on fire will lead you to your purpose.
Integrity is defined as: the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
Personal integrity is being honest with and applying those moral principles to oneself. In other words, being true to yourself.
As women, we often compromise what we believe is best for us in an effort to please others. When we are able to be accountable to ourselves then we will be able to hold our heads high with dignity and worth.
We will see positive gains in our self-worth when we understand our past, acknowledge our present circumstances, and work toward a better future by changing our mindsets, living in purpose, and applying personal integrity. #liveinlove