Teachable Racial Moment: A Black History Lesson Behind “Son of a Bitch”

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I’m sure by now many (if not most) of us have heard about the President of this country calling football player Colin Kaepernick a “son of a bitch” at a political rally in Alabama. As I looked at the Twitter feeds of some of the President’s supporters, many of them said, “President Trump didn’t call out Kaepernick’s name. He only said, ‘someone who kneels during the National Anthem.’”

As the kids say, let’s keep it one hundred, shall we?

We all knew to whom the President was referring when he referenced a “son of a bitch” kneeling. Because Brother Kaepernick was the one who started the kneeling protests in the first place.

But let’s look at the term, “Son of a bitch.” As all of us know, it is a slur that has animalistic implications. A “bitch” is a female dog. Thus, a “son of a bitch” is the child of a female dog.

“Son of a bitch” has obvious, gendered implications as well. In fact, the insult is less about the son and more about the mother who established lineage. The mother must the original animal to create another animal.

Now, calling somebody the son of a female dog is always an insult to anyone of any racial or cultural background–I feel safe in making that blanket statement–but there is a peculiar, racialized, historical, and legal context to using this term to describe the mother of black person.

Jennifer L. Morgan, author of Laboring Women: Reproduction and New World Slavery, has written and lectured about the change of patriarchal laws in the (then-colony) of Virginia in 1662. Before that time, English common law had established that a child took on the status of his or her father.  That meant that biracial children of free, white fathers and enslaved, black mothers could, conceivably, be free born.

In 1655, a biracial woman in Virginia named Elizabeth Key Grinstead sued for her freedom based upon, among other things, English common law. Her father was a white man, and she wanted to make sure that her free lineage was established for her own children. She won that suit, but seven years later, the colony of Virginia passed a law called Partus Sequitur Ventrem, which made biracial children of enslaved black mothers permanently enslaved.

Here’s where it gets even worse.

The term Partus Sequitur Ventrum is a barnyard term, used for animals. It literally means, “Offspring Follows Belly.” Thus, black women were legally animalized during slavery. And maybe this animalistic status of black women is why, while writing on the difference between black and white in Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson accused black women of engaging in bestiality with great apes:

The first difference which strikes us is that of colour…And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immoveable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? Add to these, flowing hair, a more elegant symmetry of form, their own judgment in favour of the whites, declared by their preference of them, as uniformly as is the preference of the Oranootan for the black women over those of his own species. The circumstance of superior beauty, is thought worthy attention in the propagation of our horses, dogs, and other domestic animals; why not in that of man?

The irony here, of course, is that Kaepernick’s mother is white. Thus, many of you reading this might say, how does this racialized history of animalizing black women connect with white women? In fact, it connects quite tidily.

Those familiar with the history of White Supremacy in this country know that white men were and have been obsessed with white women’s sexual purity, which depends upon those women keeping a very far distance from black men. (I’ll point you to the original, 1915 film version of Birth of a Nation.) Several American mass murders of black people were started because of the (still unproved) charges that black men had raped white women, including the Tulsa, Oklahoma race riot in 1921 which left at least three hundred African Americans dead and leveled the black neighborhoods in that city.

On the flip side of this White Supremacist female sexual purity rule, white women who engaged in voluntary sexual congress with black men—as Kaepernick’s mother has—were stripped of their white privilege and white racial status. Many times, white women were beaten or driven from towns for consorting with black men.

Most recently, we saw the murder by vehicle of Heather Heyer, a young white woman who was protesting a White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. She was doing so alongside black people (including black men) when a White Supremacist decided to drive into a crowd of protesters. The murderous actions of this young, white man were praised by his racist colleagues.

I know that many young women of all complexions revel in reclaiming terms such as “bitch” and “hoe”, and in calling themselves and their friends by these terms. I understand the youthful exuberance and thus, I’m not trying to shut anybody down. Do you, young sisters. Do you.

But when I see and hear the President of my country call somebody’s mama out her name at a rally, in front of television cameras, I’m put in mind of gatherings of white mobs whose goal is violence. (We saw that violence at Trump rallies during last year’s campaign.) Remember, the President was in Alabama, in the deep south, the location of many lynchings and mass murders of black folks.

And right next door to Alabama, there is Georgia, where one lynching that took place has continued to haunt me for years. It is the murder of an eight months’ pregnant black woman who, in May 1918 was killed alongside her husband in or around Valdosta, Georgia.

After she was hung, the woman’s body expelled her baby. Instead of stopping in horror at what they had done and trying to rescue the child, the white mob then took turns stomping the newborn infant, who was still connected by the umbilical cord to its mother’s body.  This woman’s name was Mary Turner.

I thought of this poor lady and her child, as I heard what I can only assume was an all-white crowd cheering as the President of this country of mine, essential calling the mother of a black man a “bitch.” An animal.

How long are we going to pretend that these gatherings of white racists are simply political rallies of those who just happen to differ in party and opinions from the rest of us who want peace between the races? How long are we going to pretend that this current President is harmless, when we have a long history pointing to similar activities, and that long history tells us this behavior is not harmless, not in the least?

These gatherings are where racist mob mentality is nurtured, and where, even those who call themselves “pro-life” have proven time and again that there are specific, racist rules for the sanctity of life and those who provide. That rule is whiteness. And any woman connected to black people–even a white woman– has no place in their world or is worthy of their love or respect.

