Black Female 'Things' in International Law: A Meditation on Saartjie Baartman and Truganini

BLACK WOMEN AND INTERNATIONAL LAW: NEW THEORY, OLD PRAXIS (Jeremy Levitt, ed., Cambridge University Press) (2013)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-25

39 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2012 Last revised: 26 Mar 2013

See all articles by Karen E. Bravo

Karen E. Bravo

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: July 1, 2012

Abstract

Through the figures of Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus, and Truganini, the “last Tasmanian Aboriginal,” this Chapter explores the contrasts between the historic status of black women as chattel (“not-human” things) and their choices and actions in pursuit of the “things” of importance to them. The “choices” made by these women add complexity to the understanding of the nature of “choice” in international law, with particular relevance to the discussion of “choice” and “consent” in the global struggle against human exploitation. The Chapter also addresses Saartjie Baartman’s and Trugannini’s roles in relation to their contemporaneous and contemporary communities. Their bodies “proved” the scientific bases of “natural” racial hierarchies and subordination. The stories of their exploitation cemented the theoretical foundations of the expansion of positivist theories of international law, and illustrate the co-existence of freedom and enslavement.

Keywords: Hottentot Venus, Saartjie Bartman, Truganini, black women, choice, consent, subordination, scientific racism, Celadon Code, Tasmanian Aboriginal, Australia, indigenous women

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Bravo, Karen E., Black Female 'Things' in International Law: A Meditation on Saartjie Baartman and Truganini (July 1, 2012). BLACK WOMEN AND INTERNATIONAL LAW: NEW THEORY, OLD PRAXIS (Jeremy Levitt, ed., Cambridge University Press) (2013), Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law Research Paper No. 2012-25, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2159002. or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2159002

Karen E. Bravo (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 West New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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