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The Delectable Negro

The Delectable Negro: Human Consumption and Homoeroticism within US Slave Culture

Vincent Woodard
Justin A. Joyce
Dwight A. McBride
Foreword by E. Patrick Johnson
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qfzzf
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  • Book Info
    The Delectable Negro
    Book Description:

    Scholars of US and transatlantic slavery have largely ignored or dismissed accusations that Black Americans were cannibalized. Vincent Woodard takes the enslaved persons claims of human consumption seriously, focusing on both the literal starvation of the slave and the tropes of cannibalism on the part of the slaveholder, and further draws attention to the ways in which Blacks experienced their consumption as a fundamentally homoerotic occurrence.The Delectable Negroexplores these connections between homoeroticism, cannibalism, and cultures of consumption in the context of American literature and US slave culture.Utilizing many staples of African American literature and culture, such as the slave narratives of OlaudahEquiano, Harriet Jacobs, and Frederick Douglass, as well as other less circulated materials like James L. Smiths slave narrative, runaway slave advertisements, and numerous articles from Black newspapers published in the nineteenth century, Woodard traces the racial assumptions, political aspirations, gender codes, and philosophical frameworks that dictated both European and white American arousal towards Black males and hunger for Black male flesh. Woodard uses these texts to unpack how slaves struggled not only against social consumption, but also against endemic mechanisms of starvation and hunger designed to break them. He concludes with an examination of the controversial chain gang oral sex scene in Toni MorrisonsBeloved, suggesting that even at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, we are still at a loss for language with which to describe Black male hunger within a plantation culture of consumption.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-1580-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. EDITOR’S NOTE
    (pp. vii-x)
    JUSTIN A. JOYCE
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    E. PATRICK JOHNSON

    The Delectable Negrois a provocative reading of race relations vis-à-vis an almost indiscernible homoeroticism in the nineteenth century. According to Woodard, such homoeroticism was always already there, but “our contemporary framing of homosexuality has obscured our vision.” Moreover, he suggests that “the absence of an appropriate linguistic apparatus, the dearth of historical documentation, and the lack of theoretical models with which to excavate homoeroticism from extant historical documents” have all colluded to conceal the presence of this racialized libidinal dynamic. Shaman-like, Woodard sharpens our vision by immersing himself in the archive while relying on what Philip Brian Harper calls...

  5. Introduction: “Master . . . eated me when I was meat”
    (pp. 1-28)

    In the summer of 2007, I visited Somerset Place in Creswell, North Carolina.¹ At one point, Somerset Place, a historically restored plantation, was the most successful plantation in North Carolina and its owner, Josiah Collins III, one of the largest slaveholders in the state. It is now a state historic site sitting on over 100 acres of lush forest and wetland. My party and I arrived early one Saturday morning, parked near the overseer’s quarters, and walked the red cobblestone road down the center of the plantation—past the stocks, past the smokehouse, past the outside cooking facilities—to the...

  6. 1 Cannibalism in Transatlantic Context
    (pp. 29-58)

    In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Europeans did not understand the extent to which western and central Africans regarded them as cannibals and flesh harvesters. In an 1849 exchange between Augustino (an African-born slave) and the Select Committee of the House of Lords, Appointed to Consider the Best Means which Great Britain Can Adopt for the Final Extinction of the African Slave Trade, British interrogators questioned the African man regarding his belief in European cannibalism. British interrogators “could not understand what had put the idea into the slaves’ heads that they were to be eaten. ‘Are they eaten in their...

  7. 2 Sex, Honor, and Human Consumption
    (pp. 59-94)

    Lilburn Lewis, a Kentucky slave owner, owned a considerable number of slaves whom he “drove constantly, fed sparingly, and lashed severely,” according to abolitionist Lydia Maria Child.¹ Lewis was a typical plantation owner whom most in the local community probably respected and looked to as a model wealthy citizen in terms of his treatment of his slaves. In 1826, he would commit crimes against his slaves that would cause his community to ostracize him and pursue legal restraint; he committed suicide while awaiting criminal trial. It is hard to say from the evidence if George, a young recalcitrant slave on...

  8. 3 A Tale of Hunger Retold: Ravishment and Hunger in F. Douglass’s Life and Writing
    (pp. 95-126)

    Frederick Douglass described slavery, more eloquently than anyone else has, as a cannibalistic institution. In images striking and poetically resonant, he depicted slavery in theNarrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slaveas a personified “stern reality, glaring frightfully upon us,—its robes already crimsoned with the blood of millions, and even now feasting itself greedily upon our own flesh.”¹ Slave traders he thought of as “human flesh-mongers.”² In the context Douglass described, slave owners cultivated consumption, hunger, and starvation at all levels of social interaction. If it was not Aunt Katy, the cook on one plantation,...

  9. 4 Domestic Rituals of Consumption
    (pp. 127-170)

    David Walker, a major black abolitionist figure, acknowledged the capacity of slavery to consume black bodies and souls. InWalker’s Appeal, Walker depicts a plantation reality where black men suffer emasculation. They can neither protect their wives and children nor can they themselves escape the all-encompassing power of whites whose malicious hunger, Walker says, “gnaws into our very vitals.”¹ Walker describes the consumptive process as fundamentally an attack on male potency and phallic assertion: “They (the whites) know well, if we aremen—” he says, “and there is a secret monitor in their hearts which tells them we are...

  10. 5 Eating Nat Turner
    (pp. 171-208)

    Most people do not readily associate Nat Turner, the heroic figure and slave insurrectionist, with the themes of auto-cannibalism (self-consumption), white male consumptive desires, or homoeroticism. These themes, however, strongly informed how Southampton, Virginia, whites punished Turner and treated his corpse after his public lynching. In the nineteenth century, the white press throughout the country reported that Turner had “sold his body for dissection, and spent the money on ginger cakes.”¹ Many papers reported that Turner “feasted on” these sweet ginger cakes “before his own execution.”² This was an erroneous assertion, as slaves did not own themselves and therefore had...

  11. 6 The Hungry Nigger
    (pp. 209-240)

    At the end of the twentieth century, black gay men began to bravely articulate and embody a suppressed history and politics of the black, male orifice. For example, Essex Hemphill’s brazen anal-erotic manifesto, “Loyalty,” marked a historic moment in black sexual politics and cultural recovery. Tracking an epistemology of the anus rooted in black Christian ideologies and faith practices stemming back to slavery, Hemphill writes:

    For my so-called sins against nature and the race, I gain the burden-some knowledge of carnal secrets. . . . A knowledge disquieting and liberating inhabits my soul. It often comforts me, or at times...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 241-288)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 289-302)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 303-308)
  15. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 309-310)
  16. ABOUT THE EDITORS
    (pp. 311-311)