 

40 thoughts on “Teachable Racial Moment: A Black History Lesson Behind “Son of a Bitch”

  1. Wonderful. It fills me with sorrow and shame of my heritage. Hateful, fearful, jealous, misbegotten people turning into true monsters. Becoming abominations running rampant. Madness such as this needs to be stopped.

    • His adopted mother is his mother–that’s how adoption works–and since her son is her child, it means she’s still connected in an intimate way to blackness, black culture and to black men. Thanks so much for reading! I’ll let you have the last word. ~HFJ

        • Heidi Russo was never mentioned in the article. That’s not who the author was referring to when she said “white women who engaged in voluntary sexual congress with black men”. At least it’s my assumption that’s not who she meant since she never mentioned (or seemed to research enough to know about) the fact that he was adopted.

      • Right, but you said his mother slept with a black man. I don’t know if she has or not, it doesn’t matter, but in this case Colin was not the product of that.

        “On the flip side of this White Supremacist female sexual purity rule, white women who engaged in voluntary sexual congress with black men—as Kaepernick’s mother has—were stripped of their white privilege and white racial status.”

    • His adopted mother is his mother–that’s how adoption works–and since her son is her child, it means she’s still connected in an intimate way to blackness, black culture and to black men. Thanks so much for reading! I’ll let you have the last word. HFJ

  2. I think that what matters most in re: adoption is that 45 wouldn’t know that. In this case, HIS perception, albeit wrong, is what we have to look at in order to get to the “Truth” regardless of facts.

  3. Further ironic that Jefferson famously fathered children with the enslaved woman on his plantation who was known as Sally Hemings (their descendants survive today).

    • And he left those children enslaved in perpetuity. Read the article again – it starts with how the status of white fathers is irrelevant to the status of a child.
      His sexual abuse of Sally Hemings and commercial trade in HER children (he offering no parental, only biological connection) was a way of dehumanizing them all. As is the historical denial of these facts right up to the present day when white media refer to this as a relationship rather than rape with reproductive and child abuse.

  4. My gawd the woman explained in the essay how this ties in with women … Like Colin’s mother who is white.

    Do you people read and comprehend? CAN you ???

  5. We always bring up slavery and issues from the past colin Kaepernick is spoiled and Rich given every opportunity and yet by kneeling he’s turning his back on America

    • … and would it have been more understandable to you if, in WWII Germany, German-Jews had turned their backs on Germany? What is the difference … the concentration camps are still developing America. They are called ghettos, now.

    • Did it ever occur to you, Marc, that he has taken a principled stand for people others, that this is not just about him? Would that thought ever occur to the mind of a selfish racist?

  6. The problem is: we have too many bigots in office! Until the Creator gives them an intimate sign that they are not working according to the Creator’s plan (like a personal loss in the family or some type of illness that can’t be cured) they will never change. This country has been racist since the beginning of its existence! It’s overdue time for change!

  7. Definitely a history lesson and I thank you for it.
    However, all the more reason why I CAN NOT understand why and how any woman can embrace or use the b-word; how any Black person can embrace or use the n-word! It sickens me when I hear either.

  8. Pingback: Teachable Racial Moment: A Black History Lesson Behind “Son of a Bitch” – Reconsidering James Baldwin in the Era of #BlackLivesMatter

  9. These comments are disturbing. I am a mother via adoption. My children also have a mother via birth. We are both vital to their existence as the people they are today. I would never diminish their other mother’s role as many of you seem to do.

    Yes, Colin was raised by white people and by extension had some of their privilege when he was with them – just like my daughter who is Latina has when she is with me her white mother. This does not protect them from being treated like people with brown skin are treated in this country – when she is not with me she does not have the shadow of my privilege. When she shows up for a job interview they will not see me her white mother and think she must be one of the OK ones. There are so many situations like this.

    It is alarming to me that people who take the time to read an article like this just can’t and don’t seem to want to get it. You are more closely aligned with the current administration that you seem to realize.

  10. For anyone seeking clarification on Colin Kaepernick’s biological background, see the NY Times article here:
    https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/07/sports/colin-kaepernick-nfl-protests.html?mcubz=0&_r=0
    which states “Kaepernick moved [to California] when he was 4. He was born in Milwaukee to a single white mother and a black father and quickly placed for adoption. He was soon adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick of Fond du Lac, Wis.”

    The fact that this “was his birth mother white”, but “he was adopted” became a comment onslaught further reinforces the point here. Let’s not lose sight of the real lesson to be taught.

  11. Eurocentric thought teaches people to focus on the individual. 45 said “sons” and “bitches which are plural. For all practical purposes, Kaepernick has already been fired. So the vitriol was focused on the mothers and their rebellious sons who have not yet been fired, the Bennett brothers, Marshawn, Malcolm Jenkins, Eric Reid, et al.

  12. Whether he was adopted or not is irrelevant. The identity of his birth mother or his adopted mother is irrelevant. By focusing on that detail you have missed the point of the article, which is the racial and sexual objectification of women and the use of language to further oppress black Americans.

    • Their subconscious intent WAS to shift focus. “He was adopted” mentally removes a biological connection to white women (purity remains intact), or that he is biologically representative of both races (no connection to white mother = black only guy = calling his mom a bitch is not the same/not as bad/perfectly acceptable in their subconscious thought process).

      O, God, forgive us.

  13. The vehicle of This article went in a negative direction just like the kneeling ! The point gets forgotten and they drive blindly !!!

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